A personal interest in the Hibiscus Coast’s pre-European history led to a guided walk for 10 people on a local pa site recently.
Darlene Te Young of Stanmore Bay’s interest in local history led her to one of her former teachers, retired Ōrewa College assistant principal Drew Parsons, who has studied the area’s early history in depth, publishing articles online.
Drew was happy to accompany Darlene to the site of Rarowhara Pa on the cliff in Arkles Bay, and others joined after Darlene put out an invitation on social media.
“There is an incredible history – it’s the site of battles, some victorious and others not, secret steps down the cliff face – fascinating stuff,” Darlene says.
Some of the research Drew shared on the walk is summarised below:
This pa is the most important of a series of coastal hill forts in and around Whangaparāoa Peninsula. The waters north of the peninsula were rich fishing grounds and this, together with the peninsula’s location on the canoe route between Northland and the rest of the North Island, made it of strategic importance. The pa has a perfect vantage point to watch for canoes approaching from Tamaki (south) and was close to the excellent shellfish grounds in Karepiro Bay.
Rarowhara was the main pa of the Ngati Kahu iwi – their rivals, the Ngati Paoa, were based on Tiritiri Matangi Island, which secured their right to fish in the area.
An utu (revenge) raid was made by Ngati Paoa on Ngati Kahu following earlier conflict, and a major battle was fought on the beach at Arkles Bay, below the pa.
A secret track down the cliff face allowed the locals to decisively beat Ngati Paoa and live in security for the next 20 years.
However, in 1821 another utu raid, this time by the powerful Ngapuhi tribe armed with muskets obtained by their leader, Hongi Hika, saw the capture of Rarowhara Pa, and its inhabitants killed, apart from a few who fled.
After this, the region was almost totally deserted of human habitation until a few Ngati Kahu returned decades later.
The Pa is located in Mollyhawk Reserve on the south facing cliff face accessed from Mollyhawk Rise. The approach is very steep until you reach a terrace which would have had a palisade. The settlement would have extended eastwards to the cliff top above Arkles Bay.
There is a ‘secret’ path from the top of the pa to the beach although Drew says it is badly eroded and unsafe. The track is located towards the eastern end of the main defensive earthworks. Along the ridge of the cliff top there were habitation sites with middens and terraces, now a modern residential area.