Tauranga-Ika - Titokowaru's Most Formidable Pa

by James Graham

Tauranga-Ika was perhaps the most formidable stand alone pa ever constructed in New Zealand. Titokowaru used it to protect the territory he had already reconquered and as a base to launch raids against the Wanganui hinterland.


The fortifications of Tauranga-Ika were breathtaking. The pa was in the shape of a concave diamond. This unique design ensured every bit of the pa was a flanking angle for other parts. A double palisade ringed the pa strengthened by cross braces. A firing trench ringed the inside of the palisades and additional firing positions were constructed above the trench. This allowed a double line of fire to be brought to bear on an assaulting party. As Bent states a 6ft high and 4ft wide parapet completed the primary earthworks at Tauranga-Ika. All the usual anti artillery ruas and bunkers were part of Tauranga-Ika's interior. More remarkable is a network of palisaded roads and parapets running through the pa. These and the maze of trenches that Bent describes could have possibly allowed Titokowaru to turn Tauranga-Ika into a killing ground along the lines of Gate Pa. Another innovative feature of Tauranga-Ika was its watch guard tower. Prominent in pa of the musket war era towers were abandoned by Kawiti in the face of enemy artillery and not used again in modern pa till Tauranga-Ika. Only two were present at Tauranga-Ika and it can be assumed that they were built as a trial for possible future use. Just as crucially as the fortifications were the number of warriors Titokowaru had amassed. At over 400 they were enough to man the defences properly and shoot down a storming party. Tauranga-Ika was a well defended engineering masterpiece.

Tauranga-Ika's strength forced the government to build up an army of 1753 men before they attempted to attack it. Since their defeat by Titokowaru at Moturoa on 7 November 1868 the British in the Wanganui district had fled to the town and some to safer parts of the colony. Like New Plymouth before it Wanganui was reduced to a mere overcrowded outpost as Titokowaru's warriors systematically destroyed its supporting region. Farms and military posts were burned and stock was driven off. The governments only hope to end the raids was to attack Titokowaru's base at Tauranga-Ika. Under Colonel Whitmore fresh from the east coast the force finally left Wanganui on 21 January 1869 and arrived before Tauranga-Ika on 2 February. During the night Titokowaru lost his mana possibly because of a liaison with a fellow chief's wife. The majority of his supporters deserted him and Titkowaru was left to fight a series of rearguard actions.

For five months the fate of the west coast settlements between New Plymouth and Wanganui hanged in the balance. During this time normal European activity completely stopped in this area. The economic development of the area was also set back many years as Titokowaru's raiding parties ensured European farming and equipment did not go undamaged. This can be seen by Titokowaru's extensive use of corrugated iron plundered from neighbouring farms in the construction of Tauranga-Ika. Titokowaru's story though is more one of what if rather than what was. Bent states categorically that Tauranga-Ika was "practically impregnable." Whitmore himself remarked after Titokowaru had abandoned the pa that "no troops in the world could have stormed the defences." With Kingite support likely Titokowaru could have made his temporary conquests of the confiscated regions of Taranaki permanent. The reason his resistance fell apart is linked to an old Maori proverb. Men fight wars over land and lose them over woman.

The New Zealand Wars

  1. Kawiti and the Northern War
  2. Maori Strategy in the Taranaki War
  3. Kawiti's Ohaeawai Pa
  4. Guerilla Warfare in the Waikato
  5. Battle of Rangiriri
  6. The Gate Pa
  7. Titokowaru's Tauranga-Ika Pa
  8. Te Kooti the Guerilla Fighter