The regatta is very much an integral part of the history of Ngaruawahia and has become a New Zealand tradition. It commenced back in 1894 when the Waikato settlers, who had to organize their own entertainment – organized a St Patrick’s Day holiday affair at “The Point” the delta at the joinging of the Waikato and Waipa Rivers.
In those days St Patricks Day, March 17, was a much looked forward to break and the rivers were the main ‘highways’ in the Waikato.
After the initial success in which the community as a whole – Maori and Pakeha – participated, the Ngaruawahia Regatta Association was formed and under their formal auspices the first regatta was held in 1896.
One of the articles in their constituion was ‘to promote and encourage acquatic sports and the preservation of ancient Maori events and customs!
Special trains brought the patrons from Thames, Rotorua, Tauranga, Te Kuiti and Auckland – three or four trains from Auckland alone – and paddle steamers especially chartered, were packed with patrons from the river ports. As many as 20,000 people converged on Ngaruawahia.
There was an entertaining programme of horse swimming races across the river, river canoe races, rowing in sculls, Maori haka and poi dances. Over the years side-shows, Highland dancing, chopping and sawing events and even Wirths circus and zoo, power boat racing, water skiing and even parachute drops were added to the attractions
In 1972, the inclement weather and an unusually high flood caused the Regatta to be cancelled, and the Regatta Association suffered such a financial reverse that it decided that it could not take the risk of running a further regatta.
There was widespread public concern that the tradition should die, but in the following year (1973) Turangawaewae Marae came to the rescue and offered to keep the regatta going.
Among the changes over the years, the Ngaruawahia Regatta became known as the Turangawaewae Regatta and the Regatta site was shifted half a kilometer upstream and to the opposite bank.
Throughout the years the Regatta has been the launching pad for many fledgling cultural and acquatic events, however, despite all the numerous side-shows, the variety and diversity of marae stalls, and all the other regatta activities, the undoubted star attraction is the parade of the Great War Canoes. (Waka Taua).