Kaupokonui Archaic Site

Rama Road Kaupokonui

  • Kaupokonui Archaic Site.
    Copyright: NZ Historic Places Trust.
  • Kaupokonui Archaic Site.
    Copyright: NZ Historic Places Trust. Taken By: Andy Dodd. Date: 4/08/2010.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 2 Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 5976 Date Entered 15th January 1985


Extent of List Entry

Extent includes part of the land described as Otamare (CT TN137/75; NZ Gazette 1985 p.680), Taranaki Land District and the archaeological site known as Kaupokonui Archaic Site (NZAA Site P21/3) thereon, as shown in the diagram tabled at the Rārangi Kōrero meeting on 26 April 2018.

City/District Council

South Taranaki District


Taranaki Region

Legal description

Otamare (CT TN137/75; NZ Gazette 1985 p.680), Taranaki Land District


The Kaupokonui Archaic camp is a nationally significant archaeological site, comprising one of the few recorded archaic Polynesian sites in Taranaki that still contains retrievable archaeological material. Kaupokonui is best known as moa butchery site and a find spot for a variety of archaic Māori artefacts. However food storage pits indicative of permanent settlement have also been excavated at this location and it is likely that the site was occupied throughout pre-European times. The site has twice been the focus of formal archaeological investigations and archaic material is continually reported eroding from the coastal sand dunes. The site is also known to contain human remains. As such the site represents a complex and important archaeological site of a type now rare throughout New Zealand, potentially still capable of providing great insight into the earliest settlement of Taranaki and the transformation of early Polynesian culture into modern Māori.

Archaeologists generally agree that the Kaupokonui site was occupied by the mid fourteenth century, following dating of moa bone recovered from the lowest levels of the archaeological site. The spectacular recovery of a moa skeleton (Pachyornis mappini), lying where it had been thrown, with a twisted neck and legs removed, indicates that moa were killed and butchered in- situ. As moa became extinct relatively quickly following human arrival, this site represents evidence of the earliest phase of Polynesian settlement in Taranaki.

The site is most famous for the recovery of large amount of moa bone, with an estimated 50 individual moa represented. The archaeological excavations also recovered faunal remains from a variety of birds and mammals, including 55 species of birds, sea lions, elephant seals, dogs, rats, tuatara, fish and shellfish remains. Twelve of the bird species recovered are now extinct or extinct to the region including extinct swan, huia, little grey kiwi, goshawk, giant rail, crow, takahe and North Island kokako. The range of species provides an indication of the variety and naivety of the marine and terrestrial species exploited by the first Polynesian arrivals.

The excavation of the archaic site appears to have occurred on the areas exposed by shifting dunes adjacent the river mouth. However the archaeology of the Kaupokonui site is complicated by the recording of a kainga or village site on the high ground above and northwest of the archaic site. This kainga (NZAA site P21/20) is associated with storage pit features and may indicate a later phase of Māori settlement, or possibly a continuum of prehistoric Māori settlement at Kaupokonui. More recently human remains have been recovered eroding from the upper levels of the sand dunes along the river bank that may relate to this later phase of occupation.

Due to the recording practices of their era, compounded by the shifting nature of the dunes, the precise location of the previous archaeological excavations is difficult to determine today. The dunes appear to have shifted significantly since the site was first investigated in the early 1960s and the degrading coastline appears to have eroded the sand cover of the foreshore dunes that formerly protected much of the site along the coastal edge. However areas of riverbank dune appear intact and archaeological material continues to be recovered from this area.

The archaeological excavations to date have been localised in one area and there has been no documented attempt to define the true extent of the site, but archaeological remains are considered highly likely to exist throughout the Otamare Block. This same block contains another distinct archaeological site: a small pā site (P21/2), listed as No. 5975 (Category 2) on the New Zealand Heritage List. This pā comprises a small platform protected by a defensive ditch overlooking the left bank of the Otakeho Stream. The association, if any, of this pā with the Kaupokonui archaic site is unclear.


Additional informationopen/close

Construction Dates

Original Construction
1350 -

1963 -

1974 -

Public NZAA Number


Completion Date

5th April 2018

Report Written By

Ivan Bruce

Information Sources

New Zealand Archaeological Association (NZAA)

New Zealand Archaeological Association

AG Buist, 'Archaeological Evidence of the archaic phase of occupation in South Taranaki', 1962, vol. 5, pp. 233-237; 'Kaupokonui midden, South Taranaki N128/3: preliminary report', 1963, vol. 6, pp.175-183; D. Robinson, 'Kaupokonui midden, South Taranaki N128/3: the artifacts', 1963, vol. 6, pp.133-187

New Zealand Archaeological Association (NZAA)

New Zealand Archaeological Association

Buist, A.,‘Kaupokonui midden, South Taranaki N128/3: preliminary report’, New Zealand Archaeological Association Newsletter, Vol. 6, no. 4, 1963, pp.175 – 183

University of Auckland

University of Auckland

D. Foley, 'Analysis of Faunal Remains from Kaupokonui Site N128/3B', MA Thesis.

Masters Thesis

Foley, Diane, Analysis of faunal remains from the Kaupokonui site: a thesis presented to the University of Auckland in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the Degree of Masters of Arts and Honours in Anthropology, University of Auckland, 1980

Anderson, 1989

Atholl Anderson, Prodigious Birds: Moas and moa-hunting in prehistoric New Zealand, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1989

Kaupokonui N128/3B: a moa butchery and cooking site.

Cassels, R., ‘Kaupokonui N128/3B: a moa butchery and cooking site. A preliminary report on 1974 rescue excavations,’ unpublished report, n.d.

Other Information

The map attached to the registration letter shows an extent of registration that is further to the south-east than the area marked by NZAA. The extent map is based on the registration map 'Archaeological Site Land Title Form'.

Please note that entry on the New Zealand Heritage List/Rarangi Korero identifies only the heritage values of the property concerned, and should not be construed as advice on the state of the property, or as a comment of its soundness or safety, including in regard to earthquake risk, safety in the event of fire, or insanitary conditions.

A fully referenced upgrade report is available on request from the Central Regional Office of Heritage New Zealand