In a first for a Maori feat of engineering, the Institution of Professional Engineers of New Zealand (IPENZ) has recognised Ruapekapeka Pa as a national site of engineering significance. The gun fighter Pa, located 30 minutes north of Whangarei is comprised of a unique arrangement of rifle trenches, bunkers, tunnels and double stockade representing an ingenious indigenous response to European firepower. It was engineered and constructed by Warrior Chief Te Ruki Kawiti and his allies in late 1845 and was the site of the last battle of “Northern Campaign” of the New Zealand wars. Ruapekapeka may not have been the first pa to utilize trenches or to have strong palisades, but the combination of design innovations made it one of the most effective against assault by muskets and heavy artillery. “Real engineering is the pondering of a problem not encountered before, considering options and developing an effective local specific solution. It requires the merging of innovation, technical and interpersonal skills. Ruapekapeka demonstrates this and represents good, sound engineering problem solving”.
The fortifications so impressed the British that following the battle, military engineers from Britain twice surveyed the defences, built a scale model for education purposes, and tabled the plans in the House of Commons. Some historians have argued that the knowledge was used by the British in the Crimea in 1853 and led to the trench warfare of World War 1 when machine guns made underground warfare a necessity.
New Zealand Department of Conservation (DOC). (2008, February 14). Early Maori military engineering skills to be honoured by New Zealand Professional Engineers. Retrieved January 13, 2011, from http://www.doc.govt.nz/about-doc/news/media-releases/2008/early-maori-military-engineering-skills-to-be-honoured-by-new-zealand-professional-engineers/
Impression of Ruapekepeka Pa (Source: DOC)