Ōrākau is located approximately 3.5 km south-east of Kihikihi on the Arapuni Road (see map). There is a memorial obelisk here in a small reserve that overlooks the battle ground on the side of the road. In the future it is the intention of the Orakau Heritage Society Inc to build a historic site and visitors learning centre to tell the story of this great battle and to provide a place for the sacrifices of those who fought and fell at Ōrākau to be respected.
This was a 3 day engagement and probably the best known of the New Zealand Land Wars. It inspired two films called Rewi's Last Stand. At the conclusion of the battle the Kingitanga Maori retreated into the rugged centre of the North Island and about 12,000sq km were confiscated by the crown.
After the battle at Hairini (February 1864), in March Tūhoe and Ngāti Raukawa warriors determined to fight, arrived from the east to support the Ngāti Maniapoto forces.
Rewi Maniapoto did not want to fight, especially at this location. "Only by not fighting may I retain my lands … do not fight at Ōrākau". He warned that "if you Tuhoe persist in your desire for battle, I alone will be the survivor". It was to no avail and many of his supporters joined Tūhoe and Ngāti Raukawa in urging him to make a stand. After trying to buy some time by suggesting consultation with Wiremu Tāmihana at Maungatautari, Rewi gave in and decided to fight at Ōrākau.
In late March Rewi's men began building a redoubt shaped pa at Ōrākau, which was noticed by the British that were stationed nearby in Kihikihi. An armed force under Majors Von Tempsky and Blyth were sent to investigate. At this stage there were only approximately 300 Maori defenders and a third of these were women.
The fortified pa, which was situated in a peach grove lacked a good supply of water and escape route and Rewi's fear of it being easily surrounded proved to be its undoing.
When the British advance began, they were able to hold off an attack of four abreast, however when the British were hit by a second volley they decided to surround the pa. Maori reinforcements were prevented from reaching Ōrākau by steady fire from the British forces and thought all would perish in the pa. On April 2nd, Lieutenant - General Cameron arrived with reinforcements that bolstered the British Troops to over 1400. At this point the defenders at Ōrākau were almost out of food, water and ammunition, even resorting to using peach stones and wood pellets as bullets. In spite of their desperation when they were offered a last chance to surrender they replied with the now famous reply, one version being:
"E hoa, ka whawhai tonu matou, Ake Ake Ake! Friend, we will fight on forever, forever, forever!"
It is not known for certain who said these words but the intent was clear and this helped to lay the idea that Ōrākau was a "last stand" for Maori.
Despite holding back two more assaults at 3.30pm nearly all the Maori left the pa in an orderly fashion and caught the British Troops by surprise. They split into small groups and attempted to escape. Pursued by Cavalry and Forest Rangers through open lands between Ōrākau and the Puniu River most of the Maori casualties were suffered at this time. It is estimated that at least 160 were killed, with many including women being bayoneted as they lay wounded. The British by contrast only suffered 17 dead and 50 wounded.
Some historians see this as a victory to Cameron, however the King Movement still existed, now South of the Puniu River - the new aukati (boundary) in Ngati Manipoto. Tamihana and Rewi Manipoto warned the British that if they attempted to continue the war beyond the aukati they would fight again. The British did not fight here again and moved their attention to Tauranga and the Bay of Plenty to prevent supplies and reinforcements coming to the aid of the Kingitanga.
For more information on the the Battle of Ōrākau and the New Zealand Wars visit: