The archaeological walk on Urupukapuka Island is suitable for people of most ages and fitness levels. It's a great place to learn about the area’s Maori history.


Very little is known or recorded about pre-European life on Urupukapuka. Our best record of the past is provided by numerous archaeological sites visible on the present-day landscape. By interpreting these sites it is possible to see into the daily lives of ancient communities.

Track overview

7.3 km

Walking and tramping

5 hr Easy: Walking track

Dog access

No dogs

  • Kauri dieback

    Help stop kauri dieback

    Kauri dieback disease is killing our native kauri. It spreads by soil movement, but you can help prevent it.

    • Stay away from kauri tree roots.
    • Clean your gear before and after visiting kauri forest.

About this track


The complete Urupukapuka Island Archaeological Walk (5 hr) is designed in a clockwise direction, and may be joined at most of the larger bays. This track generally follows the outer edge of the island passing various archaeological features.

The southern loop covers more sites and overlooks calm, sheltered bays. The northern loop visits fewer sites, but includes some interesting sites and offers dramatic views from high, rugged cliffs.

The route can be divided into shorter walks of 2.5 hours each.

Map of archaeological walks

Map showing the archaeological walks on Urupukapuka Island .
View larger (JPG, 147 K)

The sites (see map) 

  1. Terraces on spur with good views of garden drains
  2. Small village on knoll overlooking Urupukapuka and Otehei Bays.
  3. Headland pa (forts) for kainga living in adjacent bays and along nearby ridges. Each has a ditch dug across the headland cutting off landward access
  4. As above.
  5. As above.
  6. Probably an inland pa. Excellent views of any seaward approach by an enemy to southern bays. 
  7. Inland village or pa. Important in communication links with other sites along central ridge.
  8. Small village on knoll overlooking Otiao (Indico) Bay. Includes remains of at least 4 kumara storage pits.
  9. Pa with unique feature of two defensive ditches. The large, flat area in the centre was probably the marae. The terraces and ditches are very well preserved.
  10. Numerous gum diggers’ pits along both sides of stream (Post-European period). 
  11. Small village overlooking Otiao Bay.
  12. Spectacular complex of at least 11 well preserved kumara storage pits near cliff edge. 
  13. Pa of northern kainga. Formidable natural defence and excellent vantage position.
  14. One deep kumara storage pit flanked by two terraces at cliff edge.

A corresponding post in the ground marks each site numbered on the map. The route is indicated by connecting marker posts. Some sites have explanatory signs. They are indicated by a triangle on the map. See if during your walk you can discover some of the many sites not numbered.

Behind Indigo Bay, a short walk leads to a dam and a wildlife hide.

Please consider the whole area including the tracks passing through as wahi tapu (sacred places) and treat with respect.

Related link

Urupukapuka Island Archaeological Walk - Walk the North e-book

Getting there

The track can be best joined from Otehei, Urupukapuka, Cable, Indico and Oneura/Paradise Bays.

Nature and conservation

Archaelogical evidence


These were all on headlands, except for one at the north end of the island on a sheer cliff overlooking the open sea. These positions gave good natural defence, and enabled the defenders to observe enemies approaching by sea.

The pa were probably built after 1500 AD. They served as centres of hapu prestige, as well as forts. A Maori proverb says: “He wahine, he whenua e ngaro ai te tangata.” (“for women and land men die.”) Some wars were fought over the right to control good kumara gardening land and other resources. Others were reprisal for insult and trespass, or to increase hapu or tribal mana (prestige or status).

Periodic conflict broke out between Ngare Raumati and sub-tribes of the neighbouring Ngapuhi. Muskets were used as they became available. About 1829 Ngare Raumati were finally defeated by the Ngapuhi chief Rewa. This brought to an end a 300 year period of Ngare Raumati dominance in the southeast Bay of Islands.


These are flat areas dug into the slopes of ridges, knolls and spurs. They form the remains of small villages and were usually close to gardens and the sea.


These are depressions in the ground varying in size from 8 m x 4 m to 2 m x 1 m. Some are between 1 m and 3 m deep, others are merely shallow depressions. They are the remains of roofed, underground storage pits where the kumara crop was stored over the winter. Small pits for daily family use are often found on terraces. Groups of large, communal pits were hidden away from villages for protection against raiding parties.

Gardens and drain lines

These are series of long, parallel depressions visible on the slopes and flat areas behind bays where kumara gardens were planted. They are very faint, and are best seen when the sun is bright and low in the sky. They drained water from heavier clay soils on the slopes, and probably also served as plot division markers.


Two centuries before the crew of the Endeavour became the first Europeans to enter the Bay of Islands, a thriving Maori community lived on Urupukapuka. They were a hapu (sub-tribe) of the Ngare Raumati tribe who occupied the southeast Bay of Islands. The very first settlers of Urupukapuka, distant ancestors of the modern Maori, may have arrived here around 1000 years ago.

Very little is known or recorded about pre-European life on Urupukapuka. Our best record of the past is provided by numerous archaeological sites visible on the present-day landscape. By interpreting these sites it is possible to see into the daily lives of ancient communities.

At the height of pre-European settlement, there were kainga, or villages of extended families, living in all the large sheltered bays. Most of the time life was probably peaceful. However, when an attack from another tribe or hapu threatened, the people could withdraw quickly to the security of an adjacent headland pa (fort). Several of the highest hills along the inland ridges were probably also pa or lookout stations, protected by circles of strong palisades.

Maori fish hook.
Maori fish hook

The early Maori community of Urupukapuka shared a very close relationship with the sea. Kaimoana (sea food) was their most important food. Each day at low tide the women gathered pipi and cockles in flax kits. The men set nets or went fishing with hooks and lures carved from bone and shell, bound to woven flax lines. Kina (sea urchins) were probably popular as they are today. People living in bays could launch their canoes easily to go fishing or to visit other bays, neighbouring islands, or the mainland.

Kumara gardening was an important activity of seaside kainga. Crops were planted around October or November on the sheltered slopes and flat areas behind bays. Around March, they would be dug up and stored in large, roofed, underground pits. Gourds and taro may have been grown as well. Other foods probably hunted and collected were bracken fern root, ti (cabbage tree stems), forest berries and plants, forest and aquatic birds, and kiore (Polynesian rat).

There was plenty of other work for this early community to do, apart from getting food. There were the usual domestic chores of caring for children, preparing and cooking food, and keeping the household in order. Adzes, fishhooks, weapons, and a variety of other tools were crafted from wood, stone and bone. Clothes, mats, kits, fish traps, nets and lines had to be woven from flax and other suitable reeds. Timber and reds were cut to build and repair houses, other structures and canoes. Necklaces and earrings were carved from bone, stone and perhaps occasionally from prized imported green stone. Building a pa required massive earthworks, and was the most strenuous and time-consuming labour. At certain times, such as when someone married or died, there were ceremonies to carry out, and all the people would come together for a hui (large gathering).

Since contact neither Cook in 1769, nor Du Fresne in 1772, visited Urupukapuka, although the French ‘Plan du Port Marion’ located a fortified village on the headland between Otehei and Oneura (Paradise) Bays. This site is now in scrub.

A whaling captain named Brind claimed to have brought 150 acres on Urupukapuka from the Ngapuhi chief Rewa in October, 1839, for one mare valued at £45. The claim was not upheld when Rewa claimed that the mare represented only a deposit, and not full payment.

Later in the 1800s Europeans named Greenway and Symonds leased parts of the island for grazing and began to clear the land and build a fence line. A Maori Land Court hearing in 1905 partitioned Urupukapuka into three holdings with shares for 98 claimants. Soon after this a Mr C F Baker from Russell began to buy up the land from the Maori shareholders.

In 1927 Otehei Bay became the base of American Zane Grey’s fishing expeditions, and a world-famous fishing resort was later established here. The Crown acquired the island in 1971.

Natural features

To protect conservation sites, sheep are used for vegetation control rather than larger stock.

Dotterel, brown teal and other birds nest and breed on the island. Often their nests are well disguised or little more than impressions in the sand.

Respect nest-protection fencing and move away from birds exhibiting distressed behaviour.

Know before you go

Looking after the islands of Ipipiri (eastern Bay of Islands)

All of the islands of the eastern Bay of Islands (Ipipiri) are now free of rats, mice and stoats.

Help keep it that way.

  • It is very important to check your bags, food stores, tents and tarps for any rat, mice or ant infestation before arriving on the island.
  • Read the island visit information pack.
  • All archaeological sites are protected by the Historic Places Act. It is an offence to damage or interfere with them in any way. As you visit the sites, help to protect and preserve them.
  • No rubbish is collected – 'Pack in, pack out' policy. However, there is a rubbish barge and shore-based rubbish facilities available during summer.

Urupukapuka campsites

Camping is only available on Urupukapuka Island. There are three campsites.

  • Camp host is on-site from 22 December to 20 January each season.
  • No cooking facilities – use liquid or LPG only.
  • 027 cellphone coverage is available around all parts of Urupukapuka Island.
  • During the summer the rubbish barge will visit Urupukapuka Island.
  • Set up your site so that the mess/gazebo/cooking area is located on the back part of your site with the accommodation at the front.
  • Showers available at Cable Bay and Urupukapuka Bay, but not Sunset Bay campsite.


Keep to these rules (covered by the Hauraki Gulf Maritime Park and the Bay of Islands Maritime and Historic Park bylaws):

  • Do not light fires or fireworks.
  • Dispose of matches and lit cigarettes responsibly.
  • Take your litter off the islands.
  • Drink responsibly.
  • Keep all animals e.g. dogs, cats, rats, stoats, off these pest-free islands.
  • Only camp in the official campsites on Urupukapuka Island.
  • Do not use foul, abusive, indecent, or obscene language.
  • Do not disturb stock.
  • Leave all farm gates as you find them.
  • Keep noise levels down - no loud parties or amplifier systems, radios and portable generators that might annoy others.
  • Do not deliberately obstruct, disturb, or interfere with anyone else's use or enjoyment.

If you see anyone breaking these rules, call the Bay of Islands DOC Office on +64 9 407 0300 or 0800 DOC HOT (0800 362 468).

Remember: DOC staff can issue warnings, ask you to leave, and alcohol may be seized or impounded. Where necessary, if you are found in breach of the Bylaws, you can face Court prosecution and be liable to fines.


Pewhairangi / Bay of Islands Office
Phone:      +64 9 407 0300
Full office details
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