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Ngā Tohuwhenua Mai Te Rangi: A New Zealand Archeology in Aerial Photographs

13 — Southern North Island

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Southern North Island

Kupe's Sails, Ngā Rā ō Kupe, near Cape Palliser, one of many landscape references to Kupe, the discoverer and shaper of Aotearoa

Kupe's Sails, Ngā Rā ō Kupe, near Cape Palliser, one of many landscape references to Kupe, the discoverer and shaper of Aotearoa

The shape of the near sail is not dissimilar to the 'leg-of-mutton' style sails used on Polynesian canoes, a triangular sail held up by a long gaff secured to a short mast. The arc described at left by the outline of the stone face is rather too full but overall the impression is strikingly convincing. On the far side of the stream is a second sail, not showing as well in this view to the north-east.

This region occupies all the southern end of the North Island from the Wairarapa, through the area known in Māori as 'Te Upokō ō Te Ika a Maui', 'The Head of Maui's Fish', to the Wanganui River. The Wanganui River proved to be a difficult area in which to find satisfactory aerial photographs, and coverage in this book is poor relative to the wealth of sites on the river, 1 although this has been compensated for by the inclusion of sites from the neighbouring Whangaehu River. The southern part of the region is dominated by the Tararua and Rimutaka Ranges, separating the western coastal strip and Wellington Harbour from the Wairarapa. In the south-east, the Aorangi Range separates the Wairarapa valley from a very narrow coastal strip to the south and east. The coastal areas, including Wellington Harbour, were the principal location of Māori settlement, although there was also settlement in the Wairarapa valley itself. Themes which are well illustrated by aerial photographs include traditional sites, stone rows and gardening in stony soils, and something of early and mid-nineteenth-century settlements.

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Pā and pits on the Whangaehu River 10 km upstream from the State Highway 3 bridge

Pā and pits on the Whangaehu River 10 km upstream from the State Highway 3 bridge

The pā are at centre and bottom right. The ridges of the hill country come down to the river, offering good access by canoe and an ideal settlement opportunity. On the flat beyond are two knolls, each about 20 m across, with small groups of pits. The presence of a ring-ditch around these pits is puzzling. They are unlikely to be nineteenth-century fortifications, since the site is overlooked by the nearby hill country. The ring is probably a ditch and bank fence designed to protect the storage pits from pigs. The view is to the south-west.

Detail of the large pā, about 160 m long. The upper platform is of ring-ditch form and there are two further narrow segments, with pits on the surface, leading to the river at right. Further transverse scarping lies below the righthand platform. The view is to the south-west.

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Pā, Te Ika ā Maru Bay, Wellington west coast

Pā, Te Ika ā Maru Bay, Wellington west coast

The pā occupies a broad ridge at the foot of a steeper slope (in shadow). A simple transverse ditch and bank defends the interior, while a further section of indistinct scarp runs along the length of the defended platform from the near end of the ditch. The defensive perimeter elsewhere is created by gullies and the wave-cut cliff. There are terraces on the slope nearest the camera. The view is to the west in late afternoon light.

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Storage and borrow-pits on old dunes near the mouth of the Whangaehu River

Storage and borrow-pits on old dunes near the mouth of the Whangaehu River

The younger dunes at top run in lines driven by north-west winds. At left, within the western river bend, older dunes, originally more massive and with a cover of volcanic ash, have been reshaped by the flow of water into the form of the loop and progressively abandoned. (The loop is migrating downstream.) The soils on the flat are sandy with some river silts with good topsoils. The intricate pock-marks on the surface of the dunes are storage pits, or borrow-pits (lying in an arc to the south) for sand to place on gardens on the flat land. Their size is accentuated by the collapse of the topsoil crust through which the pits had been cut. Two rectangular depressions marking house floors also show, each about 15 m long. The river itself is about 80 m wide and the two points are each 1.2 km long. The photograph was taken in 1942.

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Although many of the region's place names are derived from precursors in Hawke's Bay, reflecting its initial settlement by tribes from that region (including Rangitāne of the Horowhenua), it has older and equally close associations with the voyage of Kupe from Hawaiiki, and in the nineteenth century with Te Atiawa and Ngāti Toa who entered the region from Taranaki and the Aotea and Kāwhia Harbours. Associations with Kupe's initial voyage feature on both sides of Cook Strait. In Palliser Bay is Ngā Rā ō Kupe (Kupe's Sails), a prominent triangular-shaped rock slab with a white-ish appearance from seaward and a companion slab across the stream; on the Cook Strait coast near Wellington city, is Pariwhero (Red Rocks), a site where Kupe's daughters cut themselves. On the other side of the strait, Arapawa Island and The Brothers are reminders-of incidents in Kupe's pursuit of an octopus, Te Wheke ō Muturangi, across the Pacific. On the west coast there are other reminders, including Mana Island itself, the full name of which—Te Mana ō Kupe ki Moana Nui ā Kiwa—refers to the mana of Kupe in crossing the Pacific Ocean. 2

The southern North Island is an area with extremely stony soils, particularly on its hill country. There are significant pockets of loess (fine silt blown around in the Pleistocene) but these tend to be clay-like in texture. Ash from the volcanic centres in the central North Island did not carry in significant quantities (for soil formation) this far south, 3 so there are no soft, easily worked soils on the major hill landforms. As a result, although the localities of many pā are known, 4 the actual archaeological evidence of pā is poor. Nor do pā show well in landscape photographs. Some archaeologists even refer to the line across the island from about the Whangaehu River to southern Hawke's Bay as 'the pā line'. On and north of this line, pā are everywhere prominent in the landscape; south of it they are barely perceptible. An example just north of the line is the remarkable complex of pā, probably of Ngāti Apa origin, inland on the Whangaehu River itself and about 10 km from the bridge.

South of the line, the physical landscape presence of pā is weak although there are still many traditional references. Te Awamate, a pā in the swamps lying off the Rangitīkei River, was illustrated in chapter 3. A small island in a raupo swamp, it is important in the traditions of Ngāti Apa. 5 In the whole of the greater Wellington region, there are only two or three pā whose artificial defences are strongly sculpted in the soil, and even these would be regarded as minor pā, at least in size, elsewhere in the North Island. Examples are the pā at Makara and Te Ika A Maru Bay, 6 near Cape Terawhiti on the Wellington west coast.

One of the contributing factors to the lack of obvious pā is that, from the Wanganui district southwards, the coast is less often cliffed. Instead there is a continuous line of dunes at low level (less than 20 m above sea level), driven inland as much as 15 km by the prevailing northwest winds. The surfaces of these dunes are of varying ages. In the inland areas, they were older (as much as 6,000 years old) and heavily forested in pre-European times. Towards the coast, sand was blown inland and formed young surfaces that had little vegetation. In between, there was a zone of lakes and swamps with forests and scrub of mixed ages, important in offering opportunities for settlement, as we have seen in Part 1 at Te Awamate and Tangimate.


About 1 km up from the mouth of the Whangaehu River is an area where the oldest inland coastal dunes intersect with the high river terraces and the hill country proper. Towards the coast, the river has cut a broad meander through the lines of the dunes. The dunes are old enough to have formed a crust of ash topsoil, and over large areas, this cap of dune soil has been broken through by Māori, for two reasons. One reason was to create storage pits which lie on dune crests within the broad points formed by the river through the old dune formations. Because of the soft sands under the surface these have broken away at the edges and tend to be irregular in plan, at least in the form in which they have survived today. The second reason was to borrow sands to add to soils for gardening, much as was discussed in chapter 4. This may have been the practice on the points themselves, and it seems also to have been the case where the dunes are adjacent to the older high river terraces. 7 pā containing many storage pits have been created on points at the edge of the high terrace; a particularly fine example occurs by the Whangaehu River bridge on State Highway 3. There are other fine examples of pā and pits further up the river.

Further south from the Whangaehu River, pits are relatively infrequent. Good examples of raised-rim pits are recorded on the various river terraces of the Wairarapa plains, and also on the Manawatū River, but their low number reflects the horticultural marginality page 188
Pā and storage pits on old dunes near the State Highway 3 bridge, Whangaehu River

Pā and storage pits on old dunes near the State Highway 3 bridge, Whangaehu River

The edge of the river terrace shows at right with the pā on the hilltop right. Circled by the farm road, the pā is defended by steep natural scarps to either side (left and right), and terrace scarps on the ridge with many pits facing the camera. By the river terrace, foreground, the line of a dune provides a contrasting landform to the hill country beyond. On the surface of the dunes are many rectangular pits. The view is to the north-west, and State Highway 3 and the Whangaehu River are just to the right out of the image.

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Detail of the pā. There are no recognisable defensive ditches and banks but the sides are very steep and the repeated scarps of the terraces provide a deliberate defensive effect enhanced by carrying the scarps around to the steep face nearest the camera. The pā is about 130 m long by 30 m wide. The rectangular pits are 3 by 3 m in plan.

of the plains and small population. On the hills above Paekakariki, near Wellington, storage pits on the ridge line were probably used for storing crops grown on the sandy flats below. On slopes below the ridge are many groves of karaka trees. 8
What interest the Wellington and Wairarapa regions lack in pā and pits is balanced by fine examples of gardening sites in stony or gravelly ground. The soils used were the naturally sandy and stony deposits on river flats near the sea and at the foot of the steep coastal hill country. 9 In many coastal areas, particularly on the Wairarapa side of the region, there is a broad coastal strip, the width of which varies from 100 m to 500 m. The stones removed from the garden soils were placed in rows defining the edges of garden plots. The purpose of this removal of stones, as already discussed in chapter 4, was to define boundaries, to remove large stones into the windrows, to provide shelter, for fostering tuber shoots in spring before they were planted out, and as a place for page 190
Garden stone rows along the coastal strip near Ngāwīhi, eastern Palliser Bay

Garden stone rows along the coastal strip near Ngāwīhi, eastern Palliser Bay

A very high marine terrace shows at top left and right. Because of its height and exposure to wind, and the existence of a usable coastal strip more or less at sea level, this high terrace was not much used for settlement. The stone rows run down the slight slope in the foreground from the edge of the fan of debris from prominent gully, right, down on to an uplifted beach ridge. The rows are about 200 m long and 1 m high in their present state. The view is to the north.

page break yam or kūmara vines to grow over. 10 Sometimes mounds are also found but these are not as common as they are in Northland and Auckland. The Wairarapa stone rows are akin to those at Cape Runaway, and in localities in the South Island.

Extraordinarily well-preserved examples of stone rows survive at Okoropunga Stream, just to the south of Castle Point on the east Wairarapa coast, and were illustrated in chapter 4. 11 The fullest investigation of such stone walls and their associated gardens, using aerial photographs as a primary mapping technique (the first such instance in New Zealand), was conducted by Helen Leach on the Palliser Bay coast. 12 She concluded that the gardening systems could only have been used for the Polynesian crops brought to New Zealand, kūmara in particular. She also proved that the first use of the walls was as early as the twelfth century, although the bulk of the radiocarbon dates place the walls in about the fifteenth century. The stone row areas on the Wairarapa coast appear to have been abandoned in pre-European times, 13 for reasons which were discussed in chapter 4.

Nineteenth-century sites

Little remains of fortifications of the nineteenth century in the Wellington region. A blockhouse survives in the Hutt, its surrounding redoubt destroyed for car parking in recent decades, and part of a Māori (subsequently European) fortification at the head of Pauatahanui inlet. At Paremata, near the mouth of the inlet, there survive the stone walls of a barracks built in 1846-47 in the course of the fighting against Ngāti Toa and Te Rangihaeata. Built of local stone boulders and shell-lime mortar, the page 192
Storage pits above Paekākāriki, north of Wellington

Storage pits above Paekākāriki, north of Wellington

The ridge has slumped off to the right leaving a distinct lower lip on which there are several groups of well-preserved pits, taking advantage of good drainage. The gardens associated with these pits would have been on the flat country between this ridge and the shoreline (out of view 400 m to the right), where a number of important archaeological sites have been recorded. On the lower slopes above the railway tracks are several groves of karaka (particularly prominent, top left).

page 193 building had little structural strength. Cannon could not be fired from the barracks as originally intended; after severe damage in an earthquake in 1848, troops were quartered elsewhere. 14 A study of these European fortifications has little to add to archaeological understanding, 15 and only the unique structure of the Paremata barracks is illustrated here.

On Mana and Kapiti Islands there survives evidence of nineteenth-century whaling, victualling and transport infrastructures. On the north-west corner of Mana Island, there was a manned lighthouse from 1865 to 1880. The household(s) there built a series of ditch and bank fenced enclosures. At the landing area of the island, there was also a ditch and bank enclosure, identified on documentary grounds as being as early as 1830. 16 -This makes it one of the earliest known European .agricultural or horticultural sites in New Zealand. These features are prominent on Mana Island because it is also well known as New Zealand's first sheep run dating from the early 1830s. The fences were needed to keep sheep out of the gardens. Sheep may also have been folded inside the enclosures, in winter through to lambing, with the sheep's droppings improving the ground's fertility for the growing season. Stone walls are also recorded at Kurukohatu on the north end of Kapiti Island. 17

Foundations of the Paremata Barracks, Plimmerton

Foundations of the Paremata Barracks, Plimmerton

The barracks date to the establishment of a stockade here in 1846 and were completed in 1847. The area enclosed by the stockade (about 100 by 80 m) fronted on to the water's edge, where the boat club is today, and enclosed the barracks. The foundation walls are about 18 by 11 m in plan and the view is to the south-west. Towards the camera viewpoint, this side of the boat club, was the Paremata moa-hunter site, occupying the outer estuarine margins close by a navigable channel.

1 The river valley is narrow with very narrow ridges adjacent to it, making for poor visibility of sites. In the Whanganui National Park, most sites are under a forest cover.

2 J. Wilson (1990: 17-20). For a discussion of Kupe's Sails, I thank Mr Hami Te Whaiti.

3 New Zealand Soil Bureau (1954).

4 E. Best (1901).

5 Cassels et al (1988).

6 S. Davis (1962); Davidson (1976).

7 Some of the pits were excavated by Walton (1985b).

8 The pits have not been fully published, but see Carkeek (1966: map 8).

9 H.M. Leach (1976).

10 H.M. Leach (1984: 33-52).

11 McFadgen (1980a) argued that the stones had been imported from the beach ridges which run parallel to the coastline and not generally from the native soils of the coastal strip.

12 H.M. Leach (1976: 11-13).

13 H.M. Leach (1979).

14 Wards (1968: 263).

15 Although they are earlier in age than extant European fortifications elsewhere; Cowan (1983, Vol. 1: 88-134); Wards (1968:214-300).

16 K. Jones (1987).

17 Mitcalfe (1970) argues for a pre-European age; Carkeek (1966: map 9).