Volume 62 1953 > Volume 62, No. 4 > Whare-taewa pa, Mercury Bay, 1952, by Leslie G. Kelly, p 384-390
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EXTENDING seaward from the north end of Buffalo Beach, Mercury Bay, is a long point upon which may be seen the grass-covered ramparts of the ancient headland pa Whare-taewa, now erroneously called Whare-kaho, which name rightly belongs to a smaller pa a little farther inland. A former stronghold of Ngati Hei, Whare-taewa is of more than passing interest for with Whitianga Rock, it enjoys the distinction of being the first Maori fortification to be described by Europeans. It was on November 12th, 1769, during his first voyage, that Cook, while in the locality, observed this large and populous village and accompanied by Sir Joseph Banks and Dr. Solander, he made a special trip to view the fortifications. In spite of the fact that the observations of these gentlemen have appeared in print several times it will be necessary to again refer to them in order to appreciate the description of the pa as it exists today.

Banks says: “It was called Wharretoueva and was situated at the end of a hill where it jutted out into the sea which washed its two sides; these were sufficiently steep but not absolutely inaccessible. Up one of the land sides which was also steep went the road; the other side was flat and open. The whole was enclosed by a palisade about ten feet high, made of strong poles bound together with withies; the weak side next the hill had also a ditch twenty feet in depth nearest the palisade. Besides this, beyond the palisade was built a fighting stage which they called porava (pourewa) . . . The side next the road was also defended by a similar stage but much longer; the other two were by their steepness, thought to be sufficiently secure with the palisade.”

Of the fighting stages Cook remarks: “The use of this stage was to stand upon to throw darts at the assailants, and a number of darts lay upon it for that purpose. At right angles to this stage and a few paces from it was another of the same construction and bigness; this stood likewise within the picketing, and was intended for the same use as

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the other—viz., to stand upon to throw stones and darts upon the enemy as they advanced up the side of the hill where lay the main way into the place.” Cook gives the height of these stages as thirty feet, but Banks records it as twenty feet, a figure, according to Best, more likely to be correct.

Whare-taewa is now part of a well conducted farm some four miles from Whitianga township. The property is bounded on the north by the road leading from Buffalo Beach to Whare-kaho Bay, from which point it rises to a ridge which ends abruptly in a high cliff. This cliff, in most parts unscalable, extends in one direction as far as Buffalo Beach, while in the other projects into the sea to form a rocky point. The earthworks of Whare-taewa occupy the ridge summit along the cliff edge, and extend inland from the point for several hundred yards. The extremity of the point is narrow and rocky and is naturally protected by the steep cliffs on either side. A short fosse, sixteen yards in length, forms the innermost defence, and separates the point from the earthworks farther inland. The ridge summit now widens out, the ground having at first, a gentle slope from the cliff edge, but thereafter falling rapidly. Ngati Hei, in designing their pa, have followed for the most part, the natural formation of the ridge, uniformity of outline being of secondary consideration. Cook says of the pa interior: “The ground within having not been level at first, but laid sloping, they had divided it into little squares and levelled each of these. These squares lay in the form of an amphitheatre, and were each of them palisaded round, and had communication one with another by narrow lanes and little gateways . . .” Cultivation in modern times has removed all traces of any house sites that may have existed, but signs of terraces are to be found on the hillside.

A little over a hundred yards from the short fosse previously mentioned, is the main line of defence. This consists of a large ditch surmounted by a parapet. Repeated ploughings have considerably lowered the height of the parapet, and the fallen debris of years has reduced the fosse to half its original depth. Starting from the cliff edge, the ditch and parapet cuts across the ridge and continues down the hill slope for eighty yards. At this point where the hillside falls away steeply, the parapet ends and the ditch curves to the right and descends to the banks of a little - 387 creek which flows into the sea below the pa. From the descriptions of Cook and Banks, it is clear that the main means of entrance was by way of this ditch. Cook says: “The main way leading into this fortification was up a very steep part of the hill and through a narrow passage about 12 feet long and under one of the stages. I saw no door nor gate, but it might very soon have been barricaded up.” This type of enclosed entrance way not only made access extremely difficult for an invader, but in this case provided protection for the inhabitants to and from their water supply.

In describing the main line of defence, the accounts of Cook and Banks vary on one point. Cook says: “Here it is defended by a double ditch, a bank and two rows of picketing, the inner row upon the bank . . . The outer picketing was between two ditches and laid sloping with their upper ends hanging over the inner ditch. The depth of this ditch from the bottom to the crown of the bank was 24 feet . . .” Banks, on the other hand, mentions but one ditch. This latter statement is supported by the existing ruins which indicate a single ditch. It is true that in turning the pa site into pasture land, the earthworks suffered in consequence, but although damaged, they appear to be otherwise intact; no deliberate attempts at demolition having apparently been made. The second ditch mentioned by Cook, must have been very shallow for it has now completely disappeared. As for the large ditch, it is today no more than 12 feet deep at its greatest depth.

Beyond the main line of defence and continuing along the ridge, are two further areas each defended by a ditch. Neither approaches in size that of the main ditch, and the two areas above mentioned could therefore correctly be termed outer works. Cook describes the fighting stages as being designed to also defend some little outworks and huts that lay on the skirts. These outworks, he states, were not intended as advanced posts, but for such of the inhabitants to live in as had not room in the main works. It is not clear whether the two areas are the outworks mentioned, or whether they are additional areas added after Cook departed. The extreme outer ditch overlooks a small hollow across which it was not practicable to extend the defences. Beyond the hollow the ridge rises to a higher level and here is situated Whare-kaho, a smaller but entirely separate forti- - 388 fication. This pa occupies a hill-top abutting the cliff edge which is at this spot practically inaccessible. Slight terracing has made the hill summit more desirable for house sites, and a line of ditch along the slope of the hillside encloses the position.


The Ngati Hei, whose territory extended along this part of the coast, were the descendants of the chief Hei, a brother of Tamatekapua, who led the Arawa migration from Hawaiki. During the course of settlement, when the crew of the Arawa were seeking desirable situations in which to make their homes, Hei took possession of Mercury Bay which was named Te Whanga nui o Hei (The Great Bay of Hei) after him. It would be difficult to say how long the Ngati Hei retained their identity as a branch of the Arawa people, but by the time of Cook's visit, they had so inter-married and inter-mingled with the tribes of Tainui, that it is doubtful whether much of the original Arawa strain remained. They - 389 did not, however, suffer the fate of their kinsmen, the Ngati Huarere, who became completely absorbed by the Ngati Whanaunga, Ngati Maru and Ngati Tamatera tribes of Tainui.

Soon after his arrival, Cook made the acquaintance of an old chief named Toiawa, from whom he learned that the local tribes were often visited by raiders from the north, who stripped them of all they could lay their hands on, and often made off with their women and children. Toiawa explained that it was because of their experiences with these raiders that Ngati Hei had been at first hostile to the Europeans. Probably, Cook remarks, their poverty and misery could be ascribed to the ravages of these banditti, who often stripped them of every necessity of life.

Mr. Alfred L. Lee, of Whitianga, in a letter to the writer, says of these episodes: “The raiding parties mentioned by Toiawa coming from the north and south, cover many tribes. Cook's expedition was coming from the south or up the coast; formerly Ngati Porou and Kahungunu came this way. Ngati Tamatera, Katikati and Taupiri, who were cousins of Ngati Hei, also helped themselves. Peneamene, who was from Ngati Whanaunga, and Maihi, of Ngati Paoa, were from the north. Ngati Maru of Thames, were also frequent visitors, besides Ngapuhi from Bream Head and Bay of Islands; all came seeking slaves and plunder.” The inhabitants of Mercury Bay had apparently suffered one of these raids but a short time before the Endeavour arrived, for Cook records that the Whitianga pa was in ruins and had been burnt down. This accounted for Cook finding the majority of Ngati Hei concentrated at Whare-taewa.

It would be difficult to say what tribe was to blame for the raid above mentioned, but apparently the Tainui people were not responsible, for from the account of Horeta Te Taniwha, it is learned that some of Ngati Whanaunga were living peaceably among the Ngati Hei at this time. Horeta Te Taniwha, who belonged to Ngati Whanaunga of Waiau (Coromandel), states that as a boy he was at Whitianga when the Endeavour arrived, and describes the wonder and curiosity with which he and his people viewed the strange behaviour of the newcomers, of their actions in gathering stones and plants, of collecting place-names, and of mapping the coastline. He states also that Cook gave some potatoes to - 390 a distant relative, an old chief. Mr. George Graham (1937) in commenting on the above, says: “There can be no doubt that it was Whare-taewa pa that Te Taniwha refers to as having been visited by Cook's people when as a child he was there. Tukumana Te Taniwha, his grandson, says so. Tukumana also gave the name Toiawa as a distant relative.”

In spite of the relationship existing between the leaders of Ngati Hei and Ngati Whanaunga, it did not prevent the former from being attacked by other sections of the Hauraki people, and about the year 1800, some twenty years after Cook's visit, Ngati Tamatera of Ohinemuri, descended on Mercury Bay and laid siege to Whare-taewa. This event, states Captain Gilbert Mair, took place in the time of Tu Te Rangi-anini, which doubtless means that Te Rangi-anini led the war party. The invaders, in spite of the fact that the defenders had a protected way leading to the creek below, succeeded in cutting off the water supply, and after a siege which probably extended over several weeks, took the place with great slaughter. Some of the inhabitants, fleeing before their enemies, took refuge on two rocky islets close to the extremity of the point. Of these Cook remarks: “Under the foot of the point on which the village stands are two rocks, the one just off from the main, and the other detached from it. They are both very small, and more fit for birds to inhabit than men; yet there are houses and places of defence on each of them.” On one of these, Pukemaire, a chief named Hinganoa managed to hide and so escaped. It is said also that the chief Repana Tahura did likewise. Others of the refugees succeded in reaching Rangihoua, a pa on a point about a mile distant, from which they were never dislodged.

From this misfortune Ngati Hei were never able to fully recover, for within a few years Ngapuhi had armed themselves with muskets and the coastal areas were under constant threat of invading war parties. Thus the great pa of Whare-taewa faded into the past, and those of Ngati Hei who survived, drifted to other climes.

- i
The two rocky islets off Whare-taewa mentioned by Cook. Cook Bay on right.
Looking along the main trench from the outer area.
- ii
View of Whare-taewa from Whare-kaho.
Whare-taewa pa from adjoining hills.
- iii
View of Whare-kaho from Whare-taewa.
Interior view, Whare-taewa.
- iv
View of the main trench where it crosses the crest of the ridge. A fighting stage formerly stood above the parapet on the left.