The Bay of Islands has been called the “Birthplace of the Nation”.  If so, then it was not an easy birth.  This tour begins at the Treaty House in Waitangi where the founding document of Aotearoa-New Zealand was signed in 1840 between the British Crown and Maori Chiefs.  Within five years the British and Maori led by Hone Heke and Kawiti were engaged in a series of engagement collectively referred to as the “Northern War”.  During the day we will trace the evolution of  military tactics which led to  the sophisticated defences of Ruapekapeka (the “Bat Cave”).  We will also see how Heke and Kawiti lured the British into battles for pa (forts) in isolated places far from  their villages and cultivations.


The Treaty (Te Tiritiri o Waitangi) was signed at Waitangi on 6th February 1840 by British Resident James Busby and chiefs from a range of Iwi.  The first Maori to sign was Hone Heke Pokai.  The Busby House, the carved whare nui (meeting house) and the waka (canoes) make a fascinating start to the day, full of the bi-cultural symbols of the founding of the country.


Across the water at Russell is the second stop at Flagstaff Hill where Hone Heke cut down the flagstaff in July 1844 and again in January 1845, an act which triggered the war.  In Russell we will see Pompalier House which was undamaged in the sack of the town in March 1845.


From Russell we make our way to Ohaeawai via the picturesque Waimate Mission House, built in 1832, the second oldest building in New Zealand.   Just north of Ohaeawai lies Puketutu where Heke built a new pa.  However, it was unfinished when the British forces arrived and much close combat took place outside the pa - a tradition of both the British and Maori.  After the battle Heke and Kawiti concluded that they would have to avoid such open-field engagements in future.

Their response was to adapt pa construction to resist the barrage of cannon fire which was supposed to “soften up” those inside and to use sophisticated palisade design enabling the pa to be defended against superior numbers.  The result was a sound defeat for the British when after six days of bombardment they stormed the pa.


From Ohaeawai we travel to our last stop at Ruapekapeka.  Here Kawiti perfected defensive systems that were later used in the trench warfare in the First World War in Europe.  The sophisticated defences included underground bunkers that resisted even the 32lb cannon balls, and  flax matting draped on the pallisades to trap the balls shot by the British riflemen.  The pa, defended by 100 Maori against 1100 troops, was virtually impregnable, yet it was abandoned by Kawiti who tried to lure the soldiers into an ambush in the bush.  This was the last engagement of the Northern War and a peace was concluded between Governor Grey and Heke and Kawiti in January 1846. While Maori  won the battles, they lost the trade with the Europeans which had been a key grievance prompting the cutting down of the flagpole when the capital was moved to Auckland.

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NORTHERN WAR