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Contractors excavate a test trench alongside State Highway 29a in Matapihi so that details of the historical defensive trench can be recorded

Potential defensive trench from 1800s found near Tauranga

The NZ Transport Agency (NZTA), Heritage New Zealand and local hapu are excavating near a state highway in Tauranga what could potentially be a defensive trench from the New Zealand Land Wars or the inter-tribal Musket Wars.


Contractors were widening the side of State Highway 29a in Matapihi for the installation of a safety median barrier when the discovery was made in early March. The site had previously been identified as being in an area of archaeological significance for three hapu: Ngai Tukairangi, Ngati He and Ngati Tapu.

Work was stopped immediately and the agreed cultural protocols were enacted with the hapu.

The NZTA’s Bay of Plenty state highways manager, Niclas Johansson, says it is early days, but the find could be significant. “We expected to find kumara and fire pits and we have an authority from Heritage New Zealand for the works, but we did not expect to see something like this,” he notes.

“This could be nationally significant so it’s important that we keep the site closed and take the time now to find out as much as we can so we can honour the tangata whenua who were affected by this part of our history.”

Possible coastal defence

The project archaeologist, Sian Keith, says the site will be excavated and all details will be recorded so a fuller picture of what has been found can be painted. “The trench is about 40 m long and appears to have been used as a coastal defence around the 1830s to 1860s,” Sian explains.

“It is away from other well-known battle sites around Tauranga and depending on the date it could add some important information to the national historic record.”

The hapu and the NZTA will continue to work in partnership to ensure the correct cultural practice is carried out. A representative from Ngai Tukairangi, Ngati He and Ngati Tapu will remain onsite to monitor the excavation.

Discussions will also continue between the NZTA, the hapu and Heritage New Zealand on how the site might be able to be permanently acknowledged.

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