Historic Koru Pa

Koru Pa is thought to be one of the first Maori settlements in Taranaki. Maori tradition recognises that it may have been built as early as 1000AD by Nga Mahanga a Tairi, a hapu of the Taranaki iwi. It became the predominant pa of the Oakura area because of its strategic location by the Oakura River, its size, and the high rank of its leading families.

Koru was a highly desirable pa, but Nga Mahanga a Tairi managed to live here undefeated for many centuries. At the start of the 19th century, Koru was assaulted by over 800 warriors from two hapu of Te Atiawa (from Rewarewa and from Puketapu, north of New Plymouth).

View of the Oakura River from the high point of Koru Pa. Photo: Tim Weston.
View of the Oakura River from the pa

The defeat at Koru led to a series of battles in a period that has been called one of the bloodiest in Taranaki history. Nga Mahanga a Tairi successfully assaulted Rewarewa Pa in revenge for the capture of Koru years earlier, but was later defeated when they tried to capture another Te Atiawa stronghold.

Koru is thought to have been finally abandoned in the mid-1820s due to the threat of a Waikato invasion.

An elaborate carved paepae (threshold) found at Koru in 1898 is a rare example of Taranaki tribal art. It is now held at Puke Ariki in New Plymouth.

Today

It has been said that of all the old Maori fortifications in Taranaki, none has the impact and atmosphere of Koru. It is one of the most intact pa sites remaining in the region.

Terracing showing stone revetting. Photo: Tim Weston.
The track passes terraces reinforced with
stone revetting

It’s most notable remaining features are:

  • Extensive terracing – there are eight terraces to the summit of the pa where the paramount chiefs would have lived, 24 metres above the river.
  • Stone revetting – river stones were used to line the walls of the terraces. This served a dual purpose: it protected the terraced banks from erosion and also made it difficult for attacking parties to gain a foot hold on the smooth rocks.
  • Rua pits – throughout the pa there are 80 underground food storage (rua) pits, many of which are interconnected by tunnels.
  • Defensive ditches – three ditches were created to easily defend the pa from enemy attack.
  • Visible dwelling sites – there are several rectangular depressions around the site which indicate house floors. One of these has a stone-lined hearth of 4 river boulders in the centre.

DOC's work

Detail of the carved paepae at Koru Pa. Photo: Tim Weston.
The reproduction of the paepae

DOC has been working in partnership with Ngati Tairi of Oakura Marae, to develop the visitor experience. This includes providing interpretation panels and displaying a reproduction of the paepae found at Koru in 1898.

Getting there

Travel south-west from New Plymouth on the scenic Surf Highway 45 to Oakura. Turn left onto Wairau Rd then on to Surrey Hill Rd. Continue to the carpark at the end of the road. Follow the orange markers down the sealed section of road and across the farm land to Koru Pa.

Further reading

Department of Conservation. (1998) Te Koru Pa Historic Reserve, Taranaki -Conservation Plan (Unpublished).

Pishief, E. (2002) Archaeological Assessment of Te Koru Pa for New Plymouth Area Office Department of Conservation (Unpublished).

Prickett, N. (1980) Maori fortifications of the Omata and Oakura Districts, Taranaki (Records of the Auckland Institute and Museum, 17: 1-48, pp: 33-36).

Prickett, N. (1990) Historic Taranaki: an archaeological guide (GP Books).


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