History of The Rangiriri Pa

Posted on February 27, 2018

The Rangiriri Bypass is a section of new expressway that is snaking across the Waikato, helping transform New Zealand into a modern and vibrant economy.

One of the key outcomes of this project was for the NZTA to restore and return a section of the road to the local Iwi and reinstate an old historical battle ground and Maori pa. It has been dubbed “Bloody Rangiriri” from one of the bloodiest battles in the New Zealand land wars, 155 years ago. Read more on the battle below.

Natural Habitats engaged Kauri Park Nurseries to supply the plant material to complete the landscaping on the Rangiriri Bypass. Kauri Park was chosen for innovation, plant quality and logistical systems set up for this type of contract.

The plantings consisted of approximately 200,000 New Zealand native species and included a good general mix along with an extensive wetland portion to enhance some of the unique peat lake areas through the Rangiriri area.

Plantings began in 2015 and continued over a period of 3 years. Some of the plantings are now into their 4th year of growth and starting to make a real impact on the landscape. It is a great example of the vision that local Landscape Architects are having on beautifying New Zealand’s major roading systems, giving them a uniqueness that is little seen in large roading systems in other countries.

The Bloody Battle

In 1863, Kingitanga forces had been resisting the British advance into the Waikato from the so-called Meremere line, a 22 km-long line of fortifications that spread from Pukekawa to Meremere and Paparata.

On October 31 1863, the British commander, Lieutenant-General Duncan Cameron, landed 1200 troops on the banks of the Waikato River ,15 km south of Meremere, ready to make an assault on the main Meremere fortifications. The following day the Māori forces evacuated Meremere and retreated south to the Rangiriri pa, their next defensive line. Plans were made by the British to pursue the Kingitanga forces to the Rangiriri pa.

The defending Māori warriors comprised about 500 men, mostly armed with double-barrelled shotguns and muskets. They were from Ngati Mahuta and other Waikato sub-tribes including Ngatiteata, Ngatihine and Patupou, with outside support from Kawhia Ngati Mahuta, Ngati Paoa and Ngati Haua under Cheifs Wiremu Tamehana and Tiriori.

On the 20 November 1863, General Cameron, with the support of Lieut-Colonel Arthur Leslie and about 1400 soldiers, attacked the Rangiriri pa. The British attacked the pa from several angles but were unable to breach the solidly built fortifications. The Māori defenders shot down almost every British soldier who managed to reach the top of the parapets. The first day of fighting resulted in about 110 British casualties and more than 60 Māori casualties.

Many members of the Māori garrison evacuated the pa during the night, including Chief Wiremu Tamihana and possibly King Tāwhiao.

Around 5am the next day the remaining Māori defenders raised a white flag, expecting to negotiate terms with General Cameron. British soldiers advanced on the redoubt and entered, shaking hands with their combatants before surprising the Māori defenders by demanding they surrender all their arms and then taking them prisoner.

The 200 or so remaining warriors, were transported by boat up the Waikato River, then marched overland to Auckland. They were then exiled to Kawau Island. On the night of 11 September 1864 the 200 prisoners seized all boats on the island and paddled to the mainland using spades, shovels and pieces of board they had fashioned into paddles. The group landed at Waikauri Bay and set up camp on a ridge overlooking Omaha and Matakana. They were eventually permitted by the Government to return to the Waikato as free men.

The site was returned to Waikato-Tainui by the Minister of Conservation Hon Maggie Barry on the 19th August 2016 at a ceremony at Turangawaewae marae during the Maori King Tuheitia 10th Coronation anniversary.