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Ngā Tohuwhenua Mai Te Rangi: A New Zealand Archeology in Aerial Photographs


This region covers the area from Cape Runaway in the east to Waihi in the west, and runs south to-include Lake Taupō and the vicinity of the Tongariro National Park. It is bounded by the Raukūmara and Huiarau Ranges in the east, and the Mamaku Range in the west. These ranges set the limits of human settlement in the past, as they do today. Themes to be covered in this chapter are the traditional landing sites of several major canoes, pre-European pā and horticulture, later nineteenth-century fortifications dating from the period of Pai Mārire, and one of the last Māori fortifications of the New Zealand Wars, Te Pōrere, defended by Te Kooti Arikirangi in 1869.

The tribal rohe (boundaries) of the region are set by the saying of Mātaatua descendants (for example, Ngāti Awa): 'Mai i Ngā Kuri-a-Wharei ki Tihirau', meaning 'From the dog of Wharei to Cape Runaway'; 1 and the saying of Te Arawa: 'Mai Whakaari ki Tongariro' or 'Mai Maketū ki Tongariro', 'From White Island or Maketū to Tongariro'. Writing of this area and the East Coast in 1769, Joseph Banks regarded it as one of the most populous and productive in the whole of New Zealand. 2

Within the region, volcanic products of various forms from the Taupō and Okataina vents dominate the superficial landform. 3 Relatively sterile landscapes were created by the molten volcanic materials that have erupted from the Taupō caldera (now the site of the lake) over many thousands of years. This material has low fertility and formed both the inland plains, which are very prone to frost, and the ranges at the western and north-western margins towards the Waikato and Tauranga Harbour. The southern Waikato high country, the Mamaku Range, the low hill country inland from page break
Mayor Island, Tūhua, a major source of obsidian, from the west

Mayor Island, Tūhua, a major source of obsidian, from the west

The view looks into the crater of the volcano. There are pā (imperceptible) on the ridges formed at the edge of the crater. Some of the most important obsidian quarries lie in drifts on either side of Te Rangiora Bay, foreground.

the western Bay of Plenty, and the Kāingaroa Plains, were the principal areas formed in this way. 4 In the pre-European period, it was a shrubby grassland that had little capacity for human settlement. In the east around Kawerau and Whakatāne, the edge of the sheet of the volcanic debris thrown out by the Taupō volcanic eruption forms the southern hilly margins of the Rangitāiki Plains. The Raukūmara, Huiarau and Urewera Ranges are much steeper landforms of sedimentary geological origin. As a general rule, few of these volcanic or steep landforms have had much human settlement, except on the coastal or valley fringes. Airfall ash and the acidic rain after the Kaharoa eruption, early in the fourteenth century from the Okataina vents, may have rendered large areas unsuitable for human settlement in the pre-European period. These events were much larger in scale than the eruption in 1886 of Mt Tarawera, the severest eruption in recent centuries. 5
Apart from the well-known active volcanic areas throughout the western part of the region, there are also extinct volcanoes or volcanic lava domes such as page break
Whangaparāoa River, traditional landing place of Te Arawa, Tainui and Mātaatua canoes

Whangaparāoa River, traditional landing place of Te Arawa, Tainui and Mātaatua canoes

The view is to the north-west. The canoe landing places are near the estuary of the Whangaparāoa River at top left. On the right is the Potikirua Block while in the far distance right is Tihiraumaitawhiti, an important reference back to Hawaiiki, and here applied to the mountain forming Cape Runaway.

Entrance to the Maketū estuary, landing place of Te Arawa

Entrance to the Maketū estuary, landing place of Te Arawa

The monument to the canoe is at middle right.

page 128
Papamoa pā from the south-east

Papamoa pā from the south-east

The pattern of the pā is somewhat obscured by the farm roads, particularly the one entering the defensive perimeter on the eastern ridge. The pā is some 250 m long and the total length of the defensive perimeter is about 800 m. The highest defended platform (left) is about 20 m wide and 70 m long. The long, lower platform (centre) with multiple transverse ditches and banks along its length continues through a curve out to the right. There is another pā on the broad ridge in the distance. In 1947 in the Journal of the Polynesian Society, G. Blake-Palmer described this pā complex, the first published aerial photograph of an archaeological site in New Zealand.

page 129 Motuhorā (Whale Island), near Whakatāne; Putauaki (Mt Edgecumbe); parts of the Papamoa hills near Te Puke; Tuhua (Mayor Island), offshore; and Maunganui, the hill forming the eastern point of the entrance to Tauranga Harbour. These mountains are all important traditional sites—dominant features of the regional, not just local, landscape.

The Bay of Plenty has many places prominent in canoe traditions. The most famous is Whangaparāoa at the far eastern end of the Bay of Plenty. Here the coast thrusts north-east towards the rest of Polynesia, before it takes an easterly and southerly direction. The canoes that made landing here, carrying on elsewhere, were Mātaatua, Arawa and Tainui. 6 Mātaatua also landed at Whakatāne, and then sailed to Northland. 7 Further west, Maketū Peninsula is among the important traditional' sites of the Bay of Plenty. The Arawa canoe lies in its final resting place at Maketū at the mouth of the Kaituna River. Here I have illustrated the peninsula in two aerial photographs taken 38 years apart, the first in 1948. They show the extent of damage that coastal urban development has done to some sites in this extraordinary historic landscape. The photographs show very large pā on high terrace landforms, the traditional papakainga, Maketū, and also, in an oblique view, the nearby landing place and memorial to the Arawa canoe.

In this region there flourished the largest populations of pre-European New Zealand, with rivers, lakes, and coastal dunes and terrace lands forming the main focus of human settlement. Within the coastal districts, the important areas for settlement were the terrace landforms. They also occur inland in the lower courses of the river valleys; here they are intricately linked with the older landforms of the region such as the Urewera and Raukūmara Ranges. The ranges are generally too high and too steep for human settlement but were settled on their margins and on the terrace lands of the major valleys. In the coastal districts, virtually every headland, ridge or cliff adjacent to a stream has a pā built on it. 8 Isolated coastal remnants of the terrace landforms such as the Maketū Peninsula and Motiti Island were also densely settled. Inland on the rivers, the terrace country provided important tactical locations of pā, taking advantage of the low river-cut cliffs as natural defence. 9 The most important inland valleys were those of the Whakatāne, Rangitāiki and Whirinaki Rivers, with settlement as far inland as Ruatāhuna and Te Whaiti, 60 km from the coast. Particularly dense settlement has been recorded at the entrances to the enclosed river valleys at Tāneātua and Ruātoki.

The earliest radiocarbon dates commence about 1250, although there is some evidence of burning before this time in Rangitāiki Plains swamp deposits. 10 Whale Island (Motuhorā), Maunganui and Papamoa were heavily settled with pā and other living areas. The complex at Papamoa, lying on hill country standing well out into the coastal plain just to the east of Tauranga, consists of several separate ring-ditch pā. On the highest point is an extraordinary pā, lying clearly in view in grass. Its compound defences cover many hundreds of metres of ridgeline, culminating in a central ring-ditched platform at the highest point. It was one of the sites published for the first time in Blake-Palmer's paper on archaeology and aerial photography in New Zealand. 11

The terrace landforms of the coastal Bay of Plenty were flat enough to remain covered with the volcanic ash deposited by eruptions spanning millennia. With slight slopes of northerly aspect, they were well suited for gardening. Prominent areas of horticultural importance are the Maketū Peninsula and the eastern Bay of Plenty; an example from the latter area is the Te Kaha locality, illustrated in chapter 2. Motuhorā (Whale Island) is one of the few areas of the Bay of Plenty where horticulture was practised on stony (as opposed to ash) volcanic soils. Here, stone rows and mounds similar to those found on the northern volcanic cones, and on the Wairarapa coast, have been recorded. In all these localities, the soils were fertile, warm and easily cultivated. Inland, the forest edge also provided access to a wealth of forest resources.

Another reason for the population density was the advantage of the swamps which were very extensive on the coastal strip and the low alluvial plains of the eastern Bay of Plenty. They were a source of eels and fowl, and they could also be capitalised on for defence. On levees and dune remnants gardening was possible and there were many settlements on the lower reaches of the rivers such as the Whakatāne, Rangitāiki or Tarawera. Settlement clustered on the lakeshores in inland districts much as it did on the ocean coast. There were many pā, and although these inland lake areas were frost-prone, kūmara horticulture was undertaken in climatically suitable localities, including the shores of Lakes Taupō and Rotoaira—an extreme in climatic adaptation for the kūmara. 12

The Bay of Plenty has few storage pits that are read- page break
Photographs of the base of the Maketū Peninsula, taken 38 years apart

Photographs of the base of the Maketū Peninsula, taken 38 years apart

Above left. A photograph taken in June 1948, when magnificent pā, now largely destroyed, with complex ditches and banks occurred on the headlands immediately to the north of the estuaries on either side of the peninsula. On the terrace immediately above the coastline are some six pā, very large examples with many platform divisions (close to the Kaituna estuary at left) and Herekaki and Owhara at right above the Waihi estuary entrance. Fort Colville (formerly a pā, Pukemaire) was the principal British base in the fighting against Tai Rāwhiti Kingites in 1864.

Below left. A 1986 photograph covering the same area as that of 1948. Comparison of the two shows that housing or farming has destroyed the pā above both estuaries, with a small amount of the original pā above the Waihi estuary still remaining. On the north-western headland at the entrance, site of the pā, Takaihuahua, houses have crept over an area which had been subject to ploughing in 1948. By 1986 the only pā surviving intact on the peninsula were at its northern tip. The landing-place of Te Arawa is just inside the Kaituna River entrance on the eastern side.

page 132 ily visible in the landscape. Because of the deep soft soils, rua (the fully subterranean cave pits) were the type of pit most frequently used. The surfaces within the defended perimeter of some pā surviving in the landscape are severely pockmarked by the indentations formed by collapsed rua. However, when excavated many otherwise featureless surfaces reveal extensive areas of rectangular storage pits. 13

Finally, we may consider stone resources. Tuhua, Mayor Island, another of the relict volcanoes of the Bay of Plenty, was the source of large amounts of obsidian (tuhua, hence the name of the island), a black or greyish volcanic glass with a slight green tinge, used throughout New Zealand from earliest times. 14 Mayor Island also has a number of pā but the photograph here shows only the localities of the principal obsidian drifts. 15 The pā might have been to control the valuable obsidian resource, but they do not exist in any greater numbers than other islands in the region, and less than on nearby Motiti Island, so this is debatable. Pā were part of a wider settlement pattern, not just devoted to the control of a single resource.