Koru Pā 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 Ngā Mahanga a Tairi, a hapu of the Taranaki iwi. It became the predominant pā of the Oākura area because of its strategic location by the Oākura River, its size, and the high rank of its leading families.
Koru was a highly desirable pā, but Ngā 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).
The defeat at Koru led to a series of battles in a period that has been called one of the bloodiest in Taranaki history. Ngā Mahanga a Tairi successfully assaulted Rewarewa Pā 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.
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.
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 foothold 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 has been working in partnership with Ngāti Tairi of Oākura Marae, to develop the visitor experience. This includes providing interpretation panels and displaying a reproduction of the paepae found at Koru in 1898.
Travel south-west from New Plymouth on the scenic Surf Highway 45 to Oākura. 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 Pā.
Know before you go
- Respect this cultural area. Do not eat or picnic on the pā site itself.
- No dogs are allowed on the site.
- No camping is permitted.
- When crossing private farmland to the area, be aware of livestock.
Department of Conservation. (1998) Te Koru Pā Historic Reserve, Taranaki -Conservation Plan (Unpublished).
Pishief, E. (2002) Archaeological Assessment of Te Koru Pā for New Plymouth Area Office Department of Conservation (Unpublished).
Prickett, N. (1980) Maori fortifications of the Omata and Oākura 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).