Story: Ngāi Tahu

Page 7. The southern Ngāi Tahu response

All images & media in this story

The southern coast

Ngāi Tahu along the Foveaux Strait and Otago coastlines had been trading in Sydney to arm themselves with muskets. Kaiapoi Ngāi Tahu sought the support of their southern kin, and it was decided to attack Ngāti Toa in 1832–33.

Te Rauparaha’s escape

Under the leadership of the chiefs Tūhawaiki, Makere Te Whanawhana, Whaitiri and Paitu, the southern Ngāi Tahu departed to attack Ngāti Toa. At Ōtākou the chiefs Taiaroa, Karetai and Haereroa joined the southern flotilla, and the two groups joined forces with Kaiapoi Ngāi Tahu at Banks Peninsula. The Ngāi Tahu war party made its way up the coastline to Kāpara-te-hau (Lake Grassmere) where, as it was the moulting season, they anticipated Te Rauparaha would be capturing paradise ducks.

Ngāi Tahu hid behind the hill along the lake. In the morning, as Ngāti Toa were landing, Ngāi Tahu launched a surprise attack. The victory went to Ngāi Tahu, although Te Rauparaha managed to escape. Nevertheless, in the words of one Ngāti Toa elder, ‘One campaign by Ngāi Tahu saw Te Rauparaha defeated at Kāpara-te-hau. Te Rauparaha escaped to sea and survived. The majority of people who went ashore were killed by Ngāi Tahu.’

The northern battles

Ngāi Tahu then followed Ngāti Toa to Karauri Bay. They stayed in the Oraumoa Valley and fought a series of running battles. Ngāti Toa departed, but returned in two days with reinforcements. The next day, there was heavy musket fighting and both sides retreated at night to take care of their dead and wounded. On the Ngāi Tahu side, Tūhawaiki’s cousin Karetai was wounded and fearing for his life. Because Ngāi Tahu were low on ammunition, it was decided to retreat under the cloak of darkness.

In the morning, Ngāti Toa set off in pursuit of Ngāi Tahu. Ngāi Tahu turned their flotilla and prepared for a marine battle, but Ngāti Toa declined the invitation to battle and retreated. After this, Ngāti Toa did not penetrate south of Ngāi Tahu’s northernmost boundary, Te Parinui-o-whiti (White Bluffs) again. Nevertheless, Ngāi Tahu mounted a larger campaign during the fighting period of 1833–34. This time their army was larger and better armed. During this campaign, they occupied the Cloudy Bay region in the north of the South Island, but Ngāti Toa failed to engage with them, largely because they were facing problems in the North Island with their allies. Ngāi Tahu returned home after attacking the allied tribes of Ngāti Toa.

Te Pūoho’s raid

Before peace was established between Ngāi Tahu and Ngāti Toa at the end of the 1830s, there was one last incident. In 1836 Te Pūoho, a chief of Ngāti Tama (allied to Ngāti Toa), undertook a long journey in an attempt to surprise Ngāi Tahu from the rear. Te Pūoho led his party down the West Coast, from the Whanganui Inlet to the Haast River. He then crossed the Haast Pass and travelled through Central Otago into Southland. However, the Ngāi Tahu chief Tūhawaiki, learning of Te Pūoho’s arrival, led a party from Ruapuke Island and took Te Pūoho by surprise at Tuturau. Te Pūoho was killed and his party captured.

Establishing peace

By 1839 both Ngāi Tahu and Ngāti Toa had come to realise that any further fighting would achieve little. As a result, a peace was established and the Ngāi Tahu people held captive by Te Rauparaha on his stronghold, Kapiti Island, were released. At the end of the wars, Ngāi Tahu’s boundaries remained intact. Subsequent Ngāi Tahu–Ngāti Toa marriages, including one in the 20th century between descendants of Te Rauparaha and the Ngāi Tahu chief Taiaroa, reinforced the peace.

How to cite this page:

Te Maire Tau, 'Ngāi Tahu - The southern Ngāi Tahu response', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 20 May 2024)

Story by Te Maire Tau, published 8 Feb 2005, updated 1 Mar 2017