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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

Text: Gavin McLean, 2013

Aerial images: Kevin Jones

Historic image:

Alexander Turnbull Library
Reference: E-273-q-014
Artist: John Johnson
Permission of the Alexander Turnbull Library, National Library of New Zealand, Te Puna Matauranga o Aotearoa, must be obtained before any reuse of this image.

How to cite this page

Pouērua, URL:, (Manatū Taonga — Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated