Projects

Visitor Development Project

2003 was an important year for Ruapekapeka Pā and Battlefield. The Department of Conservation (DOC) and Te Ruapekapeka Trust1 combined forces and undertook a major development of the site. The visitor experience was completely transformed, based upon a comprehensive Development Plan produced by expert consultants. A new car park was built, becoming the starting-point of a loop track. The track takes the visitor past the British Advanced Position, through a forested gully, and up to the pā itself. Information panels were designed to give visitors a taste of Ruapekapeka’s remarkable story.

The entrance to the pā is marked by a beautiful and meaningful waharoa (carved gateway). The waharoa is the work of a team of master-carvers, overseen by Te Warihi Hetaraka. The central figure represents Te Ruki Kawiti, the chief architect of the pā and the leader of the warriors who defended it. He is flanked by Māori chiefs who stood alongside him in the defence of Ruapekapeka Pā.

Tidying and landscaping was an important element of the project. Non-native trees and other weeds were removed, and literally thousands of native seedlings were planted. Planting that number of trees is a very labour intensive task, and it never would have been achieved without the tireless efforts of volunteers from the community.

The 2003 development of Ruapekapeka Pā and Battlefield was a complex project. The challenge was to enhance the visitor experience whilst respecting the tapu (sacred) nature of the site. Earthworks were very carefully planned to avoid damage to the archaeological traces of the battle. Everyone involved worked very hard to complete the project, in time for the Minister of Conservation to attend a grand opening on 6 December 2003.

View photos of the work carried out as part of the Visitor Development Project in the Photo Gallery at the end of this section.


1 Previously known as Ruapekapeka Pā Management Trust

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Oral History Project

There are many kaumatua and kuia (Māori elders) who hold taonga tuku iho (oral histories, traditions, treasures handed down) which relate to Ruapekapeka. Some of these have been preserved as audio recording, as part of a project initiated by Ruapekapeka trustees and the DOC.

At present, these recording are held in safekeeping by Te Ruapekapeka Trust. It is hoped that over time, some portions of these invaluable records may become available for the public to hear.

Restoring the Carronade

There is an 18-pounder carronade (a short-barrelled cannon) mounted near the middle of Ruapekapeka Pā. This has long been known as “Kawiti’s Carronade” (after Te Ruki Kawiti, the warrior chief who led the defence of Ruapekapeka Pā). Before the restoration project began, the carronade was broken into four separate pieces. Two large pieces were displayed at the pā, and two smaller pieces were in the care of the Whangarei Museum. 

John Osborne, a master gunsmith, was enlisted to carry out the restoration work. The cannon ball jammed in the barrel was a challenge, since John suspected there was a charge in the powder chamber behind it. He was right. The powder chamber was flooded with water after drilling through the spiked vent hole, and the cannon ball dislodged with heat and water. During the process of cleaning the carronade, engraved marks were discovered on the surface. The marks include a year, a calibre, and an image of a crown with the letters “GR” inside it. We now know that the carronade is an 18-pounder, manufactured for the British Government in 1811.

John came up with an ingenious way of re-assembling the broken pieces. He had a steel tube manufactured especially to fit down the barrel, and screwed the broken pieces together around the tube. After a coat of rust-converting primer, finished with some matt black paint, the carronade was ready to be mounted.

A wooden carriage was made to resemble the original ships mounting, and the carronade was returned to its old spot on the pā in January 2010.

The restored carronade is returned.

The restored carronade is carefully lowered back onto the site thanks to the efforts of a local farmer, contractor and DOC staff.

Photo: Department of Conservation

 

View pictorial progress reports from the carronade restoration:

Geophysical Research

Ruapekapeka Pā and Battlefield is an archaeological site. Traces of the battle are preserved beneath the ground surface, protected by law and by the tapu (sacred) nature of the site. Using geophysical survey techniques, we are able to investigate Ruapekapeka without disturbing the ground surface and damaging the site. In 2006 specialist consultants from Geometria were contracted to carry out surveys of this nature.

The sites were surveyed with a fluxgate gradiometer, a machine which measures anomalies in the earth’s magnetic field. It can detect features which have been dug into the ground surface, such as in-filled ditches and pits. Geometria also carried out a resistivity survey on the pā, using a device which measures differences in the ability of the soil to resist an electrical current.

The data which was collected provided us with some fascinating information. Today the main camp area is just a paddock – nothing is visible above the ground. Thanks to the geophysical surveys, we now know the extent of the camp and we have some ideas about its layout and how it was defended. Resistivity survey revealed a possible location for the well located within the pā, which was infilled and forgotten some time after the battle. We now have much better understanding of what lies beneath the ground surface at Ruapekapeka Pā and Battlefield.

Geophysical research. Geometria staff running the equipment over the site.

Geophysical research. Geometria staff running the equipment over the site.

Photo: Department of Conservation

Geophysical research. Geometria survey equipment on site.

Geophysical research. Geometria survey equipment on site.

Photo: Department of Conservation

Archaeological Research (PhD project)

Jonathan Carpenter, a PhD candidate through the Australian National University, is carrying out archaeological research at Ruapekapeka Pā and Battlefield. His research focuses upon the main British and allied Māori encampments, to explore the idea of emerging colonial identities. 

Follow the research through Jonathan's blog Ara Ki Te Ruapekapeka

The Virtual Interpretation Project (VIP)

Much of the physical development at Ruapekapeka Historic Reserve has been completed – the car park, the walking tracks, the interpretation signs. Current and future projects are less about “developing” the site and more about learning and encouraging people to connect with the Ruapekapeka stories. That is why we created this website!

The idea of creating a virtual model of Ruapekapeka Pā and Battlefield was a starting point for the website project. The project evolved over time, to become a platform for telling stories about Ruapekapeka and the Northern War.

It took a long time to produce and assemble the content for this website, and many people were involved (see Credits). Of course, this project will never really be “finished”. There are so many stories to tell; many subjects and many people that we haven’t even mentioned. We hope that this website will continue evolve as hapu, iwi and the wider community contribute stories of their own.

Visitor Development Project Photo Gallery

View photos of the work carried out as part of the Visitor Development Project.

Work on the car park begins.

Work begins on the new car park. The work was monitored by an archaeologist to check for sub-surface features associated with the battle. Nothing was found. 

Photo: Department of Conservation

Work on the car park continues.

Work continues on the new car park.

Photo: Department of Conservation

Constructing the track leading up to the British main gun battery.

Constructing the track leading up to the British main gun battery. 

Photo: Department of Conservation

Work in progress on the waharoa (carved gateway).

Work in progress on the waharoa (carved gateway), which was installed at the entrance to Ruapekapeka Pā.

Photo: Department of Conservation

Department of Conservation staff building a fence.

Department of Conservation staff building a fence at the pā entrance.

Photo: Department of Conservation

Installing the waharoa.

Installing the waharoa. 

Photo: Department of Conservation

Installing the waharoa.

Installing the waharoa. 

Photo: Department of Conservation

Installing the waharoa.

Installing the waharoa. 

Photo: Department of Conservation

Installing the waharoa.

Installing the waharoa. 

Photo: Department of Conservation

Local school children at Ruapekapeka to help with tree planting.

Local school children at Ruapekapeka to help with tree planting. 

Photo: Department of Conservation

People enter the pā for the grand opening for the Ruapekapeka Visitor Development Project.

People enter the pā for the grand opening for the Ruapekapeka Visitor Development Project.

Photo: Department of Conservation

John Gardiner (former DOC Area Manager) and Chris Carter (then the Minister of Conservation) view a new information panel during the 2003 opening. 

John Gardiner (former DOC Area Manager) and Chris Carter (then the Minister of Conservation) view a new information panel during the 2003 opening.

Photo: Department of Conservation

2003 Grand Opening. The Minister of Conservation is interviewed by the media.  

2003 Grand Opening. The Minister of Conservation is interviewed by the media. 

Photo: Department of Conservation

2003 Grand Opening. Standing on the left are Ripeka Taipairi (Chairperson of the Ruapekapeka Pā Management Trust) and Chris Carter (Minister of Conservation).  

2003 Grand Opening. Standing on the left are Ripeka Taipairi (Chairperson of the Ruapekapeka Pā Management Trust) and Chris Carter (Minister of Conservation). 

Photo: Department of Conservation 

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