10 Historical Maori Sites and Landmarks
A Maori battleground | © Dirk Pons / Flickr
The Maori culture is one of the main drawcards for tourists visiting New Zealand. It’s a wonderful culture, rich in history and tradition – even though, as a people, the Maori are one of the youngest cultures on the planet. Here is Culture Trip’s guide to 11 of the spots most significant to the Maori people.
The Department of Conservation looks after Ruapekapeka, which is remarkably well-preserved, enabling visitors to inspect both the pā and the British forward position about 300 metres to the north. This site was where the last battle of the Northern War was fought. Ruapekapeka was a new type of pā, designed to counter bombardment. At the time it was cutting edge, with local Maori – led by Hone Heke Pokai – effectively discomfiting and resisting the British. On December 10, 1846, the battle was joined and by the next morning it was all over. The Maori defenders melted away, while the British took the defences.
The Ōtuataua Stonefields are incredibly important, as they show how the first tropical colonists of New Zealand, coming over the sea from Polynesia, adapted to their new environment. It wasn’t an easy process to save this site from being entirely swallowed up by urban expansion, but on February 10, 2001, one of New Zealand’s oldest sites became its newest reserve, the Otuataua Stonefields Historic Reserve. Here you can see Polynesian house sites, storage pits, cooking shelters, terraces, mound gardens, garden plots and garden walls as well as some 19th-century European dry-stone farm walls.
Takiroa Rock Art Shelter
No one knows who first daubed charcoal and red ochre on these walls. The images range from abstract forms to animal life and people. The presence of bones from moa and the extinct quail suggest they started early. Half a millennium ago the valley of the Waitaki River was a well-trodden seasonal hunting and fishing route. Takiroa occupied a strategic position, offering advance warning of the approach of strangers or bad weather. These paintings are some of the earliest – if not the earliest – examples of traditional art from the people who first inhabited New Zealand’s shores.
Pāpāmoa is the site of a nationally significant pā complex straddling volcanic hill country, which once watched over fertile coastal dune plains and rich coastal fisheries. This description says enough about this food basket of an area to tell you why it was coveted by the Maori tribes that lived here. The Papamoa Hills also offered good views in all directions – at an inevitable point of inter-tribal tension – which gave the inhabitants the advantage of being able to see any hostile movement long before it reached them. Here on the coastal plain and along the rolling hillsides of Pāpāmoa is the record of the lengthy evolution from Polynesian colonists to the Māori who would encounter European society, making this area of beautiful landscape particularly valuable.
Ōtātara Pā Historic Reserve
At 33 hectares the Ōtātara Pā site – which is actually comprised of two separate settlements – is one of the most significant and largest historical sites in New Zealand. Ōtātara commanded good views of rich kumara gardens, fishing, fowling and flax and raupō resources in the swamps and the then-navigable Tūtaekurī River. This made it an enviable spot to live. On the way up you can see house terraces and regularly spaced deep pits that were once roofed over for kumara storage. Hikurangi has no ditch and bank defences but there is evidence of defensive scarping. It is thought to have been settled anywhere between 1400 and 1500, and probably ceased to be occupied around 1820 during the Musket Wars.
On the wet winter morning of June 27, 1860, Major Thomas Nelson, ordered to ‘teach the troublesome Natives a lesson they will not easily forget’, ordered the bombardment of the Puketakauere Pā. Infantry then attacked. Well-directed musket and shotgun fire from the rifle pits and trenches of the Maori defenders was cutting down the men of the Grenadier and Light companies of the 40th Regiment even before reinforcements closed in. The British lost 32 dead and as many wounded; fewer than a dozen Māori died. This was one of the key moments in the First Taranaki War.
This area of the Waikato was where a decisive battle of the New Zealand Wars was played out. The Waikato War
of 1863-64 was the most intensive of ‘Queen Victoria’s little wars’ in New Zealand. The King Movement – which was basically the Maori tribes who didn’t want to side with the British – were only able to gather about 2,000 of their 5,000 warriors at any one time. The colonialists on the other hand were able to utilize river gunboat – transports were also being built – and they could call on 12,000 imperial soldiers and sailors as well as colonial units and Māori allies. Victory probably came by mistake; misinterpreting a white parley flag for surrender, the British got inside the pā before the defenders realised what was going on. The Kingites lost 47 men (more than the British) but their biggest loss was the 180 captured.
Waitangi Treaty Grounds
History Museum, Memorial
The Waitangi Treaty Grounds have an important place in New Zealand history. This was where the first accord between the British Crown and Maori chiefs was signed in 1840. The document, known as the Treaty of Waitangi
, has its controversies because of its divergent versions but it continues to play a strong role in society today. A day pass for the Waitangi Treaty Grounds includes guided tours, admission to the local museum and an evening hangi and concert. If you’re visiting in February, this is also the key place for Waitangi Day
commemorations – a date that is widely considered to be New Zealand’s national holiday.
Kororipo Heritage Park
This is culturally and historically one of the most important sites in Aotearoa New Zealand. It is a place where Maori and Europeans lived side by side and some of the most important early meetings between these two very different cultures took place. The Kororipo Heritage Park incorporates the Kerikeri Basin, the Stone Store, Kemp House, Kororipo Pā, and Rewa’s Village.
Following lengthy discussions, the largest signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in the country took place here, with over 70 chiefs adding their assent before a crowd of up to 3,000 people. In New Zealand history, key places don’t come much more important or less recognised. Come here if you want to stand where the history of a country was forged .
Book with our partner and we will earn a small commission.
These recommendations were updated on May 21, 2018 to keep your travel plans fresh.