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The Pa Maori

Old Forts of the Taiamai District, bay of Islands

page 245

Old Forts of the Taiamai District, bay of Islands

The Taiamai district, inland of the Bay of Islands, has many interesting specimens of native fortification, some of which are in a very fair state of preservation. These include the forts of Nga Huha, Pouerua, Te Rua-hoanga, Ngaungau, Kaiaia, Te Tou o Roro, Taka-poruruku, Tapa-huarau, Nga Puke-pango, Maunga-turoto, and Maunga-kawakawa. There are yet others that were not visited by the observer, neither were their names ascertained.

The reason why so many people occupied this district seems obvious. The low lying undulating lands of the Taiamai basin are in great measure composed of fertile soil suited to the cultivation of the kumara, while much of the surrounding land is of an extremely poor quality. The hill forts of Tapa-huarau and Nga Puke-pango are situated on sterile ridges, but at their base lie areas of good volcanic soil that were utilised for cultivation purposes. Many of these old forts are situated near the village known as Ohaeawai, the native name of which is Taiamai. The former name is that of a small settlement of natives about three miles away, which place has been re-named Ngawha in order to avoid confusion. Taiamai derives its name from a huge boulder of volcanic rock situated in a paddock about a quarter of a mile S.E. of the Ohaeawai hotel. This prominent rock stands 10 to 12 ft. high, and was formerly an uruuru whenua, a place at which passers by deposited small offerings such as a branchlet or tuft of grass, at the same time reciting a charm in order to placate the spirits of the land, or some genius loci that might cause an affliction such as bad weather, if neglected. Smaller boulders occur in the vicinity of the Taiamai rock, but no other big outstanding one. The surrounding flat has been cleared of stones in past centuries to enable the land to be cultivated, the stones having been piled in heaps.

The series of old forts on the northern side of the main road near Ohaeawai township is strung along the summit of a ridge that for some distance continues parallel to the road and then turns northward. The whole length of the higher part of this ridge summit has been fortified and occupied in past times, the scarps and terraces even now imparting a picturesque appearance to the hill, induced by the deeply scarped summits standing out clearly against the sky line, and the series of excavated terraces on the slopes. To the eastward is seen the highly picturesque volcanic cone of Pouerua, its steep slopes carved into many terraces by the men of yore. To the south-west is the similar cone of Maunga-turoto, also terraced; while westward, against the sky line the square scarped summit of page 246Maunga-kawakawa arrests the observant eye. In noting the regular terraces of the ridge forts one sees as many as 16 such terraced formations, one above the other, in symmetrical order, but on the volcanic cones no such regularity is detected, the terraces being comparatively short and irregular in situation. Apparently the object was not to form long continuous terraces round the slopes of these cones, but to excavate short ones at differing levels, thus rendering the whole the more difficult to take by assault. These volcanic cones in fact reproduce in the far north the conditions obtaining on those of the Auckland isthmus.