Alexandra Redoubt, Pirongia

Alexandra Redoubt
Alexandra Redoubt. Image: Kevin Jones DOCexpand/collapse

For many Waikato Māori, this hilltop has a heart-breaking view.  From here, you can see the Puniu River, which marked the border of the region of exile now known as the King Country. 

After the war, the government confiscated more than a million acres of Waikato land, forcing tribes who had lived there for hundreds of years to move south.  This vantage point, the Alexandra Redoubt, is the best preserved of all surviving military earthworks in the region. 

Nervous, isolated and under threat

Justified or not, Pākehā settlers held onto this feeling as they moved onto confiscated land near the border with the King Country after the war. This redoubt was built in 1868 to protect the new settlement of Alexandra (Pirongia) from feared attacks by armed Māori. A peace agreement would not be signed for more than a decade, and residents had pleaded for military protection “in the event of an outbreak”. Other similar fortifications were scattered between Alexandra and Cambridge. With its high earth walls and deep, clearly defined trenches, this is the best preserved of them all.

The King Country, which you can see from the hilltop, was named after the Māori King, Tawhiao. Tawhiao led his people into exile and later settled in Whatiwhatihoe, just two kilometres beyond the aukati (confiscation line). The government had seized more than a million acres of what is now some of the best farmland in the world. It was a tragedy for the Kingites, made possible under the terms of a law passed in 1863, which made it clear that Maori who acted against the Crown would forfeit the right to the possession of their lands guaranteed to them by the Treaty of Waitangi. These lands would be occupied by Pākehā settlers. It was not just a way of punishing resistant Maori. The sale of the land also helped pay for the war.

Despite some Alexandra settlers’ fears, relationships with King Tawhiao and his people in the late 1870s were in fact remarkably good. Alexandra storekeepers encouraged Maori trade over the aukati and built storehouses for traded goods that were later shipped to Auckland. Ultimately, however, one in ten Waikato settlers walked off the land they had been given – in their view it was too swampy to be productive.