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Rangiriri (1863)

Decisive battle of the New Zealand Wars

The Waikato War of 1863-64 was the most intensive of ‘Queen Victoria’s little wars’ in New Zealand. By now the government forces were better organised. Governor Grey’s Great South Road was snaking down from Auckland, river gunboats and transports were being built and they could call on 12,000 imperial soldiers and sailors well as colonial units and Māori allies. In contrast, the King Movement could field no more than 2000 of its 5000 part-time fighters at a time. Lieutenant-General Duncan Cameron pushed south, making good use of steamers, taking Koheroa and then Meremere (evacuated at the last moment by the ‘Kingites’). The steamers, which now made the rivers more a liability than a resource for the pā-builders, gave Cameron momentum, whereas his foes needed time to regroup and resupply. Five hundred Māori were still preparing a new defensive line at Rangiriri when Cameron attacked on 20 November 1863.

Rangiriri straddled an isthmus between the Waikato River and Lake Kopuera. A strong central redoubt was flanked by rifle pits and other defensive positions. The outnumbered Kīngitanga force repelled at least eight attacks and forced government troops to spend a wretched night bivouacked on the wet ground. Victory probably came by mistake; misinterpreting a white parley flag for surrender, the British got inside the pā before the defenders realised what was going on. The Kīngitanga force lost 47 men (more than the British) but their biggest loss was the 180 captured. Three weeks later Cameron occupied Ngāruawāhia, the King’s capital. He went on to occupy Rangiaowhia and win a decisive battle at Ōrākau early in 1864.  When the fighting shifted to Tauranga, the British were heavily defeated at Gate Pā before gaining revenge at nearby Te Ranga on 21 June, effectively ending the Waikato War.

Further information

This site is item number 29 on the History of New Zealand in 100 Places list.

On the ground

Although erosion and road construction have destroyed some of the site, much remains, and in 2013 some remediation work was completed as part of the Waikato Expressway project. The redoubt is interpreted.

There are several related places to visit. Te Wheoro’s Redoubt was built a few years later on the site of part of the Rangiriri defences. A few hundred metres away in Rangiriri township are the Māori War and Early Settlers’ Cemetery and, near the tavern, the privately-run Rangiriri Battle Site Heritage Centre, which incorporates a café.



  • James Belich, The New Zealand Wars and the Victorian interpretation of racial conflict, Auckland University Press, Auckland, 1986
  • David Green, Battlefields of the New Zealand Wars: a visitor’s guide, Penguin, Auckland, 2010
  • Matthew Wright, Two peoples, one land: the New Zealand Wars, Reed Books, Auckland, 2006

Text: Gavin McLean, 2013

Main image: Jock Phillips

Other images: 1) Jock Phillips, 2) Kevin Jones 3) Mosborne01 (Wikimedia), 4) Jock Phillips

Historic images:

Alexander Turnbull Library
References: A-145-004 (sketched by Charles Heaphy), PAColl-3033-1-25 (sketched by Edward Thomas Brooke), PA1-f-027-38-1 and 1/2-154743-F.
Permission of the Alexander Turnbull Library, National Library of New Zealand, Te Puna Matauranga o Aotearoa, must be obtained before any reuse of their images.

How to cite this page

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