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Maori maintain a deeply spiritual connection with the land of the Rangitikei district, which is enriched by the Maori culture of four distinct tribal collectives. The distant headwaters and hinterlands of the Rangitikei River form the homelands of the confederated hapu of Mokai Patea, in pre-European times the lower Rangitikei River carried canoe traffic, and an important Maori walking track followed the river valley. Marae (meeting places) throughout the region remain the cultural focal points for continuation of Maori customs and language.
Up to 1884 dense forest at Marton barred the way to the North Island interior. Bridle tracks cut through the bush provided access to allow the development of the Main Trunk Railway line. Built over deep and precipitous gorges, terraces, hills and narrow channels, the railway is something of a monument to the skill of those early engineers, although the Maori rebel and prophet Te Kooti described the trains as the “whistling god of the pakeha”!
The resilient and practical railway workers, road builders and saw millers settled provincial towns along the route, and were followed by grassland farmers, creating the European legacy of the region, evident in historic wooden buildings still in use to this day.