The History of Ngati Hei

In traditional times the territory of the Ngati Hei people extended from Opoutere Peninsula to Kennedy's Bay. It also included the offshore islands of Ruamahu (The Aldermans), Ahuahu (Great Mercury) and closely situated islands like Koruenga, Koranga and Ohinau.

The earliest settlers arrived in the area around 800 AD from Polynesia. They left the only proverbially ancient artifact of Pacific Island manufacture in New Zealand, a fish-hook shank made of pearl shell which was discovered at Tairua.

The tribe took its name in the 13th Century from Hei, the elder brother of Tama Te Kapua, Captain of the Arawa canoe. When Arawa made it's landfall at Maketu in the Bay of Plenty, Hei journeyed north to Coromandel. His journey is commemorated in the names Hahei and Te Whanganui a Hei (Mercury Bay). When he died Hei was buried in a cave on Tokatea (Castle Rock) above Coromandel. Tokatea is also the name of the stream at Wharekaho named after Hei's burial place.

It is almost certain that the people known as Ngati Hei represent a welding together of earlier populations with the chiefly lines of Arawa origin. With increasing population in the area, competition for food and resources led to the development of warfare. The first Pa on Wharetaewa headland was an early example of a terraced Pa with lines of palisades to defend them. Later transverse ditches were added to defend the approach ridges. It was in this phase of development that Captain Cook saw Wharetaewa in 1769. Later still, enveloping ditches were added along the sides of the pa, particularly sides not naturally protected by steep faces.

"It was in this stage of development that
Captain Cook saw Wharetaewa in 1769"

In historic times the Musket Wars decimated the tribes on the Coromandel Peninsula including Ngati Hei. The raiding Ngaapuhi with their muskets surprised Ngati Hei at their fishing station on Wharekaho Beach. Several Hundred people were killed. Twenty Survivors reached Te Puta a Tahuinu (Hole in the Wall) where they took refuge. The Cheifs Hinganoa and Rapana Tahura were amoung the survivors. The present owners of the Peninsula are decendants of these Chiefs.

Fluctuations in tribal fortunes led to adjustments in claims to territory. in 1852 Peneamene Tanui and Tikaokao met at Tairua and agreed that they together with Rawiri Waimoko would restrict the land claims of Ngati Hei to the area between Kuaotunu and Tairua Harbour.

Today, Ngati Hei has land in the heartland of that territory consisting of 120 acres on Wharekaho Peninsula. Its most salient features are Wharetaewa Pa and the associated Urupaa which connects the living descendants of Ngaati Hei to the founding ancestors whose bones are interred there. The Papakainga (residential homestead and potential Marae site). The Wharekaho ring-ditch Pa and the garden lands and cultivation associated with the Pas of Wharetaewa and Wharekaho.