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In the mid-1950s Professor R. Gerard Ward carried out his first significant research project as a graduate student in the ‘Taupo country’– a diverse volcanic landscape with a rich Maori history in the central North Island of New Zealand. This paper traces my own ‘journeys’ into the Taupo country and my association with the complexities of both historical and contemporary understandings and realities of Maori land tenure. I use several specific examples, and draw on a variety of experiences to argue that the ‘Taupo country’ cannot be understood without an appreciation of the enduring Maori values which still permeate society and land tenure in New Zealand’s ‘volcanic desert’ landscape. Despite legislative efforts to impose on Maori a title system derived from British property law, and all the subsequent pressures to assimilate, enduring Maori values intertwined with ancestry and identity cannot be ignored either in reconstructions of the history or in current planning for the future of the Taupo region.