Ruapekapeka - the Bats' Nest

The story of Ruapekapeka is told in both Te Rau Aroha museum and Te Kōngahu Museum of Waitangi, where unique artefacts such as Kawiti's taiaha are on display

January 11 marks 175 years since The Battle of Ruapekapeka, final chapter of the Northern War (1845 -1846) where dissatisfaction over the Treaty turned to war. One of New Zealand’s largest and most complex pā (fortified position), Ruapekapeka shows Māori innovation in military techniques. Over 1600 British troops and their Māori allies were pitted against 400 Ngāpuhi and Ngāti Hine fighters in an inconclusive battle lasting several weeks.

Ngāpuhi chief Hōne Heke, and his uncle chief Kawiti, led resistance to encroaching British control; other Ngāpuhi chiefs, led by Tāmati Wāka Nene, sided with the British. Ruapekapeka means bats’ nest and refers to the intricate series of underground shelters, linked by tunnels and encircled by double fortifications. The British crawled through rugged bush for three weeks, heavy artillery in tow, to reach the site and took a further two weeks of bombardment to breach the pā (11 January 1846) by which time the defenders had already withdrawn. After the Battle of Ruapekapeka, all sides agreed to cease hostilities. 

Ruapekapeka’s architect, Kawiti, was also called Te Ruki Kawiti as Europeans called him ‘the Duke’ -Te Ruki. His design and engineering of pā at Ōhaeawai (where the British had been defeated), and at Ruapekapeka were admired and recorded by the British to share with military peers. In 2008, the pā was formally recognised as a national site of engineering significance by the Institute of Professional Engineers of New Zealand.

Like Waitangi Treaty Grounds, Ruapekapeka is one of 24  Tohu Whenua in New Zealand, significant places which have shaped our history. Both Te Kōngahu Museum and Te Rau Aroha museum tell the story of Ruapekapeka – a common focus for visiting school groups. The big question is always ‘Who really won the Battle of Ruapekapeka?”. Groups sometimes visit Ruapekapeka, where it’s easy to imagine the battle that took place as you explore the trenches and bunkers still visible.

Visit Te Ruapekapeka website to find out more. Watch a 30 -minute Ruapekapeka video documentary or explore the site in this Ruapekapeka Virtual Reality experience, both produced by Radio New Zealand.

8/1/2021  Imogen Rider