The small island of Ripapa on the southern shore of Whakaraupo/Lyttelton Harbour was a strategic pa for Ngāi Tahu and is a site invested with Tōpuni status.

In this section

Ripapa Island Historic Reserve is closed to the public due to safety concerns from earthquake damage.

Ko te Poho o Tamatea te maunga ko
Whakaraupo te moana ko Ngati Wheke te hapu

Aerial view of Ripapa Island
Aerial view of Ripapa Island

Tucked close against the southern shore of Whakaraupo (Lyttelton Harbour), the small island of Ripapa was an ideal site for a fortified pa. Such a pa was built here in the early nineteenth century by Taununu, a Ngai Tahu chief who had moved south from Kaikoura.

Several skirmishes were fought on the shores and slopes surrounding Ripapa.

In the 1820s Taununu became embroiled in fighting amongst related Ngai Tahu hapu from Canterbury, Otago, and Southland. Known as the Kai Huanga (eat relatives) feud, these fights and their outcomes influenced the fortunes of Ngai Tahu throughout the rest of the nineteenth century.

Ngai Tahu continued to occupy Ripapa until about 1832, when the chief Te Whakarukeruke left to help defend Kaiapoi against Te Rauparaha. After the fall of Kaiapoi, Te Rauparaha overran several pa on Banks Peninsula, including Ripapa. It was never occupied again.

This island is therefore of special significance to Ngai Tahu as a place of memories and traditions associated with these skirmishes and the ancestors who died in them.

The significance of the urupa on Ripapa and nearby, where these ancestors rest, and the place of the island in tribal history were acknowledged by the designation of Ripapa as a Topuni in the Ngai Tahu Deed of Settlement with the Crown in 1998.

Historical events such as the Kai Huanga feud, the places where they were fought, and the ancestors who were involved helped shape the identity of Ngai Tahu, both past and present. Ripapa, its history, and its urupa, are part of this identity.

Urupa, resting places of the ancestors

In many places on Ripapa and nearby are the burial sites of Ngai Tahu ancestors who belonged to the hapu of Canterbury. These urupa resonate with memories and traditions for their descendants, whanau of the hapu who still live in the area.

Because Maori perceive their ancestors as ever present, signalling the continuity between past and present generations, their burial places remain a focus for whanau traditions. For Ngai Tahu, the urupa of Ripapa therefore have enormous spiritual and cultural value as well as historical significance.

Today, the hapu of Ngati Wheke, based at Rapaki across the harbour, are the guardians of Ripapa.


Taununu of Banks Peninsula 
Weep for yourself 
On the morning your bones will 
Be transformed into fishhooks 
To be used in my fishing grounds to the South 
This is my retaliation 
An avenging for your attacks 
All I need is one fish to take my bait

The Kai Huanga feud

One foolish act on the shores of Waihora about 1824 was the trigger for a feud that saw escalating retaliation and fighting amongst the closely related families of Ngai Tahu. This fighting eventually involved many of the leading chiefs of Ngai Tahu in Canterbury, Otago, and Southland.

While the leading chief Te Maiharanui was away from home, a woman tried on his topuni (dogskin cloak), a sacrilegious act that led to fighting amongst the neighbouring settlements. When Te Maiharanui returned he did not attack the culprit's people but those at Taumutu, who had become involved in the fighting.

Taununu from Ripapa was amongst Te Maiharanui's allies in the capture of Taumutu.

Hinehaka, a high-ranking woman from the south, was at Taumutu at the time visiting relatives. She returned home to ask her relatives to seek vengeance. When she reached Ruapuke, near Stewart Island, she composed the song cited here, a kai oreore telling Taununu that he should weep as he would be killed in the morning.

In the summer of 1825-26, warriors from the southern hapu as well as from Kaiapoi set out from Taumutu to attack Wairewa on the south side of Banks Peninsula. But the people had been warned and escaped. Thwarted, the Kaiapoi warriors killed a nephew of Taununu.

In retaliation, Taununu went inland and killed all the people at Whakaepa (near present-day Coalgate), relatives of those from Kaiapoi. The following summer saw an even larger war party of musket-armed allies from the south join their relatives from Kaiapoi to attack Wairewa. Victorious, they went on to attack Taununu at Ripapa from the water and from the land.

This time, Taununu escaped death, but he was later killed at Wairewa, thus satisfying Hinehaka's curse.

The feud continued until the southern chiefs arranged a marriage between Makei Te Kura, daughter of Hinehaka, and a son of a Rapaki family. This and the need to unite against the threat of Te Rauparaha in the early 1830s finally brought an end to the internal fighting amongst Ngai Tahu.

Maori Fortifications

This sketch made of Ripapa in 1872 shows bastions that would protect the defenders and provide them with a clear line of fire. Deep ditches were dug behind earth ramparts, and a second line of ramparts and ditches protected an inner section of the pa.

Musket warfare

History tells us that these fights were the first in which muskets were used by Ngai Tahu. Two pa on Banks Peninsula were fortified against musket attack during the 1820s and 30s. Ripapa was one of these.

An island prison

In 1880 the quarantine buildings erected on Ripapa in 1872-73 were used as a prison. It was here that some followers of the Taranaki leader and pacifist prophet Te Whiti o Rongomai were imprisoned for six months without trial during his dispute with the Crown at Parihaka. Later in 1881, Te Whiti himself was imprisoned in Te Wai Pounamu after government soldiers destroyed Parihaka and arrested many of its inhabitants. In 1885, construction of Fort Jervois commenced.

Visitors to Ripapa

Ngai Tahu wish to encourage understanding of and respect for the values of this special place. Visitors are asked to be aware that eating food on the island denigrates its tapu status.

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