IF you were asked to list New Zealand's greatest engineering feats, you might think of the Auckland Harbour Bridge or the Hamilton jet boat engine.
But now you can add to that list Ruapekapeka Pa, which lies southeast of Kawakawa, which is the site of the last battle between British and Maori in the 1845-46 war.
In a first for a Maori engineering feat, the pa was formally recognised this morning as a national site of engineering significance by the Institute of Professional Engineers of New Zealand.
Raumoa Kawiti, great-great-grandson of Chief Te Ruki Kawiti who built the pa more than 160 years ago, said it was a proud day for his whanau.
He is also descended from Robert Wynyard, who played an important part in Hone Heke's war.
"It is an honour to represent those tupuna who worked so hard," he said.
"He was the most brilliant engineer of his time, and he and his men had to withstand 10 days of cannon-fire underground."
A plaque was to be unveiled at the pa in a dawn ceremony today with representatives from IPENZ, the Ruapekapeka Pa Management Trust and the Department of Conservation.
IPENZ heritage spokesman Trevor Butler said recognition of Ruapekapeka as an historic engineering feat was ``huge'.
"It paves the way for other Maori engineering feats to be acknowledged. Some of their old navigational engineering, for example, was outstanding," Mr Butler said.
Good engineering was more than just using the best quality materials and following a textbook, he said.
"Real engineering is the pondering of a problem not encountered before, considering options and developing an effective local specific solution. Ruapekapeka demonstrates all of these."
Ruapekapeka Pa Management Trust member Kate Martin said recognition of the pa is well-deserved for the influence it had on warfare methods in New Zealand and especially in Britain.
"So this really is important for our identity as New Zealanders," Ms Martin said.
The only other site of national engineering significance in Northland so far recognised by IPENZ is the Portland Cement Works, south of Whangarei.
* RUAPEKAPEKA PA
• Te Ruki Kawiti was a notable Ngapuhi chief and skilled military tactician. In 1840 when William Hobson arrived in New Zealand, Kawiti resisted British rule. He didn't agree to the Treaty of Waitangi but his people pressed him to sign in May 1840.
• In March 1845 he joined forces with Hone Heke at Kororareka (Russell). His men created a diversion while the flagstaff on Maiki Hill was cut down for the last time.
• Ruapekapeka Pa was built in 1845. It had a network of rifle trenches, bunkers, tunnels and a double stockade.
• Kawiti's aim was to lure British troops into a battle on a difficult site. Unlike a traditional pa, it did not guard borders, routes or a village, and could be abandoned easily.
• Kawiti and his men were bombarded by cannons for almost two weeks, sheltering in underground bunkers like a colony of bats, giving the pa its name - Ruapekapeka means "the bat's nest".
• In early 1846 British troops entered the pa, to find its defenders were gone. In late January Kawiti and Heke negotiated peace with Governor Grey. The pa was left to deteriorate.
• It is said that the lessons Kawiti taught the British about defensive engineering and battle techniques were applied in the Crimean War and in World War II. - Source: www.nzhistory.net.nz
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