A half-hour walk in the bush today – and stepping back in time, ever so briefly, several hundred years. With an hour to fill before delivering a Canadian cousin to a bus, we drove to the summit of Mt Parihaka (name corrected from Parahaki in 2005). From there, we walked down to where one of three pā once occupied the ramparts of this 240-metre volcanic peak, that established itself here round 20 million years ago.
My family have been living in this area since 1978. Only now I discover the hill is the site of what was once the largest Māori pā in the country! I feel ashamed and ignorant. But is it all my fault? It was never mentioned in my schooling at the local boys’ high school (ok, so I didn’t take history, but ...). And the fact doesn’t receive top – nor even prominent – billing as a tourist drawcard to Whangarei. Yet, it is within half an hour’s walk of the Town Centre.
However, I feel pleased that I can point out easily identifiable kumara pits to my Canadian cousin. And we recognise a defensive wall, thanks to a plaque that details the features of human occupation that once decorated a 3-kilometre stretch of ridge line, now largely hidden by regenerating bush. We need the skilled eyes of an archaeologist, or the helpful explanation of an interpretation panel, to see them today.
The tourist briefs also refer to it being ‘the site of a significant battle and massacre in the 1700s’. I wonder if that was the time when the hill was abandoned as a place of settlement? There is more to be found out. Another time, another place.