Volume 47 1938 > Volume 47, No. 188 > Orongokoekoea pa, by Leslie G. Kelly, p 145-151
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IN the rough, broken country of the upper Mokau and its tributaries are several fine examples of ancient Ngati-maniapoto fortifications, of which the most important are Tauanui, Arapae, Te Hau-peehi, and Orongokoekoea, all situated within a few miles of one another. All four were places of importance, and their names are frequently met with in local tradition; they were also from time to time the headquarters of chiefs now famous in Ngati-maniapoto history. Another factor which added to their importance was their close proximity to several frequently-traversed Maori tracks, and they were consequently convenient and favourite stopping-places for parties travelling to and from the coast. The ancient highway to Taranaki passes within a very short distance of Orongokoekoea, and indeed part of it is still visible. As a highway it was used as late as the times of the two Taranaki leaders, Te Whiti and Tohu, when parties of Ngati-maniapoto made visits to Parihaka. Other tracks from the Waipa valley concentrated at Arapae, from which place they led to Awakino, Marokopa, Kawhia, and other parts of the coast. Among these highways were several which were recognised as neutral, and so long as travellers kept strictly to them they were free from attack. It might be mentioned in passing that this custom seems to have prevailed unbroken until the period which saw Ngati-toa driven from their homes at Kawhia. Toward the close of this warfare, Te Rauparaha waylaid and killed the Ngati-maniapoto chief Te Moerua while that chief was proceeding along one of these neutral paths. The track in question ran from Totorewa, the pa of Te Moerua, situated at the junction of the Mangaorongo and the Waipa, to near Hangatiki, and thence up the Mangapu and finally to Arapae. This killing was regarded by the Ngati-maniapoto as a kohuru (murder) and they consequently took up arms against Ngati-toa with renewed vigour.

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Of the four fortified villages mentioned in this article Orongokoekoea must stand out in the affection of the Tainui people, for it was at this place that Tawhiao, the second Maori King, was born. My one and only visit to this famous spot took place on 2 December, 1934, after several fruitless attempts to discover it, and I only succeeded in reaching the pa by being guided to the vicinity by one acquainted with the country. While the original great forest has now practically disappeared, Orongokoekoea is nevertheless situated in an isolated position some distance from the roads and occupying a hill still clad in dense bush. The nearest town is Te Kuiti, which being on the railway line, is a convenient starting-point for anyone wishing to visit the pa. From Te Kuiti it is necessary to proceed sixteen miles to Aramatai, a small hamlet on the main highway to Taumarunui, and eight miles from the junction with the New Plymouth main road. The name Aramatai is displayed on the local school, so that no difficulty should be experienced in locating this place. Here a branch road must be taken which runs off to the right and proceeds to an abandoned timber-mill about 1½ to 2 miles away. The road, now little more than a grass-covered track, makes a right-angle turn and continues some distance to the Mapara river, a tributary of the Mokau. Across the bridge a road leads off to the right, but the traveller must proceed straight ahead across a ridge to a valley which lies beyond. Here the road skirts the foot of a range of hills on the right with the Mangaongaonga stream on the left. The remains of a mill-tramway will be observed to the left of the road and will serve as a guide in the right direction. As far as my memory will allow, the route continues about half-a-mile after entering the valley to a spot where the grass-covered slopes of a large paddock end in swampy ground on the left and where also a white gate will be noticed. My companion, Te Hurinui, and I were conducted to this place by Pita Tikaokao, who then gave us final instructions before leaving us to ourselves. We entered the grassy paddock, and it should be noted that a gully must be crossed to reach the ridge which leads to the pa. The pasture extends for possibly half-a-mile when fern, tutu, and manuka is encountered but no serious obstruction is met with until the edge of the bush is reached. Here some care must be exercised. Deep gullies lie on either side, and it is

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necessary to keep strictly to the ridge, for on entering the bush landmarks are immediately lost, and with the absence of tracks other than those made by wild pigs, it is an easy matter to lose the way. Just after entering the bush there is a slight dip followed by a steep face which leads to the summit. Here the ridge widens somewhat, but owing to the thick undergrowth it was impossible to ascertain to what extent. As a matter of fact Te Hurinui and I blundered on more or less blindly for some time and finally, having arrived at a spot where the ground commenced to fall away we seriously considered turning back, feeling in our minds that we had lost our direction. However, our guide, Pita Tikaokao whom we knew to be well acquainted with the district, had been most positive in his directions, and we continued, very fortunately, for what we had thought to be the end of the ridge, was actually only an undulation in the ground, and after climbing the slight rise which lay beyond we discovered a fosse surmounted by a parapet. We soon found that another fosse existed which, because of its great size, is well worthy of further remarks. Whereas the outer trench was only a yard or so wide and three or four feet deep, the main or inner fosse measured 30 feet deep at the eastern extremity, 40 feet deep in the middle and about 50 feet deep at the western end. In width it measured about 15 feet at the bottom and from 25 to 30 feet from parapet to parapet. In size it far outclasses any I have met with in the Ngati-maniapoto country, and compares very favourably with the large fosses encountered at that well-known Taranaki pa of Turuturu-mokai. In length it is about 40 yards, that is, the width of the ridge at this spot. On the western side the pa is naturally defended by the fall of the ground, but on the south nature has been kinder still for here exists a sheer drop of approximately 200 feet down to the winding Mangaongaonga stream, which appears to skirt the foot of the pa. On the east the ground also slopes steeply but here is found a terrace which extends from the bottom of the main fosse almost due south to the cliff-edge. Above the terrace is the scarped face of the eastern side of the pa, roughly 25 to 30 feet in height. At the southern end of the terrace a track leading to the one and only gateway observed, climbs the face of the scarp, but before this can be accomplished, a narrow trench has to be crossed, formed by the - 149 face of the scarp and a low earth wall which was no doubt formerly palisaded and formed part of a protected entrance-way. To make access still more difficult the track later skirts the edge of the precipice, so that there remains no other way of forcing entrance except by way of the trench.


One cannot but remark upon the ingenuity of the builders in planning the defences of their fortification. The natural formation of the ground has been utilized to its fullest extent; the narrow part of the ridge which faces the line of approach is protected by a formidable fosse, and lastly the one and only gateway is planned in such a way as to leave the attacker open to the full force of the defenders. The narrow trench leading to the gateway will not permit of a concerted rush, hence attackers would be forced to - 150 traverse the trench in single file during which time they would be fully exposed to the missiles of the pa inmates. Fully palisaded, the pa must have been a really formidable position, where enemies armed with native weapons could have been held off for a considerable period; and it is no wonder that Potatau Te Wherowhero, wise and experienced leader that he was, chose this pa as his refuge after the disaster at Matakitaki.

In describing the pa interior I shall refer the reader to the plan accompanying this article. Above the main fosse the earth has been raised into a low parapet which connects with the tihi, a level area immediately to the west. The north-western corner represents another level area a few feet below the tihi, and here are the traces of a house-site, the only one observed. Adjacent to this area on the south side is an extensive terrace still lower. Parallel with the scarped face is a raised earthern wall extending inward from the western side of the pa. Its purpose is not quite clear, but presumably it supported a palisade which formed part of the inner defences. Descending once more we come to the lowest and most extensive area, which will be observed by the plan to be somewhat like a crescent in shape, and which extends from the southern side along the eastern side to the north, where it rises in two small terraces, one being only a few feet above the other. It will be noticed that at the southern extremity the ground suddenly slopes to the cliff edge. This slope has two small terraces. From this slope also a shallow trench extends inwards for some distance, but in the absence of actual information it would be difficult to express an opinion as to its original purpose.

On the plan will be noticed a number of circular markings; these represent food-pits, bowl-like in shape with circular openings above. One will be seen carved in the face of a scarp and this differed from the others in so far as the opening was concerned, access being gained from the side. Near the edge of the cliff and close to the entrance way is another circular opening which was mistaken by us to be another food-pit. We were later informed by Pita Tikaokao however, that this was actually the entrance to a much larger subterranean area which consisted of several - 151 chambers used in the past as dwellings by some of the inhabitants. It was then unfortunately too late to discover whether these chambers still existed.

In common with many other pa in the district little is remembered of the history of Orongokoekoea. As previously mentioned the great chief Potatau Te Wherowhero occupied it for several years and it was there about 1825 that his son Tawhiao was born. In its heyday it was famous for its great paahu (war gong), the sound of which could be heard as far off as Arapae. There also lies to this day, hidden it is said in some secret retreat, a carved image of Uenuku. Quite a number of expeditions from as far afield as Waikato have searched for this much desired relic, but so far without success.