TE AWAMUTU is a placid place, surrounded by rolling hills, dairy pasture and overlooked by Mount Pirongia. By the nineteenth century Maori had a heavy presence on the land, as evidenced by the many pa sites in the loops of rivers and on steep hilltops. During the 1863 New Zealand Wars, Te Awamutu was a garrison for government forces and site of one of the most famous battles of the conflict, fought at the hastily constructed Orakau pa, where three hundred Maori stood off two thousand soldiers for three days.
Besides being the birthplace of fraternal Kiwi pop music icons Tim and Neil Finn, Te Awamatu is locally renowned for its extensive rose gardens, at the corner of Gorst and Arawata streets, at their best between November and May. Immediately across the road is the visitor centre, where fans of Split Enz and Crowded House might want to get hold of the "Finn Tour" booklet ($5) for a self-guided jaunt round places of significance in the Finn brothers' unremarkable formative years. The visitor centre also holds the key to St John's Church, just across Arawata Street. Built as a garrison church in 1854, it was spared the fiery fate of most European buildings because the Maori chieftain, Te Paea Potatau, placed her mana upon it. Inside is a tribute from the British regiment, written in Maori, honouring Maori who crawled, under fire, onto the battlefield to give water to wounded British soldiers. The church also contains one of the oldest figurative stained-glass windows in New Zealand.
Te Awamutu Museum and library, 135 Roche St, ten minutes' walk west of the visitor centre (Mon– Fri 10am–4pm, Sat 10am–1pm, Sun 1–4pm; free; Web: www.tamuseum.org.nz ), contains an excellent collection of early Maori artefacts. The museum's pride and joy is Uenuku, a striking dark-wood carving representing a traditional god as a rainbow. This sacred relic of the Tainui people may date to around 1400. Along with displays about European settlers and the New Zealand Wars, there's the True Colours exhibit, devoted to the Finn brothers, but concentrating on Split Enz.