Maori military masterpiece gets honour

By Mike Barrington -
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Te Ruapekapeka Trust member Allan Halliday (left) Jeannie Poutai and DoC official Shaughan Anderson 
at Ruapekapeka Pa with a restored 18-pounder carronade, which was one of only two guns the Maori defenders had to match the 30 tonnes of artillery British troops used to bombard them in 1846. Photo/John Stone
Te Ruapekapeka Trust member Allan Halliday (left) Jeannie Poutai and DoC official Shaughan Anderson at Ruapekapeka Pa with a restored 18-pounder carronade, which was one of only two guns the Maori defenders had to match the 30 tonnes of artillery British troops used to bombard them in 1846. Photo/John Stone

Ruapekapeka Pa, a masterpiece of Maori military engineering, has been awarded an international Green Flag, a symbol of tourism excellence marking the pa as a premium destination for New Zealand and overseas visitors.

Green Flag awards were established in the United Kingdom in 1996 to recognise green spaces meeting criteria, including heritage and community involvement.

The Ruapekapeka award was made by the Parks Forum, which consists of public agencies such as the Department of Conservation (DoC) and local authorities in New Zealand and Australia.

The Te Ruapekapeka Trust welcomed the award. The trust, set up in 1992 representing Ngati Manu, Ngati Kahukuri, Ngati Hau, Ngati Hine, Te Kapotai and Ngapuhi Nui Tonu, administers the pa in partnership with the DoC.

Since 2002 more than $200,000 has been spent on restoring the site with new signs, tracks, a carpark and the erection of a waharoa (carved gateway).

Northland DoC official Shaughan Anderson said the former battlefield was today an example of people working together to explain the site's importance in establishing our nationhood.

Ruapekapeka is the "bats nest" fighting pa which Ngati Hine rangatira Te Ruki Kawiti designed 6km east of Towai. It was where the last major battle in the Flagstaff War between northern Maori and the fledgling British colonial administration took place 178 years ago.

On New Year's Day in 1846 about 1600 British troops with Maori supporters began bombarding the pa with cannons, howitzers, mortars and rockets. Their leader, Lieutenant Colonel Henry Despard, had learned he had to soften up the Maori defenders after 33 of his troops had been killed when he tried a direct frontal assault on a Kawiti-reinforced pa at Ohaeawai six months earlier.

Inside, the daily British barrage had little effect on 400 warriors sheltering in tunnels, trenches and bunkers behind a stout puriri palisade. Hone Heke arrived with up to 100 reinforcements on January 9, but shells breached the palisade the next day and on January 11, while the defenders were at prayer behind the pa, troops entered and claimed victory.

The British burned the pa, but today the site, pockmarked by the remains of underground defences, stands as a monument to Maori ingenuity in overcoming European firepower.

Most of the site was confiscated under the Public Works Act in 1914. The pa is the subject of Treaty of Waitangi grievance claims to be heard by the Waitangi Tribunal.

Te Ruapekapeka Trust and DoC are to launch a Ruapekapeka website with a ceremony at the Whangarei Public Library on February 14.

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