new icn messageflickr-free-ic3d pan white
Mapoutahi Pa (Goat Island Blueskin Bay) | by Alpat
Back to photostream

Mapoutahi Pa (Goat Island Blueskin Bay)

The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 13, Issue 11 1939


Mapoutahi Pa (Goat Island Blueskin Bay)The Massacre at Mapoutahi Pa

The Story of a Southern Maori Inter-Tribal War Before The Coming of the Pakeha

(By R. K. McFarlane.)

Legend and tradition have enriched the North Island of New Zealand with a wealth of knowledge concerning the history of the Maori before the advent of the white man. On the other hand there is perhaps not so much tradition connected with the southern Maori which enables us to follows his doings before the pakeha came. This is due chiefly to the fact that the Maoris colonised the southern part of New Zealand a long time after their first arrival, and then only very sparsely on account of the more rigorous climate. Then again, it is on record that the southern Maori was several times almost exterminated by his overpowering northern brother.

Although little Maori history about Dunedin is known, tradition has recorded for us two outstanding episodes. Both are tragic—one, a tragic romance on the coast near the Taieri, the other a tragic massacre, also on the coast about fifteen miles north of Dunedin.

It is the latter which I propose to relate.

From two sources only could I get information about this intensely interesting history. The first was a brief account in a small hand-book entitled “Dunedin and its Neighbourhood,” published in 1904—the other a newspaper article of 1929 regarding research carried out among the Maoris concerning Mapoutahi Pa. The latter sums up very well the difficulties of acquiring information, as the old Maori is passing on:—

“There is much which remains to be told concerning the history of the Maori Race in Otago and with the passing of the years traditions as they relate to historic incidents are becoming more and more extinct … however it is possible to trace the history of Mapoutahi Pa from the tradition handed down from generation to generation.”

Soon after leaving Purakanui station the traveller by train northwards from Dunedin sees from his window as the train winds its way round the precipitous cliff face a green and picturesque little island almost completely surrounded by steep cliffs, and lying close to the long stretch of white sand washed by rows of creamy breakers which is Purakanui Beach. As the panorama unfolds it can be seen that this so-called island is really a small peninsula connected to the high cliff of the mainland by a small isthmus three or four feet wide and a few yards long. On one side of this neck of land is a little golden half-moon beach, while on the other side the sea rushes in with a turbulent swell threatening to undermine the narrow pathway. On the slopes of the “island” itself long green grass sways in the sea breeze, while the leaves of the numerous cabbage trees rustle continually as if mournfully trying to tell the story that exists beneath their roots.

“There is nothing to suggest the tragedy of which it was once the scene, yet these green slopes once ran red with blood and the yells of the victors and the vanquished could have been heard above the noise of the surf that laves its rocky base.”

Goat Island it is called, no doubt because its outline bears some resemblance to the head of a goat. There in the 18th century stood a fortified pa—Mapoutahi Pa.

Some six or seven generations ago a chief named Taoka or Taonga lived with his people in a kaika near Timaru. As was customary at times he set out with a small party to visit his cousin, Te Wera, of Ngatimamoe, who had a large pa at Karitane Peninsula, or Huriawa. After enjoying Te Wera's hospitality for three days

Taoka set out with his host, who it might be mentioned was a man of very fiery temper (he had killed his own wife—a princess of the Kaitahu) to visit another relative, Kapo, in Mapoutahi Pa, at Purakanui. While staying here these two—Te Wera and Taoka—as relatives often do, had a heated argument which developed into an open quarrel, resulting unfortunately in Te Wera killing Taoka's son. Taoka vowing vengeance returned to Timaru, gathered all his fighting men about him and laid siege to Karitane Pa. For twelve long months he waited, but only once did any of his men gain entrance—several climbed up a blow-hole into the pa and stole Te Wera's god-stick. Next day Te Wera saw them doing a haka and, noticing the loss of his god-stick, induced his tohunga to chant for its return, whereupon it came flying back through the air to him.

Unable to sack the Karitane Pa, whose massive entrenchments remain to-day, Taoka went home but came back again the following winter and this time made to attack the Mapoutahi Pa whose chief, Pakihaukea, was a close ally of Te Wera. After besieging the pa for ten days, since both the invaders and defenders were wary, Taoka, thirsting for the blood of his foeman and seeing a snow storm approaching, decided that the hour for revenge had come. Snow fell for many hours. That night, with the snow eighteen inches deep and all the hillside quiet he sent out a scout to ascertain if the palisade were defended. The scout returned to say that it was fully guarded. Not satisfied, Taoka himself crept silently to the palisade and discovered that the supposed guards were merely dummies hanging from the palisade and moving occasionally as the wind caught them. The page 44 besieged natives in the pa had committed the same human error which many besieged peoples in European and ancient history had done. They had thought themselves secure within their walls and had relaxed guard.

Taoka and his men silently scaled the palisade and cautiously arranged themselves among the whares. Suddenly the blood-curdling war-cry of the invaders roused the sleeping natives and, dazed by sleep, as they stumbled from their whares, they fell victims to the weapons of the enemy. Altogether, 250 were mercilessly slaughtered, and only one or two escaped by rushing to the cliff edge and throwing themselves 60 feet or 70 feet into the sea.

As day dawned the rising sun revealed a ghastly sight. The dusky bodies of the victims had been piled in a huge heap and covered in places with a mantle of snow they resembled a huge pile of wood. So they named the place Purakanui, meaning “a large pile of wood.” That was about the year 1750 and to-day, nearly 200 years later, little evidence remains of that terrible massacre save the name of the district and the line of the trenches beneath the palisade in which human bones have been found.

Goat Island is now a scenic and historic reserve under the administration of the Otago University Museum, where there is a model of the “island” and the pa.

To-day as the holiday maker wanders over its sunny slopes or fishes from its craggy rocks or shouts as he plays in the surf, he does not think much of its tragic history—it would seem absurd. But as night falls and the rising moon casts long dim shadows of the rustling cabbage trees across the grass it almost seems that one can hear sad cries above the moan of the surf



Traditions and Legends. Collected from the natives of Murihiku. (Southland, New Zealand)

H. Beattie Volume 25 1916


The Kai-Tahu, who came down the coast, distinguished themselves by fighting one another. It is very difficult to straighten out the narrative of that warfare, but here it is as well as I could disentangle it. Taoka is often called Te Wera's uncle, and then again they are termed cousins and sometimes brothers—in any case the ties of blood should have knit them together, instead of which we find them usually at loggerheads, and frequently fighting in deadly feud. It has been mentioned before that there were two chiefs named Moki. The first was the son of Tuahu-riri, and has been mentioned already, but the second Moki, the son of Te Rua-hikihiki, now comes into the story. Te Rua-hikihiki married two sisters, and by the elder one he had Te Matauira, Moki and other sons, and Uritoko, a daughter; and by the younger one he had a son, Taoka. This last named chief set out from Kaiapoi with the intention of vanquishing the Kati-Mamoe down the coast, and he built pas at O-taoka, in South Canterbury, and at Katiki, in North Otago, and there we will leave him for the present.

Moki lived with the Kati-Mamoe people at Pukekura (Otago Heads). His child died, and to “pay for it,” as the narrator expressed it, he sent out a small party under Kapo to kill someone as utu.

Te Wera and Patuki had a sister who had married Te Rehu, who lived at Pu-rakau-nui, and they were on a visit to her from their pa near Wai-koua-iti. They were sitting in Te Rehu's whare one evening, when Kapo stole up to the building and hurled a spear through the - 16 little window. Te Rehu ducked, and the spear struck and killed his father, whose name the narrator could not recall. Kapo's men surrounded the whare and waited for daylight. It was a very dark night, and Te Rehu burrowed under the wall and escaped with the intention of going to Wai-koua-iti for help. Te Wera and Patuki would not run from a foe so they remained behind, and Te Wera repeated a long karakia. He got through the first half of it fluently, but the second half was very halting. Again he tried with the same result, so they knew that one was to be killed and one escape. Just before it was daylight they pulled back the door suddenly and made a dash for it. Patuki, who was in advance, was killed, but Te Wera had a marvellous escape and rushed to a waka-hunua (double canoe) and dodged under the platform and dived. He kept under the water a long time and covered a good distance. When he was safe across on the other shore he called out to the war-party to be alert, to sleep with their wives and feed their children well, for he was coming to avenge. Patuki. Te Wera made straight for Pa-katata, on Huri-awa peninsula, and found that Te Rehu had got there shortly before, and the people were lamenting for Te Wera and Patuki. In revenge for Patuki's death Te Wera sailed round into Otago Harbour, and surprising some women getting whitau (flax), he slew them and cut off their heads. The canoe then went under Pukekura pa, and the heads were held up to the view of the inmates.


Having thus squared accounts with the Pukekura people, Te Wera desired to make peace with Moki, and he asked Taoka to come and make the negotiations. Taoka, who was then at O-tipua, in South Canterbury, went to Pukekura, and made a fairly lengthy visit there, after which he canoed to Timaru, and never went near Te Wera, much to the latter's annoyance and disgust. Te Wera went to make peace himself, but his good intentions were not carried out. While he was talking before Pukekura, a man named Te Taoho amused himself by throwing small sticks at the visitors. Te Aruhe, the hot-headed son of Te Wera, said, “We are not children to let sticks be thrown at us,” and started hostilities. As soon as the struggle commenced Te Wera killed Kapo at once. Te Taoho escaped, and will be mentioned later on. One of the few men who was saved of those at Pukekura, was Moehuka. He did not like the look of things when the visitors appeared, and retired to the top of a hill near before the fight began, recognising that discretion was the better part of valour. The narrator could not say whether Moki was killed here or not. During the slaughter of the people of the pa Te Wera saw a small boy, named Taikawa, and spared his life. This Taikawa comes into the history later on. After this killing, Te Wera went back to Pa-katata for a - 17 while, and then to Timaru to see Taoka, but found that the latter was away at O-tipua. Taoka's son, Roko-marae-roa, was at Timaru, however, and Te Wera killed him in retaliation for the trick Taoka had played on him. He sent two chiefs (whose names the narrator had forgotten) to tell Taoka that he had killed his son. He thought that Taoka would kill these two men of rank to equalise the killing of his son. Taoka was not at home when the two chiefs called, so they gave Taoka's wives the message, and set out back to Te Wera. Night overtaking them they camped on the beach. When Taoka returned to his home towards evening and was told the news, he was very wrathful, and set out in pursuit of the messengers, but he missed them in the darkness and they got back safely to Te Wera, who, with his men, withdrew to the strong fortress at Pa-katata.


After the slaying of his son, Taoka gathered together his forces and besieged Te Wera in the strongly-fortified pa on the Huri-awa peninsula near Karitane and Puke-tiraki. Te Wera had been preparing for such a contingency, as he had laid in a great stock of preserved birds, fern-root and dried fish, etc., and there was a small but permanent spring in the pa to supply water. The story of the siege has been told in print before so I will not serve it up again. Suffice is it to say that Taoka's taua besieged the pa for six months and then had to relinquish it owing to the scarcity of food. This had been their difficulty all along, but by scouring the country they managed to keep their leaguer for half a year, and then had to return home. Some time after this Te Wera and a companion chief (whose name my narrator unfortunately forgot and which I have never seen in print) determined to sail for Raki-ura. They set out in their canoes but a storm arose which Te Wera by means of his karakia was able to overcome and continue his course, but the other chief was driven into the bay under the cliff called Tau-o-Tarawhata. He determined to go no further, and constructed a pa called Mapou-tahi on the small peninsula called Goat Island. Soon after Taoka came down like the wolf on the fold and besieged it. The season was winter, and one wild night Taoka sent his men to see if the palisade was guarded. They reported that it was, and Taoka was so surprised that he went to see for himself, and by careful reconnoitring discovered that the supposed sentries were dummies swinging in the wind. His men quietly got into the pa and slaughtered all the inmates except one man who jumped into the sea and escaped. Next day the bodies of the slain were piled up like a large heap of wood, and since then that bay has been known as Pu-rakau-nui.



Lore and History of the South Island Maori

by W. A. Taylor 1952


Leaving Old Waikouaiti or modern Karitane we pass south. Okai hau is the outlet to the sea of the Omimi Greek. The full name of the site of the Omimi railway station is Te Mimi e te haki. The location of the Seacliff Mental Hospital is Turau aruhe. Waikoko is the Seacliff Creek. Potaerua represents the bush at Seacliff and the bight on the coastline towards Omimi is Rau-one. Warrington, the aristocratic weekend resort, bears the name of a famous greenstone weapon Aka hau. Whaitiri-paku was the name of an old native village at what we now call Evansdale. The Evansdale Stream below its Kilmog branch, was an eeling place called Wai moi (sour water). The streams entering Blueskin Bay travelling south were the Totara, Waiputi and Waitete (the latter erroneously spelt Waitati). Waitete means "bubbling water", and no one who has lived alongside its course would question the translation as being truly descriptive.

The Orokonui Stream drains the northern slopes of Mount Mopariui entering the mouth of the Waitete not far away from the Orokonui Mental Hospital. Blueskin was the name of Waitete in the early days. The early settlers named it such after a well-tattooed Maori called Te Hikututu, whose nickname was Blueskin.

A Ngai Tahu chief named Tutakahikura visiting Southland, coveted the wives of a Ngati Mamoe chief named Tutemakeho when the latter chief was away foraging, and abducted the women. A chase from Southland resulted, and Tutemakeho fortunately caught up with the abductor at Pae Kohu (place of frogs) or Green Hill on the divide between the Silverstream and the coastal valleys. It was decided by the warriors to fight the matter out in gladiator fashion at Waitete. Tu te makaho won back his wives, taking them back to Otaupiri. A leaderless hapu of the Ngai Tahu returned to Canterbury.

Approximately 12 miles from Dunedin is Purakaunui page 120wrongly spelt Purakanui, which boasts a large native reserve, and its native inhabitants, who originally hailed from Kaiapoi, are proud of the fact that they are descendants of Ngai Tahu, who were there long before the fall of Kaiapohia, and are not begotten of refugee stock. Away back about the year 1750A.D. the War God Tu controlled the lives of the inhabitants of Purakaunui. Three cousins of chief rank but with no trace of family affection kept the Ngai Tahu Tribe in almost an unbroken state of strife. Their names were Moki II, Taoka and Te Wera. Te Wera of Huriawa Pa at Old Waikouaiti dwelt for a time at Pukekura Pa at Otakou Heads. When there the paramount chief Tu ki taha rangi died, also Moki II's son. Te Wera was accused of practising makutu (wizardry) on his kinsfolk and killing them. Te Wera fled away to Purakaunui where Te Rehu, his sister's husband held sway. Moki II was not to be outmatched; so he sent a surprise war party to Purakaunui kainga under the chief Kapo. The house of the chiefs was surrounded and most of the inmates slain, including a chief named Patuki. Te Rehu and Te Wera made a miraculous escape, indeed a wailing for their decease had commenced at Huriawa when they arrived. Safe back in his fortress Te Wera waited and gathered together his warriors. He then set out for Pukekura on which he exacted full vengeance.

Taoka took up the Pukekura cause and besieged Te Wera at Huriawa. He failed to capture that pa, so he turned his attention later to Mapou tahi on Goat Island Peninsula where the railway skirts the Blueskin Cliffs near the tunnel. When Taoha arrived at Mapoutahi in mid-winter, his scouts found the narrow neck of land which gave access to the pa well guarded. One exceptionally wild night, however, the sentries were withdrawn, and dummies put in their place. The ruse worked until Taoka went forth and did scouting for himself. He discovered the true position and Mapou tohi Pa was stormed. Only a few persons escaped by swimming and scaling the vine ladders on the Blueskin Cliffs which had been used for bird nesting.

The name for Goat Island is Mata awhe awhe (dead gathered in a heap), and its isthmus is called after Pakihaukea, its unfortunate defender. The portion of the Blueskin Cliffs nearest to Waitati is Wata awa awa (edge of the valley). The bay east of the peninsula is Paua nui (large ear shell fish). On October 22nd, 1930, Goat Island Peninsula, area 4 acres, was vested as a scenic reserve under the control of the Otago University. Why the Maori people were not favoured with possession is not clear.

Near Mapou tahi the canoe of Waiti named Tau a Tara-whata was wrecked a few centuries ago. Mihiwaka (lament for a canoe) is the hill which separates the Purakaunui Valley page break




Mrs Mere Harper—Old Waikouaiti

page 121 from Otago Harbour. Aorangi (light of heaven) is the hill across Purakaunui Bay near the site of the old whaling station. Opeke is the foot of Foote's Greek. Ko te wai a pukuraku is a small watercourse near the sand drift to the railway line. Haereoa, Teoti Wahie and Noah were the leading men at Purakaunui in the forties. The present native inhabitants of the reserve are half-castes, being descendants of the old whalers. The Purakaunui Reserve was set aside in pursuance of the infamous Kemp Deed.

Near Purakaunui is Long Beach, known as Whare wera wera, which contains a native reserve of a few hundred acres. The original trustees of this poor quality reserve were Tamati Tiko, Te Ati Poroki, Hipa Porekaha, Riki Tuete and Haereroa. The land is of sandy nature, with, however, miniature lagoons through which a very wandering stream passes, and in the days when the Piorakaunui district once held a large native population, provided good eeling places. There is no doubt that the Maoris living between Purakaunui and Otago Heads suffered severely from European diseases during the period sealing ships were frequenting the coast. The cold-water treatment by the tohungas of influenza and measles could only result in one way—death.

South of Longbeach is Murdering Beach which should be known by its Maori name of Whare ake ake. On December 24th, 1817, a Tasmanian brig named the Sophia, commanded by Captain Kelly, anchored there to trade with the Maoris. However a man named Tucker was recognised as a person who at Riverton traded in dried Maori heads. Such sacrilege quite rightly brought down on the pakahas the anger of the Maoris. Tucker fell to the blow of a mere wielded by Te Matahaere, as did two or three others. The remaining boatsmen returned to the ship for reinforcements, and in the skirmish the Maoris were defeated, and prisoners taken back to the Sophia, including the chief Korako, a progenitor of the Taiaroa family. The Maoris rallied under the chief Tukarekare, and in canoes attacked the ship, but without success. Korako rejoined his friends by jumping overboard to the canoes. The Europeans then killed their other prisoners, and sailed away to Otakou Heads where they destroyed the native village.

The bay south of Whare ake ake is called Kaikai after a Ngati Mamoe man dwelling there in a cave in the early days. The proper name is Takeratawhai. The cave belonging to Kaikai is now used as a sheep pen. A heavy "tapu" rested on Murdering Beach until it was lifted by a North Island tohunga at the request of the Purakaunui Maoris. The three bays south of Purakaunui have been the happy hunting-grounds of curio collectors, alas many not venerating the burial-places. It has been estimated that 3½ tons of worked greenstone has been page 122recovered. In 1912 a large part of this collection passed to British and American museums.



In 1926 a curious adze hogbacked with a very narrow cutting edge was found. Mr Washbourne Hunter was the land owner in the early days, and during his time 400 curios were discovered. Two dozen greenstone tikis have been found at Whare ake ake. The late Mr Murray Thomson, who had a weekend house at Murdering Beach, was an enthusiastic collector, and he assisted greatly the archaeological section of the Otago Institute during a fortnight of March 1935, in cross trenching, digging and searching every nook and corner of Kaikai, Murdering and Longbeach, and the chance of finding a good cache of curios is now very remote. Though a "green-stone workers' factory" the meres found have invariably been executed in slaty stone.

When Edward Shortland visited Purakaunui in October 1843, the Maori population had dwindled to 32 persons. Pukai-a-te-ao and Kaitipu of the Huirapa hapu had succeeded Urukino in the leadership. When Mantell made his census of Purakaunui in connection with the sale of the Ngai Tahu Block the inhabitants numbered 46. The majority of the people belonged to the Ngai tuna hapu. The Huirapa hapu (mostly females) counted 8 and the Ngati Tuahuriri 2 persons. The few Maoris who now occupy Purakaunui are half-caste descendants of whalers. The settlement is now a popular Dunedin weekend resort. The little fenced-in cemetery on the Purakaunui Spit alone reminds the visitor of the Maori backgroundOld Waikouaiti and Purakaunui are usually by-passed by motorists journeying to Dunedin who travel on the Main Road. The Main Road from modern Waikouaiti to Waitati crosses over the well-known Kilmog Hill, Kilmog being a corruption of the Maori name of the plant Kirimoko known to botanists as Septospermum ericoides, which grows profusely in the locality.


Otago Daily Times 29 December 2011


Rakau is the Maori word for stick and pu-rakau-nui means big pile of wood or sticks. About 1750, a massacre happened at Mapoutahi, a fortified pa on the headland near what is now Purakaunui.


Two Kai Tahu cousins had "the mother of all scraps" at the pa which resulted in one cousin killing the other cousin's son.


The grieving father waited 12 months to exact his revenge. He gathered a war party and attacked the pa for 10 days. That night, with snow lying deep on the ground, his warriors broke through. Dazed from sleep, 250 villagers were killed. Only a few were able to survive by jumping from the cliffs into the sea.


Dawn revealed a ghastly sight; the villagers' bodies had been piled into a huge heap.


The brown shapes, covered in places with a mantle of snow, resembled a wood pile and the survivors named the place Purakaunui.



Kiwi Adventures



This narrow headland was once the strategic location of a pa that was the scene of the last dreadful act in a feud that tore through the pre-European Maori community of the Dunedin area.


It began sometime in the mid-1700s when a leader named Taoka failed to make an expected visit to his cousin Te Wera, who took this as an insult. In response he took a war party to the Waitaki River and slew Taoka’s son. He sent two minor chiefs to bear the news to Taoka, perhaps hoping that he would slay the messengers and no further utu would be forthcoming. However Taoka was away when the messengers arrived, so they passed the news on to his wives and beat a hasty retreat, likely thanking their lucky stars.


The outraged Taoka laid siege to Te Wera’s fortified pa at Huriawa (which we will no doubt visit in future), but Te Wera had prepared for the attack by stockpiling preserved food, and fresh water could be obtained from a spring on the highly defensible Karitane peninsula. Eventually Taoka was unable to feed his war party and forced to leave. Te Wera quickly took the opportunity to leave for Stewart Island.


But Taoka still needed to settle the score, so he turned his sights on Te Wera’s ally, Te Pakihaukea, who chose to make his stand here at Mapoutahi, perching his pa atop cliffs that could only be accessed via a narrow strip of land. Back in his time, the water was deeper around the isthmus, making it an even more secure position than it appears today.


Taoka laid siege, but could not breach the fortress. Then one winter night he sent a scout to check the defences, and discovered that dummies had been set up in place of the usual sentries. The vengeful chief seized this opportunity, broached the pa, and slaughtered the inhabitants. It is said that only one man escaped, by diving into the ocean.


Once the massacre was over, the bodies were left piled up like a large heap of wood, which is the translation for the name of the bay – Purakaunui.

7 faves
Taken on April 10, 2010