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Te Kooti's war

Page 8 – Te Pōrere and retreat

Following his departure from Te Kūiti, Te Kooti was defeated by a combined force of Ngāti Kahungunu, Te Arawa and Ngāti Tūwharetoa at Te Ponanga, near Tokaanu, on 25 September. Colonel Thomas McDonnell observed that ‘the wounded had their heads cut off’. Apart from the loss of lives, some also believed Te Ponanga cost Te Kooti any hope of gaining Rewi Maniapoto as an ally. Others doubted that Rewi had ever seriously contemplated supporting Te Kooti in a military campaign. Either way, Rewi had by now returned home.

The last major battle of the New Zealand Wars was fought at Te Pōrere, in the shadow of Tongariro, on 4 October 1869. This was a defensive position modelled ineptly on a European redoubt. McDonnell and a force of Armed Constabulary from Whanganui were joined by Māori fighters from all points of the compass. A key figure was Te Keepa Te Rangihiwinui, better known to Pākehā as Major Kemp, who had served with distinction in the campaign against Tītokowaru in south Taranaki. Te Kooti’s force was overwhelmed and 37 of his men were killed. Once more Te Kooti avoided capture, at the cost of the two middle fingers on his left hand. He would never again fight from a prepared position and would instead rely entirely on guerrilla tactics.

Following Te Pōrere, Horonuku and his group surrendered and were reunited with those Tūwharetoa who had fought with the government. Horonuku reproached them for abandoning him when Te Kooti came to Waihī.

Further retreat

Invited back to Te Kūiti, Te Kooti once more refused to ‘sheath the sword.’ He headed instead for the Waikato village of Te Tāpapa, the home of the Ngāti Raukawa prophet Hākaraia, who he had met in Te Kūiti.

At Te Tāpapa, Te Kooti met the prominent local settler Josiah Firth, to whom he repeated his earlier pledge that if ‘left alone’ he would ‘remain at peace with all’. Firth travelled to Auckland to plead Te Kooti’s case but was dismissed as ‘that meddlesome sweep’ by Premier William Fox. Te Kooti wrote to Daniel Pollen, the central government’s agent for Auckland province, pledging that ‘the killing shall cease, but if you follow me up let it be so’. The government’s response was blunt. If he surrendered, Te Kooti would be given safe passage to Auckland – as a prisoner.

In January 1870 Te Kooti attacked Te Tāpapa. McDonnell led the pursuit with a force of some 600 men: Pākehā Armed Constabulary, Whanganui fighters led by Tōpia Tūroa and Te Keepa, and an additional group of Arawa. Almost predictably, Te Kooti escaped to Ōhinemutu on the shore of Lake Rotorua.

From Ōhinemutu the chase was led by Gilbert Mair and his Te Arawa Flying Column. Mair, who had first encountered Te Kooti on Wharekauri, now led a special unit of Māori Armed Constabulary raised to counter Te Kooti’s guerrilla tactics.

Interpretations of Te Kooti’s intentions at this point vary. Historian Judith Binney maintains that he was attempting to negotiate a peaceful passage through Te Arawa territory to Te Urewera. Others believe he planned to massacre Te Arawa.

In the course of a 13-km running fight on 7 February 1870, Mair and his men inflicted heavy casualties. Among the dead were Timoti Hakopa, one of Te Kooti’s ‘designated executioners’, and Peka Makarini, his right-hand man. Makarini was left ‘a gibbeted thing’ tied to a cabbage tree. On his person was found the great flag Te Wepu, which Te Kooti had captured in 1868. Te Kooti and the remainder of his party took cover in the bush as night fell. Next day they crossed the Kāingaroa Plain on their way to Ahikereru in Te Urewera.

How to cite this page

Te Pōrere and retreat, URL:, (Manatū Taonga — Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated