In the Taradale Hills on the outskirts of modern ‘Art Deco’ Napier lies the remains of a much earlier settlement. Twentieth-century quarrying largely destroyed one of the two pā now covered by the name ‘Ōtātara’ but even so, its 33 ha form one of the most impressive archaeological sites in New Zealand and have been compared to One Tree Hill in Auckland. It is certainly the largest and oldest in Hawke’s Bay and once may have covered almost 50 ha. The small ditch and bank defenses point to its antiquity and it is thought that Ōtātara may have been settled between 1400 and 1500. As you will appreciate on a clear day, Ōtātara commanded good views of rich kumara gardens, fishing, fowling and flax and raupō resources in the swamps and the then-navigable Tūtaekurī River. Stories about the place often conflict because the iwi associated with it later became factionalised, but its significance for commemorating the conquest of Heretaunga by Ngāti Kahungunu from Poverty Bay about 1550 under Taraia is clear.
The name Ōtātara originally belonged to the lower pā. Now mostly quarried away, this pā occupied an isolated ridge cut on one side by the Tūtaekurī River to form a natural defensive cliff. What you see now is the larger and higher of the two, Hikurangi (‘the cloud piercer’), about 500 m further up the ridge. On the way up you can see house terraces and regularly spaced deep pits that were once roofed over for kumara storage. Hikurangi has no ditch and bank defenses but there is evidence of defensive scarping.
Permanent occupation probably ceased about 1820 after northern raiders struck elsewhere in the district during the Musket Wars. Donald McLean bought the Ahuriri Block for the Crown in 1851. The Dolbel family-owned Ōtātara and much of the surrounding land for more than a century. It has been a historic reserve since 1972 and remains important to the local Māori who ‘live in the shadow of Ōtātara’.
- New Zealand History
- Otatara Palisades by Ankh Photography