Orakau Paewai

302 Arapuni Road, Kihikihi

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Wahi Tapu Area Public Access Able to Visit
List Number 9615 Date Entered 30th October 2013 Date of Effect 30th October 2013


Extent of List Entry

The extent of registration comprises Lot 1 DPS 19526 (SA18B/416) and Lot 1 DPS 25608 (SA24D/96) - includes the pa, sap, Tautoro punawai (spring) and the breakout route, and part of the Kihikihi-Arapuni Road Reserve - includes the Orakau Paewai monument. The extent of registration is 9.9 ha comprising a major part of the Orakau Paewai battle site. (Refer to Appendix I of the registration report for further information.)

City/District Council

Waipa District


Waikato Region

Legal description

Lot 1 DPS 19526 (SA18B/416), Lot 1 DPS 25608 (SA24D/96) and part of the Kihikihi-Arapuni Road Reserve, South Auckland Land District.


The 1864 attack and three day siege on Orakau Paewai by the British and colonial army is a powerful story of self-sacrifice, courage, innovation, perseverance, pain and suffering resistance. Some 1500 or more troops faced a determined collective of Maori defenders who refused to accept foreign rule and abject submission. This battle was fought as much with innovation and ingenuity as with traditional weaponry and guns. The British expended huge resources to conquer a pa manned by only 300 hundred or so Maori defenders whose simple but formidable engineering held them at bay for three full days and earned them the begrudging respect of their enemy.

Orakau Paewai was targeted by Crown forces for several reasons. It was ‘the’ gateway into Te Rohe Potae and was an important Ngati Maniapoto provisioning depot after the fall of the Kingitanga granaries of Rangiaowhia and Paterangi. Although Orakau Paewai was hurriedly engineered and was incomplete by the time the British attacked the pa on 31 March 1864 it was, for a time, a centre of resistance operations. Its conquest and annex was intended to crush the spirit and will of resistance by shutting down Kingite refugees from Meremere and Rangiriri who had regrouped with Ngati Maniapoto, Paretekawa, Ngati Raukawa, Ngati Apakura, and Ngai Tuhoe, Ngati Tuwharetoa, Ngati Kahungunu and other iwi.

The fact that the Maori garrisons assembled at Orakau Paewai were from a multitude of iwi and hapu was not lost on the British who, fearing a repeat of Rangiriri, greatly desired to send a resounding message to the leaders of those hapu to submit or be annihilated. Orakau Paewai is remembered as the place where a brave and ingenious multi hapu collective force made a calculated but ill-fated stand against numerically superior British forces. Following the battle and subsequent hunt through the swamps, British and militia forces began preparations to continue the conquest and annex policy of the Crown. Iwi/hapu withdrew to Hangatiki, north of Te Kuiti where, in anticipation of an attack by the British forces, a pa was constructed on Puketui. However the pa was never set upon as the British Forces did not advance beyond the Puniu River.

The battle of Orakau Paewai is remembered as the last great siege of the Waikato Wars, effectively ending large scale warfare in the region. It was perhaps one of this country’s most significant and most tragic battles. Extensive earthwork defences stretched for a kilometre along the hilly ridge lines before descending across swampy low ground terminating at the Puniu River edge.

Assessment criteriaopen/close

Orakau Paewai is sacred to Maori in the traditional, spiritual and ritual senses. The tapu nature relates to the place being a battle site and the rituals surrounding battle and the presence of burials.

Orakau, once settled by Ngati Paretekawa, Raukawa and Ngati Maniapoto peoples, is most notably associated with the mana of the Rangatira, Rewi Manga Maniapoto, Hitiri Te Paerata, Piripi Te Heuheu and Te Whenuanui and others whose blood sacrament imparted a lasting sanctity upon the land. In 1864, the place became a flashpoint of conflict between the Crown and Maori collective forces who opposed Crown incursion. On 31 March 1864, the British and colonial army attacked Orakau in a three day siege which became the last siege of the Waikato where Maori casualties were heavy. It is believed that 160 Maori died either in battle or from wounds sustained after being forced into the swamps enroute to allies across the other side. The swamp became an open air burial ground and for two weeks after the battle, British reconnoitre units reported the smell emanating from the area. Brigadier General Carey tallied the battle toll around 101 killed and approximately 18 - 20 buried in the pa and several prisoners dying in the field hospital at Te Awamutu. On the British side, 16 were killed and 52 wounded.

Accounts from some of the soldiers noted that bibles were found clutched on several of the dead and wounded and that the dead were either buried where they were found or in several un-marked mass graves. Accounts and notations attest that there were 40 tupapaku (human remains) in the trenches on the north side of the pa, and on the pa itself, and that there was a mass grave at the edge of the swamp near the 40th Regiment cordon and also on the adjacent swamp spur near Ngamoko with more along the escape line to the Puniu.

The rituals associated with this battle were carried out by a number of tohunga whom were amongst the defenders inside the pa. They included Hakopa and Tapiki, Wi Karamona, Te Waro, Rewi Manga Maniapoto, Apiata, and Tiniwata Te Kohika and matakite (the prophetess Ahuriri). It was widely rumoured that an otaota ritual (blood offering on fern scrub) had gone awry when an offering of blood soaked bracken from Rangiaowhia could not be obtained after Crown forces shot one of the three Maori emissaries sent on a reconnaissance.

The Orakau Paewai battle is remembered as a powerful story of self-sacrifice, courage, innovation, perseverance, pain, suffering and loss of life. Orakau Paewai is a spiritual and ritual nexus for those who honour the fallen, their deeds and the memories of their tupuna.


Additional informationopen/close

Historical and associated iwi/hapu/whanau

Ngati Kahungunu

Ngutu Ngati Maniapoto

Unu Ngati Maniapoto

Ngati Te Kohera Ngati Tuwharetoa

Ngati Whare

Ngati Te Kohera Raukawa


Te Aitanga a Mahaki

Ngati Koura Tuhoe

Patuheuheu Tuhoe


General Nature Of Wahi Tapu

Part of a wider Maniapoto, Raukawa and Paretekawa settlement prior to the New Zealand Wars, Orakau Paewai became a defensive pa site re-engineered by Maori defenders prior to the siege of Orakau Paewai on 31 March 1864. It became a significant battle site near the end of the Waikato Wars and a burial site for many of those who lost their lives in the battle.

Historical Narrative

Landscape Setting:

Orakau is situated within the Puniu catchment in the Waipa District, 29km North of Kirikiriroa (Hamilton), 22km from Te Oko Horoi-Kemureti (Cambridge) to the east and16km from Maunga Pirongia (Mount Pirongia further west) and is approximately 4.8km south east of Kihikihi Township on the northern banks of the Puniu River.

Several other watercourses feed the catchment, these being the Mangaohoi, Mangakopara, Whakarongopu, Mangangarara, Mangapiko, Mangapaia, Waerengaatua, Wharekorino, Mangahana, Paouaea and Ruapahau, which are the closest in proximity. These waterways were once the major transit highways that afforded access to the Manukau, Waihou, Tikapa Moana (Hauraki Gulf), Pare Hauraki and the greater Waikato rohe (area) and beyond. The sheer number of watercourses that meandered through the catchment suggests that local populations were highly mobile and capable of travelling long distances to take advantage of various land and resource interests.

Maori Settlement in the Area:

Maori settlement in the area was presumably in response to several key factors; the peat lakes and wetland systems throughout the Waipa District were giant bio-diverse food stores, abundant and proliferate in an array of resources necessary to sustain sizeable populations of people. The wetlands represented a means of sustenance and also supported food gathering and construction activities for both local consumption, use and inter-hapu trade. Though woody swamp land areas were more extensive prior to systematic drainage instituted after the battle of Orakau Paewai in 1864, the highpoints (hill zones) of dry land around Kihikihi were (and are) characterised by loamy alluvium deposited soils, ideal for producing high yield cultivations. Crops such as kumara (sweet potato), taro (corm tuber), rauruhe (fern root) and hue (gourd) were staples grown. Site records and military journals mention the fertile qualities of the Te Awamutu - Kihikihi districts and bustling trade of traditional crops and introduced produce.

A range of Maori settlement types occurred along the Waipa and Puniu River and adjacent streams and foothills. These included small undefended settlements, complex living sites, and small and large scale pa. Given the availability of wetland resources, there would have been undoubtedly single unit settlements inside the repo, perhaps seasonal in nature, used for birding, fishing, eeling and construction material harvesting. This stretch of the Puniu mirrors the settlement pattern for repo areas encompassing; Whangamarino, Te Waerenga and the Waihou Piako River catchments. It should also be noted that manawhenua exchanged not only consumables and material goods but also ideas and knowledge. Given the proximity to water highways and kin relationships with Waikato - Tainui whanui and fluid population movements; environ specific matauranga Maori (Maori knowledge systems/adaptations) would have been transferred and applied freely.

Orakau’s location on a low forested hill ridge set above manuka swampland bogs and its layout, suggests that prior to European arrival, its primary function was a papakainga (village settlement). Anecdotal journal entries and observations by notaries such as James Cowan, noted that Orakau village was located 400 yards west of the pa and included a Maori church and school set back from the road. The people of Orakau village were the Ngati Koura hapu of Waikato, who prior to the battle of Orakau Paewai, along with a section of Ngati Raukawa and Cowan’s father ‘Kawana’, farmed the land which included Orakau pa. The homestead in which James Cowan grew up was located on the old village site. Cowan outlines the functional aspects, daily activities and industry that took place at Orakau prior to the onset of war. As with any papakainga, and particularly those set around the swamp margins, ara (Maori trails) like ara-Titaha were used to traverse the repo, its outskirts and the open spaces between settlements (such as Otautahanga and Parawera) and other pa. Prior to fortification, Orakau Paewai reputedly had an ara transect running through it which was used by Maori to transport goods to Kihikihi and Te Awamutu for trade.

The ancestral landscape of Orakau Paewai incorporates several sacred and renowned maunga (mountains), these being; Te Kakepuku o Kahu, Pirongia Te Aroaro o Kahu, Karioi, Te Kawa, Tautari (including Pukeatua and Te Akatarere), Kawa, Te Tapui and Tokanui. To the south and east lay kahikatea forested swamps separating Orakau from the hills at Pukekura and Maungatautari. Less than a kilometre to the north flows the Mangaohoi Stream, three kilometres to the south, the Puniu River.

The Battle of Orakau:

Orakau literally means ‘the place of trees ‘and alludes to the dense native bush that once clothed its hinterland. Early frontier observations of the 1860s refer to the area being forested in podocarps such as orakau, kahikatea, te kawakawa, rimu; as well as swamp manuka and raupo sedges. Later the district became known for its proliferation in orchard species (peaches, almonds, cherries, apples, grapes and quinces); particularly the peach groves that once thrived at Orakau. Historic anecdotal observations noted that the northern slopes were cultivated in wheat and included potatoes, kumara, maize, melons, pumpkins and marrows.

The Battle of Orakau (31 March to 2 April 1864) is perhaps one of the best known engagements of the New Zealand Wars. This battle was fought six weeks after the invasion of the Rangiaowhia district and the fall of the Paterangi line (40km south of Ngaruawahia), which was designed to halt the British advance and protect the economic power base of Ngati Maniapoto, Ngati Raukawa, Ngati Haua and the Kingitanga. The principal Maori economic hub in Te Rohe Potae was the agriculturally rich district of Rangiaowhia (and its namesake pa), which at the time, housed Kingitanga granaries. Orakau was the next point of contact after the Wharepapa council of war meetings were being held between Maniapoto leaders and their allies (particularly those from Raukawa and Ngai Tuhoe) whilst in strategic retreat. At this meeting, the war council deliberated their options (there were three alternates) and eventually decided to send a small advance unit to Orakau Paewai to start fortifying the existent pa infrastructure. Interestingly Cowan (1864) notes that prior to the official commencement of siege on the 29 February 1864, two surveyors, Mr. Gundry and Mr. G. T. Wilkinson from the eastern hill of Kihikihi, observed through a theodolite telescope a large number of Maori at Orakau working on the entrenchments. As a result, a detachment of the 50th Regiment under Colonel Waddy (whom occupied Te Awamutu at the time) was sent to disperse them only to return with intelligence reports that the ‘natives’ had begun digging rifle pits. Forest Rangers discovered when scouting the area a series of rifle pits dug into a small hill just past the half way mark between Kihikihi and Orakau masked with Manuka.

Cowan (1922) noted that the Orakau battle site was on a gentle slope called Rangataua that was set amongst a grove of peach trees. Te Huia Raureti remarked of the pa that “…it lay 3 miles from Rewi Maniapoto’s village of Kihikihi, and was deliberately chosen – against the counsel of Rewi – to provoke the British troops and to block the road along which the Pakeha would always come.” According to the archaeological site record form notations (S15/341 – Orakau Maori Village) and Maori Land Court Minute Books, Rangataua Pa was 400 metres west of Orakau and correlates to the location described in the site record form S15/183 (Rangataua Pahs location). In any case, Orakau was chosen because it was situated on ground that was fairly flat with unobstructed views to the north and was close to Tautoro punawai. It also offered the prospect of immediate battle from its proximity to the British, and in particular, the food supply route of the garrison. Two obvious deficits of its location was that it did not have an integral water supply (Tautoro stream flowed nearby to the west but was not accessible once Orakau was fully encircled when the siege commenced) and secondly, it was too exposed and could easily be encircled.

Te Paerata’s 1864 recollection of the defences and summarised by Belich (1986) states that

“…by working day and night (in shifts because there were not enough spades) the defenders succeeded in making the pa viable though not complete by the time the British attacked. Limitations of time and tools meant that the pa was both fairly simple and only moderately strong, but it was tenable against assault if skilfully defended.”

In actual fact, the earthworks were more formidable than they appeared. Winitana Tupoutahi of Ngati Paretekawa is credited with designing the trenches and outer defences using skills he had learned in Sydney.

The outer defences consisted of an oblong earthwork redoubt with two small bastions, a broad parapet very low to the ground (four feet above ground) and one large unfinished outwork (trench). The pa had interior bunkers, traversed trenches, firing apertures and a perimeter of pekerangi (post and rail fence). There was also an interior ditch guarding against enfilading fire which was converted into a series of rua, or burrows, partly covered over for protection from shell fire to limit the damage radius by neutralizing shrapnel dispersal (something which they learned from Meremere and Rangiriri).

Shells were not the only explosive munitions the British used, rakete (rockets) were also used for maximum damage. Ironically, a few enterprising Maori disarmed the grenade wicks and recycled the powder to use in their rifles, or returned to sender. In constructing the rampart pa, engineers used alternate layers of earth and armfuls of newly pulled fern to bind the friable soil, thus giving the wall an elastic quality which greatly reinforced its resistance to shot and shell. In portions of the interior earthworks, the builders made innovative use of long horizontal rifle loopholes or embrasures, improvised with sections of board for the upper part and short pieces of timber at the sides. The whole defensive works spread approximately just over 1km.

The Maori force collected to defend this position included representatives from numerous tribal allies though the core combatant units comprised of men and woman from Ngati Maniapoto, Ngati Raukawa (mainly Ngati Kohera) whom were supported by Ngati Tuwharetoa allies and Waikato Tainui whanui (mostly those in retreat from the bombardment of Meremere (31 October 1863) and the battle of Rangiriri (20 - 21 November 1863). Sixty warriors from Ngai Tuhoe were accompanied by 20 Ngati Kahungunu defenders from Heretaunga (Hawke’s Bay) including Ngati Porou, Whakatohea, Te Whanau-a-Apanui, Te Arawa, Ngati Manawa and several units from the Manawatu rohe (district) also sent combatants to Orakau Paewai.

The total number of Maori combatants inside the pa varies from source to source however; Cowan estimated the total number to be around 310 combatants (men and women). Belich’s estimate is of 250 warriors and 50 noncombatant women and children. Some Maori prisoners who were captured after the battle estimated there to be around two hundred men and one hundred women. Two European eyewitnesses believed there to be between two hundred and two hundred fifty combatants with a further fifty noncombatants (comprised of the elderly and children). Several iwi and hapu (Ngati Haua and Ngati Raukawa, Ngati Toa and others) also contributed units as part of a secondary relief force of 100 - 150 men but were cut off at Otihi on the Maungatautari side of the Mangaohoi swamp and Aratiatia. Regiments listed as participants in the battle included Royal Artillery, 12th, 18th Royal Irish 2nd Battalion (also known as Daddy’s Blackguards or Namur’s), 65th 2nd Yorkshire North Riding (also known as The Royal Tigers), 40th Regiment (also known as the Excellers-XLS 40), 70th Regiment (the Surreys also known as the Glasgow Greys), Colonial Defence Force (including those from Australia-Tasmania and Victoria), Forest Rangers (units 1 & 2), Waikato Militia (units 1 & 3), Commissariat Transport, 16th Engineer & Survey Corps.

Though conservative estimates place the tally of British soldiers between 1100-1500 troops, there were in excess of 300 plus reserves stationed at key places around the Mangaohoi and north Waikato area, which both General Cameron and General Carey could call upon as and when needed. Given these considerations, liberal figures place the total tally at approximately 2000 troops.

Battle Events:

On the morning of 30 March 1864, Brigadier General G.J Carey and General J.D Cameron after having received intelligence reports from several survey units, marched toward Orakau Paewai with the intention of meeting an advance guard by dawn the next day.

The first attack on Orakau Pa was initiated in the early morning hours of 31 March 1864 by the Forest Ranger units (Brigadier General Carey’s main bodyguard) flanked by the 18th Royal Irish Regiment (led by Captain Ring) and supported by the 40th Regiment. Crown reinforcements (220 men composed of 18th Regiment, 70th Regiment and 3rd Regiment of Waikato Militia) did not arrive until 1st April 1864. The Forest Rangers comprised of two companies led by Captain William Jackson (Hunua Rangers under 2nd Lieutenant Roberts) and Major Gustavus Von Tempsky (Company Two Swamp Rangers) specialized in non-conventional warfare and operated behind enemy lines in the forests and swamps. Major Von Tempsky’s advance of Forest Rangers (28 men) and supporting Regiments (275 men) took up an easterly position cutting off access to the swamps and consequently the Maori relief corps marshaled on the other side at Otihi and Maungatautari.

Meanwhile, Brigadier General Carey ordered the second Company of Forest Rangers (Captain William Jackson) and the central column led by General Haultain (Royal Artillery, Engineers, 12th, 16th, 65th Regiments and 1st Waikato Militia totaling 731 men) to encircle the pa. Carey’s logic was to encircle and isolate the pa from its supplies. From there the British set about positioning two 6 pound Armstrong cannons on Karaponia ridge and excavating gabions and saps (under Lieutenant Hurst of the 18th who had an engineering background). Most of the Maori defenders inside the pa were in morning church service when Raukawa sentries sounded the alarm for the onset of battle. The first day of battle was characterised by gun battles and skirmishing on the east, west and north western sides of the pa. Armed with an array of traditional weaponry augmented by several flintlock muskets, double barreled guns, Enfield rifles and 15 rifles sent from Taranaki. Maori were deficient in terms of firepower yet managed to repulse the Crown troop’s initial attempts at simultaneous assault. When battle halted temporarily, Rewi Manga Maniapoto ordered an inventory of munitions and food to be undertaken, after which it was deduced that reserves of both powder and bullets was running dangerously low, and there was no water and very little food. In fact, the bulk of the Maori defenders ammunition was expended by dawn of the following morning.

On 1 April 1864 (day two of the battle) a thick fog descended concealing both combatant groups and created an uneasy lull for much of the morning. On this day, Rewi Manga Maniapoto, as overarching war chief, instructed all defenders to reserve their bullets for daylight fighting and to fashion substitute bullets out of whatever they could improvise. Several Rangatira experimented with wooden projectiles made of peach, apple and manuka wood. Several others used the legs off iron cooking pots, peach stones and bone wrapped in paper. The Auckland Museum has several examples of teki (paper wrapped around 2 inch cylindrical ended bone projectiles) in their Orakau Land War exhibit. Lack of munitions also meant that the defenders became highly accurate marksmen and women. The main problem with these improvised munitions was that after a time, they destroyed the bore mechanisms in the rifles thus neutralizing them.

The second day was also the day where the Council of War Chiefs debated whether to fight on or surrender or attempt a fateful escape. That night General Cameron, impressed by the defenders courage under fire, extended terms of capitulation and surrender by sending in Ensign William Mair (later made Captain) to discuss Cameron’s terms. Mair requested that the women and children be sent out of the pa, to which the women responded ‘Ki te mate nga tane, me mate ano nga wahine me nga tamariki’ - if the men are to die, the women and children must die also. Rewi Manga Maniapoto’s response was to offer up the oath of defiance ’Ka whawhai tonu matou ake ake ake – we shall fight on forever!’ Accounts differ between Ensign Mair and Ngati Maniapoto as to the exact utterance; Ngati Maniapoto sources present at the exchange maintain that the actual phrase uttered was ’Kore e mau te rongo, ake ake – Peace shall never be made, never never!’ In any case, the night was given to debating the defenders options to surrender, fight on or attempt escape.

Early the following morning on 2 April 1864 (third day of battle) it was decided that surrender was not an option (though dissent was voiced), nor was fighting on indefinitely due to the shortage of water, rations and munitions.The only option left was to affect an escape or kokiri (dart rush forward) through enemy lines and into the swamps. An initial kokiri at mid-morning on the eastern side of the pa resulted in the death of the tohunga, Te Waro, who was shot by Major Von Tempsky, who had anticipated the break out and was patrolling that stretch of perimeter. By this time General Cameron had amassed a fighting force of 1800 troops and by noon he gave the order for cannon fire, hand grenades and rifle fire on the defenders. At 3.30pm that afternoon, the defenders affected their escape on the southeast side of the pa. Deputy Quarter Master General, Lieutenant Colonel D.G. Gamble (who was present at the battle) states that

“…the enemy suddenly came out of the entrenchment on the open, and in a silent and compact body moved without precipitation. There was something mysterious in their appearance, as they advanced towards the cordon of troops, without fear, without firing a shot, or a single cry being heard even from the women, of whom there were several among them…They had been already more than two days without water; they had no food but some raw potatoes (3 tonnes); an overwhelming force surrounded them, and all hope of relief failed; but still, with an extraordinary devotion to their cause, calmly, in the face of death, abandoned their position without yielding…”

At General Cameron’s order the Crown forces swarmed the pa shooting at and shelling both the pa and the escaping party who broke through the British lines targeting the 40th Regiments’ already weakened front. Battle veteran and Rangatira Hitiri Te Paerata recounts…” my father and many of my people died in breaking away from the pa. When we cut through the troops further on, my brother Hone Teri, who was with Rewi died in endeavouring to shield him. The whole of my tribe were slain; my father, my brothers, and an uncle died. My sister Te Ahumai, she who said the men and woman would all die together was wounded in four places…”

The bulk of the escapees were forced into the swamps, aiming for sanctuary with allies on the other side of the Puniu. What they did not consider at the time was that they would be hunted for 9.5km through the swamp by Captain Von Tempsky’s Company of men.

Less than 50 Maori escaped physically unscathed including Rewi Manga Maniapoto. 160 Maori died either in battle or from wounds sustained in the escape into the swamp land. In his official account of the battle to the Assistant Military Secretary, HQ, Brigadier-General Carey tallied the battle toll at 101 killed, 18 - 20 buried in the pa, 26 wounded and taken prisoner and 7 unwounded and also taken prisoner. Several prisoners died in the field hospital in Te Awamutu. On the British side, 16 were killed and 52 wounded (Gamble 1864 quotes 17 killed and 52 wounded). Accounts from some of the soldiers noted that bibles were found clutched on several of the dead and wounded and that the dead were either buried where they were found or in several unmarked mass graves. Accounts and notations attest that there are 40 tupapaku (remains) in the trenches on the north side of the pa, and on the pa itself, and that there was a mass grave at the edge of the swamp near the 40th Regiment cordon and also on the adjacent swamp spur near Ngamoko with more along the line of retreat to Puniu. A letter dated 1914 from W.M O’Brien, who was a young Sergeant at the time states that he counted 40 dead where now a willow tree stands on the north side of the pa to demarcate the dead. One of the more unsavory aspects of the battle is the fact that a significant number of Maori died after being forced into the swamps, enroute to allies across the other side. The swamp became an open air burial ground and for two weeks after the battle, British reconnoiter units reported the smell of putrification emanating from within.

It does not appear that Orakau was prompted by strategic necessity nor tactical military suitability but was chosen rather for its convenience in being rapidly fortified. The failure of the defence at Orakau lay in several mistakes. The first was a breach of tikanga in preparing the earth, the second was the failure to perform the rite of whangai hau-mata ika (consecrating first blood to supplicate Uenuku), and the third was a lapse in sentry karakia recitations that were meant to be continuous though there were several tohunga (including Hakopa and Tapiki, Wi Karamona, Te Waro, Rewi Manga Maniapoto, Apiata and Tiniwata Te Kohika ) and matakite (the prophetess Ahuriri) whom were amongst the defenders inside the pa carrying out ritual activities. It was widely rumoured that an otaota ritual (blood offering on fern scrub) had gone awry, when an offering of blood soaked bracken from Rangiaowhia could not be obtained after Crown forces shot one of the three Maori emissaries sent on a reconnaissance.

Rewi Manga Maniapoto also prevented the ritual of mata ika taking place (offering of blood sacrifice upon the battle field) thus, Tu Kai Te Uru (God of the blood horizon) could not be assuaged and luck in battle could not be secured. A further breach of ritual occurred when sentries erred in the recitation of sentry karakia designed to imbue the pa with supernatural defenses. Another failure was the steadfast belief in a favourable outcome on the part of some of the leadership; obstinacy was another. The willfulness of some of the Rangatira meant that they often overrode Rewi Manga Maniapoto’s tactical advice. This was true at Orakau Paewai where essentially they allowed the Crown to box them in (by sapping and encircling) and starve them out.

However, what is not often acknowledged by history is that more than any other battle site, Orakau Paewai was able to unify iwi and hapu that traditionally did not work together. There were also glimmers of chivalry and honour upheld by enemy combatants of both warring parties. Hitiri Te Paerata recollects stealing away under cover of darkness through enemy lines to seek water for the wounded from nearby Tautoro punawai, (spring) and coming within line of sight of British soldiers who allowed passage. There are also documented recollections by Cowan (1864), told by soldiers, who allowed others (mostly women) to do the same and vice versa. The perception of abject victory is also a myth, as at the time, many of the lay soldiers were disgusted by the conduct of their superiors and what transpired in the Puniu swamp. The Southern Cross paper also went as far as labeling the turn of events at Orakau as a ‘humiliating defeat’. What is also not acknowledged is the role that Maori of mixed European descent played in aiding the Crown.

In the aftermath of the battle, the Pakeha dead were taken for burial in occupied Te Awamutu. The earthworks were levelled by the soldiers as was standard practice of the day and a military block house erected nearby in 1869 to protect local settlers. The blockhouse was sited very close to the high point where the British stationed Armstrong guns to shell the defenders within the pa five years earlier. A gum tree planted by the Armed Constabulary in the 1870s marks the spot. Orakau Paewai was never reoccupied by Maori but 1864 Survey draft plans (SO 330) indicates land south of the road was granted to a Mr Purdy, and land immediately to south west (blockhouse location) was turned into military reserve.

Archival evidence indicates that a granite monument was erected in the approximate area circa 1911 (possibly early 1912). The current monument was erected on the 1 April 1914 as part of the 50th Jubilee Commemorations organised by the Orakau Jubilee Committee of the Department of Internal Affairs and sponsored in part by the Victoria League Hamilton Branch. New Zealand Aerial Mapping dated 1944 indicates that the memorial was temporarily removed for repair as it does not appear in photos, despite local territorial authorities maintaining the monument has never been moved. The original two memorials were initially dedicated to the fallen British; however in 1963 bronze plaques recognising the Maori defenders and engineering strategy were added.


The quandary of the location of the battle has been an enduring mystery in New Zealand history. Various stakeholders in the heritage sector including historians, archaeologists, territorial authorities and tangata whenua, have all endeavoured to answer the question conclusively.

It has been up until recent times it has been the assumption that the modern existent roadway cuts through what is thought to have been the middle of Orakau pa. It was also generally accepted that Orakau pa was located on a high point. The Jubilee memorial erected 50 years after the battle (on a high point), in the year 1914, and which proudly displays a bronze plaque with Captain Greaves sketch map engraved, was thought to have been the approximate location of the pa. Indeed, conjecture has existed since the 1960s when archaeologist Owen Wilkes queried the assumption that the memorial was in fact located in the correct place, going so far as to note it on the archaeological site record form and direct future generations of archaeologists to follow up. However a review of all the available empirical data, historical imagery, archaeological site record forms, recently acquired archaeological data and modern imaging tools has now advanced a more informed opinion as to exact location. It has also allowed researchers to pin point where ambiguity and confusion have stemmed from.

Some ambiguity can be attributed to the accuracy of historical maps, as there is a distinct difference between the reference maps produced by Captain Greaves (and reproduced by Gamble) and Robert Anderson. The Greaves map was considered more accurate by Maori and European battle veterans and focused on the engineering of both the sap and pa. The Anderson map focused more on the landscape surrounds and British military positions, but is dated 8 July 1864 – so drawn well after the battle itself and therefore probably when some infilling had taken place, skewing Anderson’s measurements. A lithograph map held by the Auckland Museum and drawn by Captain Brooke gives a third perspective of the immediate site, and when overlaid with the other two, indicates contour distortion. Many of the maps generated by ‘authorities’ post 1870; like the 1914, Townshend plan, replicate the features and so inaccuracy of the Anderson and Brookes maps is compounded. Significantly, the Townshend map shows the sap crossing Arapuni Road and the pa straddling it, which is counterpoint to defender recollections. Townshend’s map was supported by James Cowan who wrote in 1922 that “…The only trace on the roadway of the old entrenchments is part of a ditch on the southern side of the road-cutting. Just inside the fence of the field on the northern side, where the north-east angle of the pas (sic) stood, there is a large mound surrounded by uneven lines of depression, indicating trenches…the outlines of the British sap are now indistinguishable except for a few yards in the field on the north side of the road where a slight depression in the turf indicates the old trench towards the position on the mound of the hill”. It has always been presumed that James Cowan was correct in his statements.

The Victorian League used the Townshend maps when making several decisions including memorial placement. Every subsequent commemoration committee and territorial authority had operated on the assumption that the memorial reflected the location of the battle site.

On 12 May 2013 a geomagnetic survey was undertaken to ascertain subterranean anomalies, indicative of archaeological features attributable to Orakau Paewai Pa. The preliminary results indicated that the pa was located approximately 70m east of the monument and south of the current road. A subsequent independent peer review of all data concurred with the preliminary findings.

Dr Phillips was able to pin point the most probable location of the punawai known as Tautoro, using stereo pair and infra-red photography. In Dr Phillips estimation, Tautoro was most likely located at the head of a gully less than 20m from the south west corner of Orakau pa. It is well known that thirst from the lack of drinking water was one reason the pa was abandoned. It is likely that due to the small area of the catchment and the time of the battle (March) after a dry summer, the punawai had dried up.

Construction Dates

Public NZAA Number












Completion Date

30th October 2013

Report Written By

Makere Rika-Heke and Dave Robson

Information Sources

Belich, 1986

James Belich, 'The New Zealand Wars and the Victorian Interpretation of Racial Conflict', Auckland, 1986

Cowan, 1922

J. Cowan, The New Zealand Wars and the Pioneering Period, Volume 1,

(Government Printer, Wellington: 1922)

Cowan, 1955

The New Zealand Wars: A History of the Maori Campaigns and the Pioneering Period: Volume 1: 1845-1864. R.E Owen. Wellington.

Chapter 27 Military Forces and Frontier Defences; reprint 1955, Wellington, New Zealand: 255.

Other Information

A fully referenced Report is available from the Maori Heritage Team of the National Office in Wellington.


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.