History and culture
Otatara Pa is one of the largest and most ancient Maori pa sites in the Hawke’s Bay. It includes an upper pa, Hikurangi, and a lower one, Otatara. Today, visitors to the pa can see the remains of terraces, dwelling sites and food storage pits and imagine the lively community that Otatara once was.
Otatara Pa Historic Reserve is a site of significance to iwi throughout New Zealand as the place from which Ngati Kahungunu spread through and beyond Hawke’s Bay. It is a popular recreation site, providing a good workout for walkers and runners and stunning views of the district.
The reserve is also well-known to educationalists, students of history and archaeology and visitors keen to learn about one of the cultural highlights of the Hawke’s Bay.
Otatara was the greatest pa in the district
The pa complex covers over 40 hectares and is one of the largest and oldest in Hawke’s Bay. It was favoured for its strategic location, providing expansive views and access to a range of natural resources. This meant it was regarded by many iwi as the greatest pa in the district and ownership was strongly contested at times.
Turauwha was a paramount chief in Hawke’s Bay, based at Otatara. Around 400 years ago, Taraia led Ngati Kahungunu to Heretaunga where they attacked Otatara. Through occupation, conquest marriage and mana (power, influence), the iwi expanded to dominate Hawke’s Bay and the Wairarapa. Otatara commorates the mana of Turauwha and Taraia and is linked through whakapapa to people and places throughout New Zealand.
Ngati Paarau hapu of Waiohiki Marae, at the foot of the pa, are kaitiaki of Otatara Pa today.
While farming, quarrying and natural soil processes have taken their toll, the pa’s features and the enormity of the complex are still very evident today. Otatara Pa has strong archaeological significance because it is one of the oldest pa complexes in New Zealand that has retained its features over time.
In 1973 part of the pa was designated a historic reserve to protect its remaining features. In 1987 management of the reserve was passed to DOC which has continued to add parts of the pa to the historic reserve. Otatara Pa has been registered as a Category 1 Historic Place. This status is given to places of ’special or outstanding historical or cultural heritage significance or value‘ by Historic Places Trust.