Battle of Te Ahuahu 12 Jun 1845

In a sharp battle the pro-government Maori under Tamati Waka Nene defeat the anti-government Maori under Hone Heke at Pukenui outside Te Ahuahu Pa (Buick, 1926). This was very much a civil war as the majority of men on both sides were Nga Puhi.

Forces present

The defenders had about 300 men and the attackers 400-500.

Order of Battle for both Protagonists

  • 300 pro-government Maori under Tamati Nene Waka and Taonui. Probably split between:
    • 260 Ngapuhi.
    • 40 Ngati-Pou under Hakaraia.
  • 400-500 anti-government Maori under Hone Heke and Te Kahakaha

Heke’s force was probably the largest he fielded during the war (Belich, 1986).

Preceding events

8 May 1845 Battle for Puketutu Pa

At Puketutu Pa on the shores of Lake Omapere, a small Maori force under Hone Heke repulsed a British assault with heavy losses.

Heke subsequently abandoned Puketutu and moved to an old fortification of his, the small pa called Te Ahuahu (Belich, 1986). Heke’s followers began to disperse to look after their economic affairs.

Early Jun 1845

Heke also left Te Ahuahu pa to kill cattle for food. Te Taonui, a pro-government chief, took the opportunity to seize Te Ahuahu. Tamati Waka Nene quickly reinforced Te Taonui. Heke gathered his warriors to retake the pa.

The Battle 12 Jun 1845

Hone Heke attacked Te Ahuahu Pa at dawn (Buick, 1926). Te Kahakaha led another group to attack the rear of the pa. The alarm was raised by an old slave woman who saw Heke’s men approach. Waka led his men out to face Heke’s, leaving Taonui to hold the pa. When Taonui saw Te Kahakaha’s men approaching, led his men out to face them. The battle blazed on both sides of the pa. Waka had his men reserve their fire, although they were under heavy attack by Heke’s. When their initial volley came, Heke’s line was driven back to a low hill. Heke counter-attacked and Waka’s men were forced to retire behind a low stone wall which once surrounded a kumara field. From the shelter of the wall they kept up a steady fire in relative safety. Heke’s men were suffering in the fire fight, so he decided on a grand charge to sweep the outnumbered opposition from the field. Heke’s men charged down the hill and across the flat towards the stone wall. Once again Waka reserved his fire “until the breath of the charging enemy was hot upon them.” The smashing volley staggered the advancing wave and stopped it within metres of the stone wall. Waka’s men immediately charged across the wall with tomahawks and club and routed Heke’s. Despite their success Waka followed slowly to avoid ambush in the brushwood, rocks and high fern.

On the other side of the pa, the battle between Taonui and Te Kahakaha was swinging backwards and forwards (Buick, 1926). From the fading sound of the gun fire Te Kahakaha knew Heke was retreating. He attempted to pull his men back to contact Heke’s. Suddenly changing his tactics Te Kahakaha ordered a charge in which he was gunned down. Upon hearing of this Heke went to find Te Kahakaha, and in the process of having his body carried from the field was seriously wounded in the thigh.

Belich (1986) believes the European estimates of 12 casualties for Waka and 30 for Heke were probably under-estmates. Part of the evidence for this is that the three principle leaders on Heke’s sde were all killed or wounded.

Heke retreated to Ohaeawai Pa and took six weeks to recover from his wound (Buick, 1926).


The battle took place on either side of Te Ahuahu Pa. You’ll see from the photo that, like most traditional pa, Te Ahuahu was built on a steep hill.

Te Ahuahu, the extinct volcano near Ohaeawai where Hone Heke
(and later Tāmati Wāka Nene)
had his pa in the New Zealand wars.
The Battle of Te Ahuahu was fought on these slopes.
(Wikipedia: Te Ahuahu Site of Hone Heke’s Pa)

See New Zealand History Online: Location of Te Ahuahu Pa for where it happened.

Buick’s (1926) account mentions some specific features on the side of the pa that Waka and Heke fought:

  • low stone wall which once surrounded a kumara field
  • low hill
  • plain between the low hill and stone wall
  • brushwood, rocks and high fern – by context on the plain and low hill but probably generally the area was covered by this stuff. Certainly fern is mentioned on Te Kahakaha’s side of the pa.

As this was an normal pa to protect cultivations I assume there were some active fields in the area.

Wargaming the battle

See Wargaming the Battle of Te Ahuahu.


Belich, J. (1986). The New Zealand Wars. Auckland, NZ: Auckland University Press.

Buick, T. L. (1926; reprint 1976). New Zealand’s First War: The Rebellion of Hone Heke. Christchurch, NZ: Capper Press.

F. E. Maning, F. E. (1876). Old New Zealand, A Tale of the Good Old Times; and, A History of the War in the North Against the Chief Heke, in the year 1845. Told by an Old Chief of the Ngapuhi tribe. By a Pakeha Maori. With an Introduction by the Earl of Pembroke. London: Richard Bentley and Son.

Belich says Maning is the only detailed account of the Battle of Te Ahuahu. Buick and Belich rely on him exclusively.

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