Our final stop on our tour of historic sites around Northland was the Ruapekapeka Pa site 6 kms off the State Highway 10 just south of Kawakawa and another one of those turn off’s to a historic site that I have driven past numerous times without thought of stopping.
This visit is to the fifth and final of the places we have been asked to write about at the request of Landmarks Whenua Tohunga who are charged with promoting some of the lessor known sites in Northland. These sites are a mixture held by Heritage NZ, DOC, Local Council and Private ownership that have historical significance but are not very well known on the tourist trail. So the blog is about our experiences at these sites with visits so far to the Mangungu Mission, Clendon House, Te Waimate and the Rangihoua Heritage Park.
The road leading to the Ruapekapeka Pa is a well formed gravel road that leads you towards the large parking area. It is narrow in some places and caution would be required on parts of the road if you are travelling in peak holiday season. There aren’t a lot of places to pull over but we made it without issue in our 9 metre motorhome. Whilst I understand some peoples reluctance to take their motorhomes on gravel roads they are missing so many of New Zealand’s spectacular places and this road is not that bad.
With the road climbing steadily towards the top of the hill we reached the carpark to discover this huge space that was completely deserted. Like some of the other sites we have visited on this tour we have found that off the beaten track and away from the main tourist routes equals a distinct lack of visitors.
With the motorhome safely tucked away in a corner of the carpark we began the stroll to the Pa. The parking area is around 600 metres from the Pa site along a walk that takes you first past the area where the British soldiers set up their base as well as cannons that they would use to try and pound the Pa into submission.
There isn’t really much to see here other than a notice board that explains the strategy of the British troops and how they eventually prevailed although I am not sure you would say they won when you read it. From here there is a really pleasant walk through a stand of native trees bringing you up at the entrance to the Pa site.
We arrived at the very impressive entrance to the Pa site with this site administered by DOC the usual rules about no dogs apply. With a Rahui in place due to the sacred nature of this place to Maori the condition of entry here is that no food or drink is allowed inside the Pa. There is a picnic area close to the carpark but no food or drink inside.
It’s hard to describe the cratered effect of the ground as you arrive at the Pa site. This is actually the best preserved and largest fortified Pa in New Zealand with the holes and tunnels among the fortifications used to help defend the Pa against the British for around 10 days. Not bad when you consider that the British were using cannons and mortars to pound the Pa into submission although when you read some of the signage boards around the site you realise that the British tactics may not have been the most effective.
Some of these holes are over 2 metres deep with some having tunnels to others. Originally they were covered to protect those inside from debris thrown up by the pounding of the cannons. Given the health and safety rules of today I guess it would be rather dangerous to have covers over the holes.
The deepest hole (actually the water well) is thankfully fenced off as it looks a long way down with very little chance of any decent footholds on the way back up. Some of the holes also have water in them so supervising young ones if you did come here would be a priority.
There are two carved Pouwhenua on the Pa itself with the one above appearing to be much older than the impressive one behind it. Sadly there is nothing to tell you the history behind this Pouwhenua and half of it has either fallen off or rotted away over time.
The cannon was interesting as it looked like it had blown apart at the end although maybe that had also just suffered from the ravages of time.
At the head of the Pa is this impressive carved Pouwhenua which as you can see towers over both of us and dominates the site looking down on the Pa. It really is an impressive site looking at the holes and fortifications. Strangely with nobody else here it felt quite brooding or maybe that’s just my imagination running wild on me.
This Pa has an amazing view of the surrounding countryside and stands above all the other nearby hills making the walk through the fortifications well worth while and something I would recommend.
At the back of the Pa is a 10 minute walk through a Puriri forest that takes you to a large Puriri tree although to me it didn’t look that much bigger than the trees in the surrounding forest it was still a pleasant walk. The highlight of this walk for Sarah was my acrobatics when I lost my footing on the clay trying to get a better shot of one of the trees ending up on my backside. Sorry no photos of that event.
As we wandered back to the motorhome we discussed the complete lack of visitors at this site and how few people we had seen at the other places we had visited as part of this trip around Northland’s historic sites. Some of it I guess is lack of publicity that the “must do’s” are on the main tourist route or are heavily promoted privately owned places. So getting off the beaten track gives you a chance to visit places that few New Zealander’s and probably even fewer tourists have been to.
When we got back to the motorhome we noticed a path heading in the other direction and decided to take a look although it petered out after we had crossed one field we met one of the friendliest horses I have come across who made the effort to come and say hello, maybe thinking it was time for a feed although we had nothing to give him.
We did briefly consider spending the night in the carpark with the place quieter than a church mouse and us well hidden away in the corner we felt safe but the sign at the entrance prohibits camping and being the good motorhomers that we are we obeyed the signs and moved on.
So with all five sites now ticked of the list for Landmarks Whenua Tohunga. We have seen and been to places that we should have visited years ago we have stayed at a couple of awesome campsites and have had terrific weather. If this blog encourages some other people to visit then I will have successfully achieved my mission and all that remains on my part is to write a final blog that sums up all five places with a suggested itinerary of where to stay. This final blog in this series will be published soon.
To view the places we have visited click here to see them on Google maps. You can click the links to read the blog about that area.
To view the Ratings we have done for other camps click here