In 1846 Her Majesty’s 65th Regiment of Foot lands at Port Nicholson in New Ulster. Within weeks, Sergeant John Barr and his men are fighting for their lives against the fearsome native inhabitants of the land – the Māori. After British forces suffer a humbling setback, Sergeant Barr decides to learn more about this surprisingly capable enemy. He attaches himself to a war-party of Māori fighting on the British side. In the crucible of battle, respect and then friendship grows. John Barr, a Redcoat sergeant, and Rewi Takahe, a prince of Ngati Apa, become friends. With the hostile natives driven from the Wellington region, the 65th is sent to join the garrison of the settlement of Petre on the Whanganui River. John Barr meets Nurse Jane O’Fee, a feisty Irishwoman, and Rewi Takahe meets Mrs Caroline McNabb, a Pakeha widow turned courtesan. While John’s courtship of Nurse O’Fee is acceptable to Pakeha society, Rewi’s relationship with a white woman unsettles his tribe. Tamati Takahe, Rewi’s anti-Pakeha brother, is incensed. He tries to murder his brother. He fails and, brought to account, is expelled from the tribe. He vows vengeance.
Visiting Rewi’s village, John is enthralled by the beautiful Turakina Valley. Impossible dreams of owning land are suddenly attainable. The decision to leave the 65th and settle in this new country is taken. John and Jane marry and take up land in the Turakina Valley. A decade of peace follows. During an influenza epidemic that decimates the Māori, the Pakehas give their all for the village. As a result, they are truly accepted into the tribe. In the wider world, however, greed and anger on both sides makes further conflict inevitable. To Jane’s dismay, John joins the Wanganui Rifle Corps and goes to war again. Tamati Takahe returns to the valley. Finding his brother’s wife beyond reach, he kidnaps Jane Barr instead. Leaving Jane’s ear as a message, Tamati demands that Rewi surrender to him. Rewi arrives at the rendezvous, but all is not as it seems. In a final climactic duel, Rewi kills his brother.