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The New Zealand Wars: A History of the Maori Campaigns and the Pioneering Period: Volume II: The Hauhau Wars, (1864–72)


page 96

MANY OF THE men most actively concerned in the murder of Mr. Volkner and Mr. James Fulloon took refuge in the natural fortresses provided by the almost impassable swamps and islanded lagoons of the Rangitaiki, on the east side of the Matata settlement near the mouth of the Awa-a-te-Atua. This Rangitaiki Swamp—now unwanted by the Government drainage-works and in process of profitable settlement—was then accessible only by the tracks along the seaward sandhills, or by canoe along the Tarawera River, the Awaiti-paku, and the Orini River (connecting the Awa-a-te-Atua with Whakatane Harbour) and by the labyrinth of reed-fringed waterways, navigable in small canoes, winding among the islets that rose above the water a few feet and made camping-grounds for eel-fishers and wildfowl hunters. The first fortified positions of the Hauhaus—consisting of Whakatohea, Ngati-Awa, Ngai-te-Rangi-houhiri, and some Urewera—were the palisaded pas Parawai and Te Matapihi, on the west side of the Tarawera River, and when driven out of these they took to their island-like forts in the great swamp. The Government despatched Major William G. Mair, R.M., who had served in the Waikato War as ensign in the Colonial Defence Force Cavalry and as staff interpreter, to organize a force of the Arawa Tribe and engage the Hauhaus, and endeavour to capture the principal men concerned in the murders at Opotiki and Whakatane. Major Mair, after initiating a Maketu column and arranging Matata as the rendezvous, assembled his force at Rotorua for the Matata campaign. It consisted of detachments from Tuhourangi, Ngati-Tuwharetoa, Ngati-Whakaue, Ngati-Rangiwewehi, Ngati-Uenukukopako, Ngati-Rangiteaorere, Ngati-Tuara, and the smaller clans of the Arawa. Crossing Tarawera Lake to Tapahore pa, a considerable number of Ngati-Rangitihi were enlisted for the expedition, and Mair's force now numbered about four hundred men. He marched down the valley of the Tarawera River, skirmishing on the way, to Matata (Te Awa-a-te-Atua). The position at Parawai was too strong to be taken by assault, so page 97 had to be passed by. On reaching Matata the column was augmented by the force from Maketu, made up principally of Ngati-Pikiao and Ngati-Whakaue. The skirmishing which followed on the western side of the river and then among the islands of the great swamps, followed by the siege of Te Teko pa, occupied nearly two months. At Tiepa-taua and other places a few miles inland from Matata Mair and his Arawa cut the Hauhaus off from their cultivations on the slopes west of the Awa-a-te-Atua. Te Parawai pa was taken. Here, says a native who served in the contingent, Major Mair set a bold example of courage by working right up to the palisades and firing his rifle through the fence. The capture of the strong position at Te Matapihi was the next operation, and the Hauhaus were forced into the swamps. The friendlies settled themselves comfortably in the captured village at Matata Island, where there were many large whares, and expeditions went along the beach dunes and maintained a heavy fire on the enemy. Among the Arawa was the warrior woman Heni te Kiri-karamu, who had distinguished herself by her bravery and her humanity to the British wounded at the Gate Pa in the previous year, and who was now fighting on the Government side, with her uncle Matenga te Ruru. She was armed with a Minie rifle, and proved herself a good shot. One day, at fairly long range, she killed a Hauhau who was poling a canoe across a lagoon. The fighting grew closer, and for several days there was sharp skirmishing and sniping at a range of about 100 yards until the Hauhaus were driven out. Mair and Heni Pore had the only rifles in the force. The Arawa were armed chiefly with double- and single-barrel shot-guns; some had only old flint-locks and Tower muskets.

The swamp strongholds, Oheu, Otamauru, and Omeheu, inland of the coastal belt were all trenched and palisaded, and in these retreats the Hauhaus, like Hereward the Wake and his Saxons in the fens of Ely, considered themselves safe from conquest by their foes. Mair took them in the rear by quietly and swiftly landing a hundred Ngati-Pikiao on Otamauru, a large strongly trenched and palisaded pa about five miles up the Orini Stream in the direction of Whakatane; the stream bounded its east side. The war-party from Matata Island first marched along the sea-beach, under cover of night, taking care to walk just within the edge of the water (it was flood tide) so that their footmarks would not be seen by any Hauhau scouts. The attackers then struck inland, crossed the belt of sandhills, and swam the Orini River, with their guns held high and their ammunition fastened on their heads. They completely surrounded the Otamauru pa and took the garrison prisoners. This broke the resistance in page 98 the Rangitaiki swamps. Omeheu pa, on an island east of the Tarawera River, some four miles inland, was the last place abandoned. The Hauhaus retreated up the Tarawera River in their canoes, and thence paddled along the Motumotu Creek, which then connected the Tarawera with the Rangitaiki River; it ran parallel with the Orini.

The present road between Matata and Whakatane traverses the low-lying country which was the scene of Mair's difficult swamp campaign. Matata Island, once a large and populous place, is passed on the east side of the new mouth of the Tarawera River. Te Matapihi is on the west bank of the Tarawera, about a mile above the present punt-crossing, a short distance from the ocean-beach. The square scarped hillock of Oheu, in the raupo swamp, the smallest pa of the series, is seen a little way from the road, on the inland side. In the siege of this stronghold Major Mair shot a Hauhau through the forehead from Te Rangatai, on the opposite bank of the Tarawera River.*

The coastal parts cleared of the Hauhaus, the Arawa went on a foraging expedition to Whakatane by canoe along the Orini River—it was then a deep navigable waterway, but has now been rendered useless by the Rangitaiki drainage-works. Loading their canoes with great quantities of kumara, taro, and maize from the deserted cultivations on the lower Whakatane, they paddled back to their base at Matata, and prepared to take the field again.