New Zealand road trips

It’s a Road Trip: Day Six

Stratford to Opunaki: A History Lesson and a Little Bit of Lit to Boot!

We travelled a long way today: thirty-six kilometres. At this rate we’ll have to extend our holiday by another week.The good news is that the weather on this side of Mt Taranaki is warmer and drier but a whole lot windier. There’s still no sign of the volcano!

Opunaki is a small town that was settled by Europeans in the 1880s. This is a region where the conflicts that came with colonisation have played out again and again. Only a few ks up the road is Parihaka Pa. Its famous for the passive resistance of Te Whiti and his followers to land confiscation. The government of the day did not equip themselves well. (To be fair that is probably a massive understatement!) We went for a drive up Middle Parihaka Road, through the lahar mounds that make the territory look like  lumpy porridge. It’s peaceful enough now. But the events at Parihaka continue to reverberate down through the years. Tim Finn’s song Parihaka was inspired by those events and the book Ask That Mountain.

On the outskirts to Opunake township  is Te Namu Pa. It marks the end of the Opunake walkway which runs along the beach front. It was a wild and windy walk this afternoon. The pa (in this case pa means hill fort but it can also mean village) is on private land and is now a urupa (cemetery) but people are welcome to visit as long as they are respectful of the property and its significance. Getting there  does  require determination.

These girders are the only bridge across the stream that runs along the base of the pa. It felt uncomfortably close to walking the plank and in the high wind they wobbled a fair bit. But if I’d fallen in to the creek only my pride would have been hurt. Although my cell-phone might not have survived and that would have been truly terrible!



Te Namu has seen many bloody battles. In 1833 the hapu lead by Te Matakatea (The Clear -Eyed) thwarted a month long siege by a tribe from the Waikato. They fended the attackers off with cunning, prayer, geographical advantage and one musket!

And then in 1834, during a mishandled attempt to obtain the release of Betty Guard, the wife of a whaler, and her two children, the site  was pummelled by gunfire by European soldiers. The tribe was all but destroyed. It was the first armed conflict between European and Maori. There is an account of the incident here. Betty and her two children survived. Fiona Kidman wrote a gripping novel The Captive Wife based on these events. It’s well worth a read.

Today, when I got up to the pa  the southerly gale made it difficult to stand. It might be abandoned and covered in gorse  but there was no mistaking the power of the place. I’m glad I braved those girders and the wind even if on the way back down the gorse did jab me in the backside!

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