I’ve heard it said that New Zealand has a short history. Granted, our history is not as visible as elsewhere in the world, but it does go back many hundreds of years.
We drive past places of historical significance every day with no idea they even exist. It’s only when you head off the beaten path that you discover the rich and fascinating stories of our regions.
Hukutaia Domain, Eastern Bay of Plenty
History mixed with huge trees, now that’s a drawcard for me. Close to Opotiki is the Hukutaia Domain. This remnant of bush allows a glimpse into a bygone era when the surrounding area was covered in lush forest. Puriri trees thrive in the area and the domain was set aside in 1918 mainly to protect one particular ancient puriri tree, Taketakerau, estimated to be 2000 years old.
The age of the tree is only part of what makes it special. Taketakerau is he wahi tapu tenei no mua, a ‘prohibited place of olden time’. When Maori chiefs and other distinguished tribal members passed away, they were buried. After several years, and with much ceremony, their bones were dug up, scraped, and painted with iron oxide.
The bones were then placed into the hollow base of Taketakerau to keep them hidden from the enemies of the tribe. The domain offers three loops of different sizes; the longest takes 25 minutes.
All three loops pass by Taketakerau, protected by carved warriors. The combination of fascinating history and natural beauty is wonderful.
Otatara Pa, Hawke's Bay
Dating back to the 1500s, Otatara Pa is one of the largest pa sites in Hawke’s Bay. If you enjoy a good hill climb as well as a bit of history, this walk is for you. The stunning views out to the coast are a bonus.
On the outskirts of Taradale, this is a one-hour loop track. The track up the hill is wide and gravelled but beware when you get to the top. To get back to the carpark, you need to head down a narrow single track. Continuing along the gravel track takes you to suburbia and a much longer walk back to your car.
Sadly, a large area of the original pa was quarried. Of what remains, it’s easy
to see the terracing done by early inhabitants. The terraces had different uses, from large pit areas to gardens, housing structures, and storage platforms. Interpretive panels along the way help you visualise how the pa once was.
Impressive palisades were built in 1990 and are representative of the traditional defensive structures that would have once been part of the pa.
Papaitonga Scenic Reserve, Horowhenua
Birds and history, this short walk has it all. Just out of Levin, the birdsong on this walk is beautiful. Tui and korimako (bellbirds) abound and make their presence felt.
The reserve is a remnanMaot of lowland forest around Lake Waiwiri, a dune lake surrounded by lush wetlands. It’s home to many species of wetland and shorebirds.
There are two islands on the lake, Papaitonga and the smaller Papawharangi (built by the Muaupoko people in the early 19th century). They lodged poles into the lakebed as an outline, then filled it with a mix of soil and shells.
The history becomes darker with the Muaupoko being slaughtered in battle with Te Rauparaha. It’s said that the bones of the 600 Muaupoko massacred on Papaitaonga still rest in the area.
The track itself is a mix of boardwalk and walking track. Well maintained to the first lookout, it then becomes very muddy. Part of the track is a loop and the forest is beautiful. It takes about an hour all up at a relaxed pace.