Ruapekapeka Pā near Kawakawa is famous for being the site where Māori chiefs and their outnumbered warriors made their final stand of the Northern Wars.
Everything about visiting this location is epic: its strategic hill-top views, the well-preserved ditch and bank defences that pockmark the ground; a solitary cannon once used by Chief Kawiti, the forest tracks that hid sneaky soldiers and the story of what happened here.
Ruapekapeka Pā was constructed by famous Ngāpuhi chief Hōne Heke and his uncle Chief Te Ruki Kawiti, who were among many Māori that were unhappy about government policies seen as being harmful to Māori interests following the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi. Protests soon gave way to major clashes with the British, culminating in the construction of the pā.
The battle at Ruapekapeka Pā lasted for several weeks. A force of around 1,300 British troops and 400 Māori who had sided with them began to advance on Ruapekapeka in early December 1845.
The highly intricate pā with its tunnels, rifle pits and trenches was surrounded by a strong palisade, but its garrison was outnumbered four to one.
Following a full-scale bombardment, the British troops captured the pā, claiming victory. But Heke and Kawiti escaped with their forces largely intact, and the terms of the subsequent peace settlement suggest that they ultimately won a strategic victory.
Ruapekapeka was also the site of an active archaeological dig in2017, resulting in the discovery of the ‘lost’ graves of 12 British soldiers. The site is now marked by a memorial stone.