Historic Otatara Pa

Otatara Pa Historic Reserve encompasses one of the largest pa complexes in New Zealand. It includes an upper pa, Hikurangi, and a lower one, Otatara. Today, visitors to the pa can see the remains of terraces, dwelling sites and food storage pits and imagine the lively community that Otatara once was.

The views from this site are outstanding. You can see Napier, across to Cape Kidnappers and out to the sea. It is possible on a clear day to see Ruapehu in the centre of the North Island. It’s no wonder that Otatara was the most prized pa in Hawke’s Bay and its ownership was so strongly contested.

Getting there

Otatara Pa is near Taradale between Napier and Hastings. Look out for the pallisades on the hill above the Eastern Institute of Technology.

Palisades at Otatara Pa. Photo: J. McCallum.
Pallisades at Otatara Pa

Otatara was the greatest pa in the district

The pa complex covers over 40 hectares and is one of the largest and oldest in Hawke's Bay. It was favoured for its strategic location, providing expansive views and access to a range of natural resources. This meant it was regarded by many iwi as the greatest pa in the district and ownership was strongly contested at times. 

Turauwha was a paramount chief in Hawke's Bay, based at Otatara. Around 400 years ago, Taraia led Ngati Kahungunu to Heretaunga where they attacked Otatara. Through occupation, conquest marriage and mana (power, influence), the iwi expanded to dominate Hawke's Bay and the Wairarapa. Otatara commorates the mana of Turauwha and Taraia and is linked through whakapapa to people and places throughout New Zealand. 

Ngati Paarau hapu of Waiohiki Marae, at the foot of the pa, are kaitiaki of Otatara Pa today. 

Aerial view of Hikurangi Pa (Otatara Pa complex). Photo: KL Jones.
Aerial view of Hikurangi Pa
(Otatara Pa complex)

Archaeological importance

While farming, quarrying and natural soil processes have taken their toll, the pa’s features and the enormity of the complex are still very evident today. Otatara Pa has strong archaeological significance because it is one of the oldest pa complexes in New Zealand that has retained its features over time.  

In 1973 part of the pa was designated a historic reserve to protect its remaining features.  In 1987 management of the reserve was passed to DOC which has continued to add parts of the pa to the historic reserve. Otatara Pa has been registered as a Category 1 Historic Place. This status is given to places of  'special or outstanding historical or cultural heritage significance or value' by Historic Places Trust.  

DOC's work 

DOC has worked closely with Ngati Paarau of Waiohiki Marae to manage and protect the site since 1987. Eastern Institute of Technology and Historic Places Trust have supported the work at Otatara.

Improvements since 1987 include:

Opening of the waharoa at Otatara. Photo: J. Hudson.
Opening of the waharoa at Otatara Pa

  • Purchases of adjoining land to protect the setting of the pa from encroaching subdivision
  • Detailed mapping and archaeological surveys
  • Onsite vegetation trials to minimise erosion
  • Upgraded facilities including a carved waharoa entrance structure, interpretation, a car park, and landscaping  

Further reading

Jones, K. L & Walton, T. (2006) An interpretation of the settlement and defences of Otatara-Hikurangi, Hawke's Bay, New Zealand. New Zealand Journal of Archaeology no.27: 63-93.

Jones, K.L. (2007) The Penguin field guide to New Zealand archaeology. (Penguin).

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Further information about Hawke's Bay's historic sites is available from:

Ahuriri / Napier Office
Phone:      +64 6 834 3111
Email:   napier@doc.govt.nz
Full office details