Historic Ongarahu Pa at Plummer's Point is all set to go on creating history when it becomes the focus of a Marae DIY makeover next month.
The crew from the popular Maori TV programme will be at the 8.7ha Huharua Park from April 15-17 - the first time the show has worked on an historic site, the first time the show has worked on a public reserve, and the first time the wider community has had a chance to participate.
"It's the first pa site restoration to be on television," says Julie Sparham, an environment manager for Pirirakau Incorporated Society and who made the application to Maori TV under the direction of the society's chairman Rawiri Kuka.
The society has been "heavily involved" with the park's development over the past decade, Julie says.
"The work here has the potential to open up the TV programme to so many more groups," she says, paying tribute to historians, Pirirakau kaumatua Carlton Bidois, and the late Peter Rolleston and David Borrell, for their work in helping secure the pa site for the public.
The format of Marae DIY is that a team of four, including landscaper David Clayton-Greene of Tauranga, who has been with the show since it began in 2003, co-ordinates a marae makeover - new building, repairs, landscaping - with labour and support provided by the marae's iwi or hapu.
Led by Pirirakau, this project will also include contributions from, for instance, the Friends of the Park group (primarily residents of nearby Pat's Lane), while Western Bay of Plenty District Council is planning a community planting day, as well as putting some funding towards the project.
"In the future there will be whakairo [carvings] added but at this stage the project will have a waharoa [entrance shelter outside the pa], palisades around the trench and a bridge," Julie says.
"We want to have an area where a powhiri may be performed and we want to bring life back to the pa."
Native plants will be used to protect the site from erosion and to act as a natural barrier for public safety. There will be no structures inside the pa, apart from log seating.
The pa is known to have the best-preserved trenches in the North Island and has been rated by Geoff Canham, a parks and recreation consultant with Opus, as relative to Stonehenge in its importance.
"We are told by tangata whenua that this pa goes as far back as they draw their timeline - it was one of the first settled sites in this country," Geoff says.
"It is a remaining geological feature that is an almost perfectly preserved set of fortifications, and there aren't many left in New Zealand."
Although pa sites ran the length of the neighbouring Omokoroa peninsula, Geoff says Plummer's Point was not the same and Ongarahu Pa was "immensely strategic".
"Because the site is so precious, it was felt that a full archaeological investigation would be detrimental," Julie says, "but we know from the archaeology recorded so far that there are fire scoops, midden pits, post remnants and artefacts."
After the house was removed (see factbox below), a geotechnical cloth was laid over the site to protect it, the cloth covered with soil and grass sown.
"There is a cultural memory of the site," Julie says. "The pa brought about waterway links with several Tainui hapu as they came to the kaimoana [seafood] basket to gather food and trade.
"Now they are able to reconnect to the site because they have been invited to help with the project."
ABOUT ONGARAHU PA:
* Ongarahu Pa was established by Ngamarama, ancestors of Ngati Ranginui, possibly when Wai-huri Pa (now part of the Gerald Crapp Reserve) at Omokoroa was destroyed by fire.
* A 1965 Bay of Plenty Times article quotes kaumatua David Borell as saying that Ongarahu (which means "out of the ashes") could not have been intended as permanent because it was open to attack on the landward side.
* The original and larger Huharua Pa was destroyed by farm development.
* Huharua means a gully or swale and relates to the covered ditch that linked the two pa and thought to be used by warriors when the pa were under siege.
* Thomas Plummer bought the land in 1907 and the family retained it for almost 100 years.
* In the early 1960s Ken and Elizabeth Thorne (nee Plummer) built a brick home over the Ongarahu Pa site. The house was removed after the land was purchased in 2003 by Western Bay of Plenty District and Tauranga City councils in partnership with Pirirakau.
Sources: Julie Sparham, Bay of Plenty Times, Western Bay of Plenty District Council.