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Protecting our precious places

Maori pa sites

QEII open space covenants are one way to ensure protection of Maori cultural sites.

Pa located on naturally defensible high points

Above: A pa site protected by a QEII covenant in Hawke's Bay on a high defensible point looking down the Waipawa River.

What is a pa?

Recorded pa sites date from the 16th century.

Pa were built by Maori as fortified refuges for times of war but were also secure living places and centres for learning, crafts and horticulture.

Pa are associated with a group of related people and vary in size from those built for whanau (a large family) to hapu or iwi (tribe) of several hundred people.

They were often located on naturally defensible high points such as the ends of steep-sided ridges, coastal headlands or isolated hills but were also built on the edge of swamps and sometimes on flat land.

Defensive earthworks included steepened slopes, ditches and banks, often combined with timber palisades.

Platforms and terraces were formed within the defences to accommodate buildings and activities.

Motuto Point

Motuto Point, set aside 87 years ago by the Smith family and protected with a QEII covenant in 1997 by the family trust, is a remarkable landscape, geological and archaeological feature.

The rocky point, north of Whangapoua Beach on the Coromandel Peninsula, is the vestige of a small, long eroded volcano.

The Motuto pa was built by Ngati Huarere on the north seaward facing side of the summit where the well preserved remains of terracing is evident today.

It was ideal for defence, being located above rugged, basalt column cliffs and connected to the mainland  by only a narrow neck of land.

Motuto Point

Above: Motuto Point with Whangapoua Beach beyond. The pa was built on the grassy slope facing the sea. Photo: Hamish Kendall

Public access to the pa site is allowed, although it is a steep and tricky track to the top.

The covenant can be reached by walking around the boulder shore from Whangapoua and it also provides public access to the secluded New Chums Beach.

Te Whiti-O-Tu Pa

The Te Whiti-O-Tu Pa on Helen Swinburn’s Hawke’s Bay property was built on a small hillock at the top of sheer 100-metre cliffs above the Waipawa River, a dramatic defensive location near the foot of the Ruahine Ranges.

It was the site of a decisive battle in or around 1831, when the Ngapuhi and Ngati Whatuiapiti tribes defeated Ngai Te Upokoiri and Ngati Tuwharetoa, in a fierce engagement.

Protected by a QEII covenant, the remains of a tihi (platform) and a series of terraces descending down from it can be seen.

Helen manages the pa site under light grazing to maintain a grass sward that allows the earthworks to be seen and is delighted that school groups visit the site regularly.

She has also protected an adjoining area of black beech and totara forest under the covenant.

Te Whiti-O-Tu Pa

Above: Te Whiti-O-Tu Pa, protected by a QEII covenant in perpetuity. The small hill above the sheer cliffs of the Waipawa River was a strategic location and a dramatic battle site.

Open Space™ Magazine No. 62, November 2004 © QEII National Trust

Coromandel Pa

A well preserved pa site at Phillipa Turner’s covenant on the east coast of Coromandel is benefiting from the covenant fencing.

A keen horsewoman, Phillipa has excluded her horses and other heavy stock from the site and maintains grass cover by periodically grazing sheep.

The hilltop pa site includes two main platforms and a number of terraces, pits and ditches.

It is one of a number of registered QEII covenants protecting pa sites on this coast.

The 1.4ha covenant also includes a stand of unusually large pohutukawa trees and a remnant of coastal forest.

Coromandel pa siter

Above: Protected by a QEII covenant in Coromandel, this pa site is fenced to manage appropriate grazing. Remnant coastal forest (middle view) is also covenanted. Photo: Hamish Kendal

Open Space™ Magazine No. 63, March 2005 © QEII National Trust

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For more about recognising and protecting pa sites visit New Zealand Historic Places Trust

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