The hill fort or pa was erected on suitable hills or ridges as well as on strategic situations with sea, river, lake, or swamp forming a natural barrier on one side. All pas varied with terrain and locality. Stockades, as well as trenches and ramparts, were built to protect the sides open to enemy attack. Inside the pa was established a village with sleeping huts, stores of kumara, and other foods with specially erected pataka as well as pits for water or special access to a spring if possible. A wooden gong (pahu) situated on the highest point was beaten to warn of an approaching enemy.
Fighting stages were erected over gateways and other vulnerable points to give protection and from these darts and stones would be thrown down on an enemy. Fire was greatly feared by the defenders of a pa. A hostile force would endeavour to use red-hot stones and fire brands in an endeavour to cause panic by setting fire to the buildings which were inside the enclosure.
Every pa had its protective deity. This was often a special stone which retained the mana or prestige of the pa and was buried under one of the corner posts. In general the pa was the stronghold of the tribe, a place of refuge when danger threatened and security for all in time of war.