Ngā Tohuwhenua Mai Te Rangi: A New Zealand Archeology in Aerial Photographs
Early in the nineteenth century, the Bay of Plenty, like the Waikato, was subject to devastating raids by Ngā Puhi from the Bay of Islands. Important sites associated with these events are Te Koko a Kuku at Te Kaha, and Puketapu at Whakatāne. 16 Subsequent fighting between the tribes of the region, with incursions from Tainui and Ngāti Porou, saw major actions on the northern and southern margins of the Urewera, at Maketū and again at Te Kaha in the 1830s. Tainui attacked Ngāti Pukenga at Maketū in 1836. 17 By the mid-nineteenth century, these attacks had diminished and there were major Māori settlements at all the coastal river mouths of the region. European traders would call at such places and hapū, using their own coastal trading vessels and schooners, took cash-crops such as wheat to urban markets at Auckland or in Australia. 18
During the course of the New Zealand Wars, the Bay of Plenty was a secondary area in terms of the size of operations, although there were several rightly famous engagements. In 1864 Gate Pā was the main action involving artillery and regular British forces. 19 The British attack and its follow-up at the nearby Te Ranga were part of a British flanking movement on the Waikato, with the aim of controlling Ngai Te Rangi who might otherwise have been in a position to support the Waikato Kingites. Despite a careful search of early aerial photography I could find no trace of this fortification, its locality built up from the 1940s. The general tactical setting, a low narrow ridge between two inner inlets of the harbour, was obvious, however. Further east at Maketū are remains of earlier engagements in the same year as Gate Pā—a combined British and Arawa kūpapa movement against Tai Rawhiti (East Coast) Kingite forces attempting to get through to Tauranga and ultimately to reinforce the Waikato. 20 The main skirmishes here were on the high terrace west of the Waihi estuary, called Te Whare ō te Rangimarere, and around the pā, Herekaki and Owhara, 21 illustrated in a photograph earlier in this chapter.
Sites representative of the later fighting from 1865 to 1869 include several in the Whirinaki River valley, on the main route from the central Urewera to Rotorua and the King Country, and near Lake Rotoaira south of Lake Taupō. In 1865 Pai Mārire forces based in the Urewera Ranges sought to cross the Kāingaroa Plains to reach the Waikato. However, the plains were Te Arawa territory. Any attempt by Pai Mārire forces to go to the King Country, at that time consolidating a recovery at the end of the Waikato campaigns, was strategically dangerous from the point of view of the colonial forces and Te Arawa, although only kūpapa became involved. The Pai Mārire from Whakatohea and Tūhoe on one side, and Ngāti Manawa and Ngāti Rangitihi of Te Arawa (from the eastern Kāingaroa Plains), on the other, built fortifications on or near the Te Taupiri ridgeline. One of these, known as Te Tapiri, was occupied by Ngāti Manawa for some weeks in 1865. 22 It was one of two defensive positions which faced the Pai Mārire positions about 2 km away towards the Whirinaki Valley. The Ngāti Manawa raids on the opposing positions were successful, and they were able to withdraw from their own, tactically difficult positions having prevented the Pai Mārire incursion. 23
Te Hārema, a Ngāti Whare pā near Te Whaiti, Whirinaki Valley
This pā, occupied by supporters of Te Kooti Arikirangi, was attacked by Armed Constabulary and Arawa kūpapa in 1869. The original site recorders noted 16 rectangular depressions, indicating house floors, within the defended perimeter, but only a few can be detected in the aerial photograph. In the lower left corner of the fortification and at top are the U-shaped earth walls of a large semi-subterranean whare. The pā is encircled by a road bulldozed to mark its position in the course of forestry operations. The breastwork, largely without any form of ditch except on the top left, is of more or less rectangular shape, and lies within the perimeter created by the bulldozed road.
This pā is a good example of a fortification created by a simple interior trench and external breastwork forming the defensive perimeter. The site is some 60 by 15 m in plan. Within the defensive perimeter, the U-shaped earthen walls of three whare can be seen. At the southern and northern ends there were also rifle pits (probably roofed) immediately inside the breastwork and linked by the rifle trench. Although there are some slight buttresses and traverses in the perimeter breastwork, this site would have been subject to enfilading fire from a slightly higher hill some 150 m to the south if it had not been occupied by Ngāti Rangitihi, Te Arawa allies of Ngāti Manawa.
Near Rotoaira, between Lake Taupō and Tongariro, several fortifications were built by Te Kooti Arikirangi and by European and kūpapa forces in the final stages of the land wars. One of these was Te Pōrere, named after the locality Te Pōrere a Rereao, the site of the last engagement against Te Kooti in 1869. 25 Te Wehengaiti, another pā close by, was formed by a perimeter of rifle trenches set at the edge of a low flat-topped hill, 26 illustrated in chapter 6.
Te Pōrere lies on the western flanks of the Rotoaira basin, south-west of Lake Taupō. The two main sites in the reserve complex 27 exhibit the irregular pattern of Māori trench and breastwork. 28 The upper defensive work is similar to a redoubt, departing somewhat from the rectangular plan, and was built with tall parapets and flanking angles. The photographs used here were taken by the late Ormond Wilson, a former chairman of the Historic Places Trust, not long after the site had been cleared of fern and the breastwork restored by the Trust in 1961. 29
The redoubt, taken with the loss of only four of the attacking force, appears to have been a relatively ineffective fortification. 30 Two primary reasons have been put forward. First, the poor loopholes through which the defenders' guns had to be fired did not allow for satisfactory pointing of the defenders' guns. The walls were 2.2 m high and 1 m or more wide at the top, so that a loophole towards the base would have to be very large at the interior end to accommodate the movement of the butt needed to manoeuvre the gun. The walls were too high to allow firing over the top. Second, the exact disposition of the flanking angles seems to have been defective. 31 Any redoubt built on a hill slope faces problems with identifying the perfect location—one that gives maximum field of fire without exposing the defenders. In this case, the redoubt has a poor field of view of the slope immediately to its east, but clear views to the southwest from which came the deciding offensive attack. The photographs here illustrate this point perfectly.
The inadequate design of the redoubt may not have been the main problem for the defenders. The confusion of the defenders and the better rifles of the attackers and their numbers, coupled with insuperable design problems such as the loopholes, may have been the decisive factors. Once under the eastern walls of the redoubt and actively undermining, the attacking forces could not be dislodged and were able quickly to force an entry. Most importantly, in respect of the tactical sense of the defenders, they had occupied, and maintained what the attacking forces described as 'galling' gunfire from, the forest-margin to the north-west of the site. The location of the redoubt on that forest margin gave it a highly effective flanking line of defence, as the photograph again shows. Indeed, tactically, the redoubt might be seen as merely a forward defence for the forest edge. Te Kooti, being well aware of the result of siege at Ngatapa, would not have occupied a readily outflanked fortification as he did there. The proximity of the bush gave the fit and healthy within the fortification a chance to slip away into cover, which they did. The redoubts at Te Pōrere were therefore only part of a solution to an immediate tactical difficulty faced by Te Kooti, and the overall sureness of his approach to his own safety and that of his inner circle cannot be doubted. His was not a war fought in set-piece fortifications.page break
Te Pōrere in its landscape setting
The redoubt is in the foreground. It lies on the edge of the Rotoaira basin with an excellent tactical outlook. Behind the redoubt is the forest into which Te Kooti Arikirangi escaped in the course of the fighting. The European and kūpapa forces attacked from the slopes to the right (east) and also from the south (left foreground). Supporters of Te Kooti occupied both the redoubt and the forest to the northwest of the site. The redoubt is about 30 m across and the parapets were originally just under 2.2 m high. The view is to the north.
The main redoubt viewed from the north-east. Wanganui and Ngāti Kahungūnu kūpapa attacked from the left up the slope, while Te Arawa and the Armed Constabulary attacked from the right over fairly level ground. The flanking angles at opposite corners do not offer a good defensive field of fire along the eastern (left) or western faces of the parapet. Loopholes had been made through the parapet but they were too restricted in the field of fire offered. Once up under the cover of the breastworks, the attacking forces were able to undermine them and gain entry to the interior.
The lower rifle trenches and breastworks at Te Pōrere
The rather unusual plan shows some attempt to create bastions or flanking angles; the extension to the right commands much of the slope leading up to the rectangular extension on the near left, and vice versa. Otherwise this site is a characteristic if small example of the knots of rifle trenches that comprised many Maori fortifications. These trenches were relatively weakly defended at the time of the attack, with most of Te Kooti Arikirangi's force retreating to the upper redoubt.