Friday, 2 August 2019

Pre-European Mauao

The Mount, Tauranga
Postcard published by A. McGlashan, postmarked 1915
Collection of Justine Neal
From time immemorial, rising 232m above sea level, Mauao, a conical extinct volcano has guarded the entrance to Tauranga Harbour. Mauao is a remnant of a large lava dome formed by the upwelling of rhyolite lava about 2-3 million years ago. In tradition Mauao was once a nameless peak in the Hautere forest. Spurned by the beautiful mountain Puwhenua, he asked the forest fairies to drag him into the ocean to dull his pain. But at sunrise they fled, leaving him forever at the shore. Hence his name Mauao – caught in the light of the day.

In pre-European days the vegetation cover of Mauao would have been minimal. There were at least three defended pa sites and numerous terraces, pits and middens have been recorded by present day archaeological exploration. Ranginui and Kinonui of the Takitimu waka established a pa on Mauao, as did the Waitaha people. They occupied Mauao for centuries, later Ngai Te Rangi and Ngati Pukenga  settled in the area, forming strong marital relationships.

Pilot Bay (Waikorire), Mount Maunganui, probably photographed by John Welsh, c.1920-1925
Postcard published by A.J. Mirrielees (No 45)
Collection of Justine Neal

The southern side of Mauao was the favoured area of occupation. The gentle slopes offered suitable soil for cultivation as well as free draining areas, easily terraced for occupation and crop storage. Fresh water was obtainable from several springs and the beaches of Waikorire offered launching and beaching areas for waka as well as ready access to the large shellfish beds in the harbour. Taro still grows in a spring gully (Te Puna Waitapu) immediately above the southern end of the motor camp and may represent a remnant pre-European Maori crop. On the eastern slopes one possible reason for the lack of occupation features is the high concentration of boulders and cobbles that litter the slopes. In addition the unstable nature of the rocky bluffs above this area may have presented a dangerous environmemt for permanent occupation.

Mauao, undated
by unidentified photographer and publisher
Collection of Justine Neal
The hazards of living below rock outcrops on Mauao are told in a story about Tamapahore following the battle of Kokowai. He is said to have selected a place to settle within Maunganui Pa, however, the other Ngai Te Rangi rolled great stones down the hill to his location; he took the hint and made a pa elsewhere at Maungatapu.

The summit pa of Mauao was one of the most strategically important locations in the Tauranga district with commanding views along much of the Bay of Plenty coast and inland to the volcanic plateau. An early description states ... "the pa of Maunganui covered about 100 acres. The fortifications crossed the top of the hill and ran down each side, then, circling round the base to the south, they met. The fortifications were so strong and the garrison so numerous that the pa seemed impregnable to Maori weapons."

The Mount, Tauranga, N.Z., photograph probably by Stevens Bros. (No 5), undated
Postcard published Frank Duncan & Co., Auckland
Collection of Justine Neal
1820 saw the end of Mauao as a stronghold. In that year Ngapuhi under the leadership of Te Morenga attacked the Ngai Te Rangi pa as revenge for the killing of Te Morenga’s niece, Tawaputa, in 1806. Te Morenga is reported to have had a total of between 600–800 men and just 35 muskets. But 35 muskets constituted an unstoppable force when those attacked had none, or very few. Over 400 men were killed in this battle and a further 260 taken north as prisoners.

In 1838 when William Colenso with Reverend William Williams climbed to the top of Mauao gathering geological specimens he recorded his impressions: This hill has been strongly fortified. The labour bestowed on it has been immense and yet it was taken and the slaughter was very great. It appears to have been inhabited to the very top. The sites of houses, the fireplaces and ancient excavations for stones and skulls still remaining. In 1865, following the battle of Te Ranga, Mauao was included in the lands confiscated by the Crown from Ngai Te Rangi. Today the Mauao Historic Reserve is private land, owned by the three iwi of Tauranga Moana under the formation of the Mauao Trust that is available, used and enjoyed by all as a public space.


Musket Wars. A History of Inter-Iwi Conflict, 1806-1845, by Ron D. Crosby, publ. 2017 by Oratia Media
A History of Mount Maunganui, by Bruce Cunningham & Ken Musgrave, publ. 1989 by Mount maunganui Borough Council
Mauao Historic Reserve Management Plan, Tauranga City Council, 2018


  1. We lived in Mount Maunganui for 3 years and spent lots of time around Mauao, it's good to read of it's history.

  2. you omitted the massacre of the Ngatirangi Pa on Mauao by the Ngaiterangis from Maketu.
    ref:A Centenial History of Tauranga, Gifford and Williams, 1940

    1. The above text clearly references the battle of Kokowai.

  3. careful where you tread for carelesness is your enemy on mauao

  4. who ever planted the pohutukawa for sure stopped the hard work from washing back into the sea huh

  5. Manmade just like the redoubt and mission cemetery, all lies