Pouērua (c. 1300-1860)

Northland settlement spreads

To conservator Fergus Clunie, Pouērua is ‘a terraced and fortified volcano which still physically and spiritually dwarfs the surrounding Pākehā pastoral land as it once commanded a Polynesian horticultural landscape’. Its statistics are impressive. The cone pā’s central defended perimeter stretches for 600 m.

East Polynesians favoured the coast, where foraging and travel were easier, but made exceptions for areas such as the inland Bay of Islands, with its rich soils. Over time, Auckland University archaeologists tell us, the sparse open settlements on the Taiāmai Plains thickened into a maze of forts, gardens and hamlets. The first settlements were small and scattered (70% of kāinga [undefended settlements] had only one dwelling and just 2% had more than seven), but that changed. Between 1450 and 1600 peripheral pā appeared around the mountain. Pā defended territory but they also symbolised power and authority within an increasingly complex society. Along a 9-km stretch of rich, friable volcanic soil on the Taiāmai Plains, archaeologists have counted more than 300 kāinga.

Pouērua’s last Māori occupiers were Ngāti Rāhiri. This Ngāpuhi hapū supported Hongi Hika in the bloody Musket Wars. Its survivors left here about 1860, no match for missionary families coveting land. In recent decades developers’ equally grasping shadows have threatened one of New Zealand’s best-preserved and most studied Polynesian/Māori landscapes.

Further information

This site is item number 2 on the History of New Zealand in 100 Places list.



  • Douglas Sutton (ed.), The archaeology of the peripheral pa and The archaeology of the kainga, both Auckland University Press, Auckland, 1993 and 1994
  • Louise Furey, Douglas Sutton and Yvonne Marshall, The archaeology of Pouerua pa, Auckland University Press, Auckland, 2003

Community contributions

3 comments have been posted about Pouērua

What do you know?


Posted: 16 Feb 2021

I just today read in a Williams family history document [Pg652 Faith & Farming (2nd Edition)] that ‘Pouerua and surrounding lands’ were sold to ‘Henry Williams in 1835 as a farm for his children.’

‘It was farmed by Henry Williams’ sons and in 1895 it was taken over by his grandsons, Henry Samuel Ludbrook and William Ludbrook. In 1858 Henry’s daughter Caroline married Samuel Blomfield Ludbrook and in 1860 they purchased part of this land from Caroline’s brother john.’

The family history document relayed that a Dr Aiden Chalis, then of the Department of Conservation, believed that:

“Pouerua through the benign management practised by the Wiliams and Ludbrook families for 154 years until it was mistakenly sold to John White in 1989, has meant that the full protection and preservation of Pouerua has been allowed to occur.”

The genealogical document further says the following:

‘Since Pouerua left the protection of the Ludbrook family it has become almost completely covered in gorse, and other weeds. Pastures have deteriorated and fences have broken down to an alarming xetent.

In 1996 a Ludbrook Family Trust was formed to attempt to purchase back the 66ha. of the Pouerua Mountain from the Tai Tokerau Maori Trust Board and to maintain it as an historical site. However there was opposition to the proposal and the offer was subsequently withdrawn.’

[Pg652 Faith & Farming (2nd Edition)]

Sam Carpenter

Posted: 20 Oct 2020

The comments about missionary families being 'covetous' and comparing these families to recent developers are out of line and should be amended/removed. These missionary families were missionary farmers; they were most certainly not developers on the 20th-21st century model. Furthermore, they had significant long-standing relationships with local Māori and the maunga Pouērua along with other significant urupā and reserves in the immediate area were preserved under their stewardship. I believe Prof. Patu Hohepa is on record as saying something like this.


Posted: 27 Feb 2019

Is this site somewhere I can visit? Is it accessible? Is it on private land?