Ruapekapeka Pa | Attraction Guides | History Hit

Ruapekapeka Pa

Whangarei, Whangarei District, New Zealand

Luke Tomes

15 Jul 2021

About Ruapekapeka Pa

Ruapekapeka, a pā 20 kilometres southeast of Kawakawa in the Northland Region of New Zealand, is one of the largest and most complex pā in New Zealand; Ngāpuhi designed it specifically to counter the cannon of British forces.

History of Ruapekapeka Pa

Ruapekapeka Pa was the site of one of the last military confrontations between British forces and Maori tribes in the War of the North, a conflict which erupted over British policies seen as unfavourable to the Maoris.

The local Maoris spent months preparing for the battle at Ruapekapeka Pa. Knowing that the British had far superior firepower, their leader, chief Te Ruki Kawiti, created a formidable defensive area (or “pa”) which consisted of a network of trenches and tunnels.

In December 1845, the British arrived at Ruapekapeka Pa. They were faced with a significant challenge from the Maori and, despite the fact that they eventually managed to break through the defences, the Maoris escaped. Eventually, after some time, a peace was forged between the two sides.

The fact that no provisions or ammunition were left behind in the pā suggests that the Maori ‘escape’ was an organised withdrawal. The pā may have served its purpose and been abandoned. The defenders may also have hoped that the soldiers would be drawn into an ambush by Heke and his men in the dense bush outside the pā. On the other hand, Kawiti and his men may have taken what they saw as their best chance to escape.

To the British, the capture of such an intricately designed and well-constructed pā was a significant achievement – a tactical victory. Yet many consider the battle to have been drawn. Heke and Kawiti had escaped with their forces largely intact, and the terms of the subsequent peace settlement suggest that they may even have won a strategic victory.

Ruapekapeka Pa today

Today, visitors can embark on a self-guided walk of the site, where the trenches dug by the Maoris are still visible.

Getting to Ruapekapeka Pa

From Whangārei, follow SH1 north for 35 km. Just past the Towai service station, turn right into Ruapekapeka Road and follow this for 4 km. You will see signs for Ruapekapeka and the carpark 300 m beyond the intersection where Ruapekapeka Road meets Kawakawa Road. The road is unsealed and narrow in places so take care.

The car park is signposted, and it can easily accommodate campervans.

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