Motu School 4×4 Safari Reveals Some Graphic NZ History

Day 2 of the Motu 2021 Safari headed South from the School and Village, onto Whakarau Road, then across the heights towards Rere waterfall, and the site of some of the more desperate fighting in the East Cape theatre of New Zealand’s “Maori Wars”.

Avid Land Rover Enthusiast, and Maori Wars Historian Kevin Isemonger, was on the Safari, and we pick up his tale of the violence that occurred in the now quiet rural farming area, just south of Motu.
The team leaving Motu Safari Campsite

With Kevin’s permission, we are republishing the story he posted on Facebook after his return from the Motu Safari. It’s not exactly 4WD, but, particularly for those on the trip, we think you may enjoy it.

“I just could not believe what I was seeing…
We came over the ridge – down through the mist – and there it was – Te Kooti’s citadel Pa of Ngatapa.


This story covers graphic details of the siege of Ngatapa and the dates of this activity must be taken into account, as this all occurred in less than a 3 month period.

On the 25th November 1868, over 200 Ngati-porou men under the Ngati-Porou leader, Major Ropata Wahawaha (NZC) and Hotene Porourangi and 170 Wairoa Maori under Lieutenant Preece, started in pursuit of Te Kooti from Te Reinga Falls inland from Wairoa.

The Citadel

On 3rd December 1868, Ngāti Kahungunu from Wairoa and Ngāti Porou discovered Te Kooti’s Hauhau force just above Rere Falls and drove them back from the Makaretu Rifle positions to Te Karetu Pā, which is up Rere Farm Settlement Road which we pass later.

Some of the Hauhau took to the river and jumped off the Rere Falls to escape the Ngāti Porou attack.  On the Government side, two Europeans were wounded and one Ngati-Porou was killed in the engagement.

A brief history of Te Kooti – what led to the siege…

Te Kooti was fighting with the British and Ngati Porou at Waeranga-a-Hika on the main road into Gisborne in November 1865. It was suggested he was friendly to the Hauhau and was arrested and sent with other prisoners to the Chatham Islands.

In todays terms, he became radicalized, escaped on a hi-jacked ship the (Rifleman) and sailed back to the mainland with some faithful followers.

He was chased – and planned his revenge on his accusers, which resulted in the disaster at Matawhero 09/11/1868 with over 80 Maori (Ngati Porou) and European men, women, children, even infants bayonetted and tomahawked in their homes on the plains west of Gisborne.

Part of the day’s route.

Te Kooti abandoned Te Karetu Pā at the loss of around 60 of his followers and withdrew to the mountain citadel of Ngatapa.  Numbering about three hundred fighting-men, women and children they hastily strengthened the lines of entrenchment. The weak feature of this Pa, as in most Maori forts, was the lack of a water-supply within the fortress.  The front of the position, the face of the ridge, was defended by three parapets and trenches; the ditches were connected with each other by covered ways.  The lowest and outermost line was about 250 metres long, with very high scarped walls terminating at the vertical cliffs on either side.  The second line of parapets was about 3m in height, and the third, protecting the huts built on the summit was 5m high, surmounted with flax baskets filled with earth, as ‘sand-bags.

The Pa was extremely difficult to attack as it was located in a very remote area and surrounded by deep gorges and (then) dense forest.  The rear of the position was a sharp knife-edge ridge, falling away precipitously for several hundreds of metres on each side.

The first attack on Ngatapa was delivered on the 5th December by Ngati-Porou and the Wairoa Maori, two companies of about one hundred and fifty men each.  Major Ropata Wahawaha, Lieutenant Preece and just a few picked men left the main body in the valley, clambered up the steep face of the cliff and gained the end of the trench on the left front of the Pa, immediately behind the front wall, a position that they managed to hold for the rest of the day and night, but with short supplies of ammunition and food, they were forced to withdraw, and the party returned to Tauranganui (Gisborne).

It was late in December 1868 before Colonel Whitmore finalised his strategy for the second advance on Ngatapa, while Te Kooti’s followers were attacking villages near Gisborne murdering several people at Pipiwhakao, five kilometres from the Constabulary camp at Makaraka.
Te Kooti had to be stopped.

Whitmore marched out of Gisborne (Tauranganui) on the 24th December 1868 with four divisions of Armed Constabulary, totaling about four hundred men, and Major Ropata Wahawaha followed him up with three hundred and fifty Ngati-Porou who had been brought down from Waiapu by steamer.

31st December 1868 the force had reached a hill on the same long ridge as Ngatapa, but separated from the citadel by a deep gully; the distance between the Constabulary entrenchment and the Pa was about 400m. This position became known as the “Crow’s Nest” — and Scouts were sent out to encircle the Pa, while Ngatapa was hit with mortar fire.

History appearing from the rising mist

From the Crows-nest it was observed that Ngatapa had been greatly strengthened since the first attack.

The first attempt to capture the Hauhau entrenchments was carried out by Captain Gundry and Captain Porter, the former leading a recently enlisted division of Arawa Maoris (Ngati-Whakaue, Ngati-Pikiao, and Tuhourangi), and the latter leading a picked party of Ngati-Porou.

The force was detailed to surprise the Hauhaus’ outer wall, and this was done with complete success, cutting the garrison off from their water supply.  The defenders withdrew to their inner lines, and the Constabulary and Ngati-Porou took possession of the outer line from cliff to cliff and commenced regular siege operations by digging Saps towards the new wall.

Shells were thrown into the fort by the Coehorn mortar from the Crows-nest, and many casualties were inflicted by the bursting projectiles.
The siege continued for three days and nights. The very narrow ridge in rear, falling steeply from the Pa, with several scarps scarcely climbable, was held under heavy fire by just a few Constabulary men.

A huge storm came in soon after the siege began and Sap digging was stopped, while the heavy bombardment continued to pour into the Hauhau fortress.

Late on the last day of the siege Captain Gascoyne led thirty men of No. 7 Division against the Ngatapa, and in the teeth of a gale with rain, and under heavy fire he secured a position close under one of the outer parapets and remained there all night waiting for dawn to continue his assault with shovel, axe, and rifle.

On the same afternoon, 04th Jan 1869, Colonel Whitmore, after consultation with Major Ropata, detailed a storming-party of fifty Ngati-Porou to surprise and seize the second line of defense by assaulting the Hauhaus’ left front at an angle above the cliff.

Ngatapa towers above.

Captain Porter and his team managed to scale the cliff to the edge of the precipice under the cover of darkness (and stormy weather) and remained concealed until they hit the edge of the parapet.

Under fire from the party below, they were able to gain cover with some loss of life including one of the Ngati-Porou, Rewai Tauranga who, when shot, fell on Captain Porter, and both fell to the base of the cliff, but Porter was able to regain his feet and quickly rejoined his men.
The raiding party commenced firing along the second trench causing the defenders to retreat to the fortress itself.

With their second position captured, the raiders set about blowing up the inner parapet with gunpowder to storm Ngatapa the next morning.

With the storm raging, Te Kooti realized that they were surrounded, out of water and supplies, and had to evacuate the Pa.  They used Aka ropes to scale down the 20m vertical north face of the Pa leaving behind some women and the gravely wounded.

The Pa was then occupied by the Government force and a pursuit was ordered by Major Ropata of the Ngati-Porou and the Arawa Divisions.
Te Kooti and some of his men escaped, but a great many of the people, weakened by want of food, were captured before they had gone far.
Every male prisoner taken was shot (said to be about 120) — some on the spot, some near Ngatapa, where they were taken for execution on the cliff edge.

An Armed Constabulary scout who was involved in the bush chase said: “All the men taken were despatched. We just stood them on the edge of a cliff and gave them a volley.”

The ordering of the execution of all the Hauhaus captured by Major Ropata Wahawaha was ruthless, but the memory of the massacre of his people at Matawhero only 8 weeks previously would have been still raw in every mind.

In-kind, the surviving remnants of Te Kooti’s followers moved on to murder everyone they captured, using tomahawk and bayonet, at the siege of Te Poronu Redoubt & Flour Mill near Whakatane in March, and 60 at the two Redoubts at Mohaka, 10th April 1869, less than three months after Ngatapa.”

Historic sites of the New Zealand Wars
Marking ‘horrors of Ngatapa’

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