Helensville Museum
Helensville & District Historical Society Inc     Click to enlarge images
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Encampment at Helensville, 1863  
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Rawinia Taitimu, who saw the McLeod women arrive in the Kaipara  

Pre-European History - Ngati Whatua

From the beginning Kaipara was seen as an attractive place to live by the very earliest Maori settlers, and tradition suggests it has been occupied over nine centuries.

The area was important from a strategic point of view for it was on the routeway for travel to and from the north, the Waitemata and Manukau Harbours. It provided ease of access by canoe, and its hilly terrain made it easy to defend and it offered plentiful food and resources.

The first migrants found a harbour rich in seafood with numerous navigable rivers and tributaries, lush kauri forest full of birds, berries and timber, a 40km ocean beach which provided an alternative routeway and additional seafood, a string of fresh-water lakes through the dunes, hot springs, a temperate climate and warm free-draining soils for growing crops.


Ancient traditions of Ngati Whatua trace the tribe’s ancestry back to fairy people called patupaiarehe or Turehu (literally those who arose from the earth). They speak of an ancestral figure called Tumutumuwhenua and his wife Kui whose descendants were well established in Kaipara before Te Tino o Maruiwi made their way from the south1.

Maruiwi was the commander of one of the waka or canoes which arrived at Taranaki about the year 925AD. Kupe and Toi te Huatahi, captains of other waka are significant for Kaipara also. It is said that Toi had a son called Oho Mairangi from whom sprang the Ngaoho people2. One of Toi’s descendants Toko o te Rangi built a ceremonial place at Taporapora and lived there undisturbed for five generations until the many canoes from Hawaiiki arrived. Although many canoes stopped off or called into the Kaipara over the next two centuries the most significant of these waka is Mahuhu.

The Mahuhu waka is said to have arrived about 1300AD. It was captained either by Rongomai or by his father Whakatau-potiki3. Rongomai and many of the crew settled at Taporapora and married local women and a new mix of peoples emerged.

After living there some time and having children, Rongomai was drowned in the Kaipara and his body chewed by trevalli. It is said that Rongomai’s descendants will not eat trevalli as a result, as his death was attributed to an act of witchcraft. Rongomai’s widow’s lament “Taporapora whakatahuri waka, whakarere wahine” (Taporapora that capsizes canoes and bereaves women) remains a proverb in the area reminding us of the many lives lost in crossing the Kaipara channel4.

Some of Rongomai’s people including his son Po left Taporapora and returned to Muriwhenua and formed the nucleus of what became known as the Ngati Whatua tribe. Po’s daughter Te Whatu-tahae married her cousin Mawete and this couple had three daughters. The eldest was Te Whatua-kaimarie, ancestress of Ngati Whatua (from whom some say the tribe received its name.)5


The descendants of the Mataatua waka, Ngati Awa made a profound impression on the people and the landscape of south Kaipara as well. Led by Titahi, a party of Ngati Awa moved in and settled to the west of the Kaipara River where they lived in comparative peace for 100-150 years, from approximately 1450AD to 1600AD.

During this time they built many prominent pa with distinctive terracing and earthworks which are still evident
today.6 Titahi lived at Korekore and built the fortifications of the pa. However a direct descendant of Titahi called Hauparoa, whose major pa was at Otakanini began to war with Ngaoho over territory. Hauparoa enlisted the help of his kinsman Maki and attacked and captured all the pa along the Waitakere coast. Victorious the two warriors then fell out with one another. Maki eventually conquered Hauparoa and peace was finally made.

Maki made three marriages himself and his warriors formed alliances with local Ngati Awa and Ngaoho women. Maki had six children from his marriage to Rotu. Thus there came into being a new tribe, Kawerau. Best known of Maki’s sons were Kawerau, Manuwhiri and Nga Whetu. Maki built his pa on the east of the Kaipara River. His descendants dwelt at Mataia, Araparera, Pakaraka, Omaumau, and Hoteo among other pa.7 It is with these people that Ngati Whatua, on their return to the Kaipara about 1640, sought intermarriage.


Parties of Ngati Whatua migrated southwards from the northern Wairoa into the fertile south Kaipara area. However a number of skirmishes between Ngati Whatua and Kawerau finally led to war. Ngati Whatua asked the celebrated warrior Kawharu to assist them in battle against Kawerau. Kawharu was of Tainui descent, a man of extraordinary bravery and stature and he captured pa all the way down the Kaipara on what was known as “Te Raupatu Tihore” or the “Stripping Conquest”. Kawharu’s name is left on many points on the land including the fresh water dune lakes that formed a chain between Muriwai and South Head in a traditional saying of Ngati Whatua “Behold the footsteps of Kawharu”.8

Accounts differ as to whether the Te Uri o Hau chief Haumoewarangi came to avenge the death of Kawharu or the other way round. Nonetheless Haumoewarangi did come to visit south Kaipara and conquered generally. He was killed at Manunutahi, just inside the harbour mouth on the South Head. Haumoewarangi’s death went unavenged for some generations until the mid 18th century when Ngati Whatua warriors successfully invaded south Kaipara in two canoes, Te Potae o Wahieroa and Te Wharau.9 Chiefs included Atiakura, Pou-tapu-aka, Hakariri and Tumupakihi among many others.

The Maori Land Court minutes are full of the names of these ancestors and their descendants and how they divided the land among the many subtribes – one of the most powerful being Te Taou10. By approximately 1740 it has been estimated Ngati Whatua had completed their migration into the headwaters of the Kaipara River where they had married the Kawerau/Waiohua women left. They concluded several peace agreements including one whereby remnant Kawerau remained in the Waitakere ranges south of Taupaki or “firmly bound peace”.


The newly settled hapu of Ngati Whatua had not long lived in Kaipara before they were called to war again. Some of the Kawerau driven from the Kaipara sought an ally in the renowned Waiohua chief, Kiwi Tamaki. Kiwi, who lived at Maungakiekie (One Tree Hill) also wanted to avenge Kawharu’s earlier exploits against Waiohua and took his opportunity during funeral rites for Tumupakihi held at Waituoro. Several war parties led by Waha-akiaki, Hukatere, Tuperiri, Atiakura and Waitaheke advanced on Tamaki, ambushed and killed Kiwi at Paruroa (Big Muddy Creek in the Manukau Harbour) and finally annihilated Waiohua. Ngati Whatua for the most part returned to Kaipara leaving Tuperiri and his people to occupy and maintain their pre-eminence over Tamaki.11


During the latter half of the 18th century Ngati Whatua enjoyed relative peace until the musket raids began in 1818 led by Hongi Hika from Ngapuhi in the north.

Reverend Samuel Marsden’s journals provide not only a record of the tensions between Ngati Whatua and Ngapuhi but also a snapshot of the people and their numerous settlements in south Kaipara in 1820. Tuperiri’s grandson, Te Kawau accompanied Marsden into the Kaipara via the major canoe portage and travelling route between the Waitemata and Kaipara harbours – Te Toanga Waka. Other prominent, well-respected Ngati Whatua chiefs, Murupaenga, Mawete, Te Tinana and Matohi all greeted the missionary with great hospitality.12


Most of Ngati Whatua’s settlements and cultivations were at that time west of the Kaipara River, by the sea at Te Muriwai, Oneonenui, and along the lush valleys of
Waimanu and Waipatukahu streams. Further north were Ongarahu (Reweti), Kopironui and Ruarangihaerere (near Woodhill Forest entrance).

Then there were kainga at Wharepapa, Pahunuhunu, on the harbour coastal edge, the Kaipatiki area adjoining Otakanini and all along the eastern coastline of South Head peninsula. Along the east side of the Kaipara River were settlements at Kaiwaka, Mangakura, Te Makiri and Te Horo.

The mouth of the Kaukapakapa River was defended by Whakatiwai pa to the north and Kaikai pa to the south and village sites were situated on the lowlands nearby.
Stretching along the river between Kaukapakapa and Waitoki lay kainga and gardens at Pukanui, and in the Waikahikatea Valley. To the north along the eastern shores of the harbour were Makarau, Tuhirangi, Kakanui, Te Rurunga, Araparera, Puatahi, Hoteo, and Kakaraia.13


The battle at Te Ika a Ranganui in 1825 caused Ngati Whatua much suffering at the hands of Ngapuhi and muskets. Despite their lack of firearms Ngati Whatua almost won the day but they were finally forced to retreat. They scattered in small parties to seek refuge and stayed in exile for nearly ten years. A few remained like Paikea-te Hekeua from Oruawharo and Te Otene Kikokiko who kept the fires burning. Slowly, after the death of Hongi Hika in 1828, Ngati Whatua returned to their Kaipara homelands and had re-established themselves by 1835.14


Despite limited contact with Europeans, leading chiefs in Tamaki, Te Kawau, Te Tinana and Te Reweti signed the Maori version of the Treaty of Waitangi in March 1840 and invited Governor Hobson and his administration to settle among Ngati Whatua by the shores of Waitemata and establish the town of Auckland.

In hindsight, as Governor Gore Browne recognized in 1857, “from the date of the Treaty of Waitangi, promises of schools, hospitals, roads, constant solicitude for their welfare and general protection on the part of the Imperial Government have been held out to the Natives to induce them to part with their land”15

For Ngati Whatua, they committed themselves to building a mutually beneficial and enduring relationship as a means to survival. Fostering European settlement in the region would provide closer and more accessible means of generating trade and employment for the people and drawing in medical, educational and other Government services, thereby better securing the basis for Ngati Whatua’s future prosperity.


Ngati Whatua attempted to engage in the new colonial economy in a variety of ways. During the 1840s they were involved in the shipping industry and owned several coastal trading vessels. They helped provision newly arrived settlers and transport them over rugged terrain, as the rock sitting on State Highway 16 going into Kaukapapkapa attests.

The Wesleyan missionary Reverend Buller reported in 1852, that Ngati Whatua at Kaipara gave their attention almost wholly to “husbandry, and transporting their produce, chiefly in small vessels of their own, to Auckland where they readily obtain a good market.”16


A shift in focus from Auckland to the Kaipara was reflected in Te Keene Tangaroa’s return to his home in Mairetahi in 1857 in company with John Rogan, the newly appointed District Land Purchase Commissioner. By 1858 the Government had begun implementing land purchase schemes for incoming settlers and Ngati Whatua gifted the Portage – the track running from Riverhead to Te Awaroa to assist settlement in the area.


Ngati Whatua’s long involvement in the kauri timber industry of the southern Kaipara, Pitoitoi and Waitakere districts was, in the early 1860s supplemented by the nascent kauri gum trade.

By 1862 they had successfully encouraged John and Issac McLeod to move north and settle at Te Awaroa. In July 1862 Te Keene Tangaroa wrote to the Governor to report that the McLeods had bought land at Kaipara.17 Later when the McLeod’s timber mill was in operation, a new kainga was established across the river from the mill.


In 1864 Rogan was appointed the new Resident Magistrate and later that year he appointed eight Ngati Whatua assessors to assist him in making by-laws for their district.

Te Otene Kikokiko responded by gifting 10 acres at Te Awaroa (Helensville) as a site for the resident Magistracy and courthouse. The Government erected the courthouse and a lock-up and a very basic Native hostel and promised that a school might be provided on a portion of the 10 acre block. By 1865 a small depot was also erected on the site for Dr. Nicholson to dispense medicines.18

Later Paora Kawharu gave part of the adjacent Ahukaroro South Block to the town for a public cemetery and also transferred portions for the site of what is today a Methodist Church.19

Just as in 1840, Ngati Whatua made clear their desire to unite for mutual benefit. They offered what they had, land, protection, food and resources.

As Paikea was to state at the welcome provided to the so-named Albertlanders at Oruawharo in 1862:“I now have my hearts desire. I have sold large blocks of land to the government so that my Pakeha brothers may live by me in good friendship and peace. We are all children of the great Queen Victoria. You are my Pakehas and I, and my tribe will ever be ready to protect you with our bodies. You have much to teach us, and you may learn many things from us that will be useful to you. May we be brothers forever.”20

Today Ngati Whatua continue to maintain a strong presence in the South Kaipara, retaining land-holdings, burial grounds and kin-based communities round the five marae at Reweti, Haranui, Kakanui, Araparera and Puatahi.

Margaret Kawharu

1 Hauraki Paora, This was the beginning of it, Ko te timatanga tenei o aua koreronei, qMS-1620-1621,
p.117; Colleen Sheffield, Men Came Voyaging, Capper Press Ltd, Christchurch, 1963:22
2 Hayward & Diamond, Prehistoric Archaeological Sites of the Waitakere Ranges & West Auckland, ARA, 1978: 7-8
3 Geo Graham, Mahuhu – The Ancestral Canoe of Ngati Whatua (Kaipara), JPS Vol.48, 1939, p.186; Sheffield 1963:23; S. Percy Smith, Peopling of the North, JPS, Wellington, 1896:9
4 Graham 1939:188
5 Paora Tuhaere, History of Ngati Whatua Tribe with Their Genealogy, MS 725 hand-written version , p.1; Te Roroa Report 1992 Appendix 6 p. 359
6 Ani Pihema A Ngati Whatua History, MS 74/14 p.5; Sheffield 1963:25;
7 Leslie G.Kelly, Tainui – The Story of Hoturoa and his Descendants, JPS, Wellington, 1949, p.151-155;
Sheffield 1963:26; Geo Graham, History of the Kawerau Tribe of Waitakere, JPS Vol.34, 1925, p.19
8 Kelly 1949: 217-230; Smith 1896:67; Graham 1925:21; Sheffield 1963:31
9 Graham 1925 JPS Vol.34 p.22
10 eg Kaipara Minute Book 10 Otakanini 1901 p.162-190
11 F.D.Fenton Orakei (Decision December 22, 1869, Famous Judgements of the Compensation Court), Native Land Court, p.63
12 J.R.Elder Letters and Journals of Samuel Marsden, A.H.Reed, Wellington, 1932, p.272-318
13 Graeme Murdoch, Future Bulk Water Supply Study – Phase 4 Background Reports 5.4, 5.5, 5.1, Auckland Regional Authority, 1988, p.13-14
14 S.Percy Smith, Maori Wars of the 19th Century, Whitcombe & Tombs, Christchurch, 1910, p.332-344;
Fenton 1869:73; Kaipara Minute Book 1 Ongarahu p.148-9
15 Gore-Browne to Labouchere, 9 February 1857, cited in Ngai Tahu Report p.967
16 Buller to Secretaries, 26 July 1852, Wesleyan Missionary Society
17 Te Keene to Governor, 30 July 1862, MS Papers-0075-003. Alexander Turnbull Library
18 Rogan’s Outwards Letterbook, 1864-1872, BADW A588/530, Auckland Archives
19 Sheffield 1963:72
20 Paikea cited in D.Butler, This Valley in the Hills, 1963:94


  • Buller, J, 1852, Wesleyan Missionary Society Letters to the Secretaries, 26 July 1852
  • Butler, D. 1963 This Valley in the Hills
  • Elder, J.R. 1932 Letters and Journals of Samuel Marsden, A.H.Reed, Wellington
  • Fenton F.D. 1879 Orakei (Decision December 22, 1869, Famous Judgements of the Compensation Court and Native Land Court) Auckland
  • Graham, George 1925 History of the Kawerau Tribe of Waitakere, JPS Vol.34; 1939 Mahuhu – The Ancestral Canoe of Ngati Whatua (Kaipara), JPS,Vol.48
  • Hayward, B.W. & Diamond, J.T. 1978 Prehistoric Archaeological Sites of the Waitakere Ranges & West Auckland, Auckland Regional Authority
  • Kaipara Minute Book 1 Ongarahu
  • Kaipara Minute Book 10 Otakanini 1901 p.162-190
  • Kelly, Leslie George 1949 Tainui – The Story of Hoturoa and his Descendants, JPS, Wellington
  • Murdoch, Graeme 1988 Future Bulk Water Supply Study – Phase 4 Background Reports
    5.4, 5.5, 5.1, Auckland Regional Authority
  • Paora, Hauraki This was the beginning of it, Ko te timatanga tenei o aua koreronei,
  • Pihema Ani A Ngati Whatua History, MS 74/14, Auckland Museum Library
  • Rogan’s Outwards Letterbook, 1864-1872, BADW A588/530, Auckland Archives
  • Sheffield, Colleen 1995 (Third Edition) Men Came Voyaging, Uniprint, Auckland
  • Smith, S. Percy 1896 Peopling of the North, JPS, Wellington 1910 Maori Wars of the 19th Century, Whitcombe & Tombs, Christchurch
  • Te Keene to Governor, 30 July 1862, MS Papers-0075-003. Alexander Turnbull Library
  • Tuhaere, Paora 1923 History of Ngati Whatua Tribe with Their Genealogy, MS 725 hand-written version. Translated by Geo Graham presented to the War Museum Library.
  • Auckland Public Library
  • Waitangi Tribunal 1992 Report of the Waitangi Tribunal on the Te Roroa Claim; 1991 Report of the Waitangi Tribunal on the Ngai Tahu Claim

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