Archived content: This media release was accurate on the date of publication. 


An ‘honest mistake’ has led to a local Northland man receiving a $1600 fine for the removal of historic war artefacts from Ruapekapeka Pa, north of Whangarei.

Date:  14 May 2021

Sadly, these offences are happening at important cultural heritage sites across New Zealand and are not always so innocent, says DOC.

Te Ruapekapeka Trust and DOC were alerted through comments on facebook that the man was seen using a metal detector and removing artefacts at Ruapekapeka Pā in late January. The man came forward immediately and returned the items, which were then blessed and returned to Ruapekapeka.

DOC was alerted to the offence, contacted the man and issued two infringement notices (fines) for failure to comply with the Reserves Act for cutting sod and removal of a relic from a historic site.

“The offender cut approximately 20 holes in the pa and removed a number of artefacts from the site, including parts of an exploded cannon ball.  While the offender did the right thing in coming forward and immediately returning the items, we have a duty of care to enforce the well-displayed rules to protect our treasured historic sites, of which Te Ruapekapeka is one of the best preserved in the country,” says Senior Heritage Advisor, Andrew Blanshard.

“We hope this fine and the publicity around it will encourage people to check the rules at place carefully before acting. All our conservation heritage sites are protected. DOC takes these incidences very seriously.

“Unfortunately, this is not an isolated incident. Our heritage sites across the country are at risk from numerous factors. But the majority of damage is sadly and avoidably caused by people. In the past year numerous heritage sites, both on and off public conservation land, have been damaged by human activities.

“Even small incidences like vehicles driving across middens can mean that we lose vital information that could, if recorded and investigated correctly, add to our national story. Sites damaged this year range from middens that are over 700 years old, sites, early European mining sites and a host of places in between.”

DOC’s latest visitor insights report showed that compared with other outdoor sites, visitors to cultural heritage sites were more likely to report ‘a lot’ or ‘a fair amount’ of all types of visitor impacts. 

“This all comes at a time when we know that New Zealanders are more engaged than ever with their heritage and wanting to learn more,” says Pita Tipene, interim chair of Te Ruapekapeka Trust. “We all need to help protect these sites as the stories they can tell us are the building blocks of our national identity.”

If you see vandalism or damage being caused to heritage sites in conservation areas, DOC is asking people to call the DOC hotline  (0800 362 468). DOC is working in close partnership with Te Ruapekapeka Trust. The Trust comprises appointed representatives of Te Kapotai, Ngāti Manu, Ngāti  Kahukuri,  Ngāti Hau and Ngāti Hine.

Ruapekapeka Pā and battlefield, located 14 kilometres southeast of Kawakawa, is today recognised as one of New Zealand’s iconic historic heritage sites, being the best preserved Northern War site where features remain visible on the surface, much as they were all those years ago.

Background information

Digging up archaeological sites is a legal offence under the Heritage New Zealand Act 2014, which can lead to prosecution and a criminal record.

DOC manages the largest cultural heritage portfolio in the country, with more than 13,000 known archaeological and historic sites located on public conservation lands and waters (we manage shipwrecks as well).

We care for the places that shaped New Zealand and tell our stories so that you can discover, enjoy and share them now and for generations to come.

Ruapekapeka Pā is managed by Te Ruapekapeka Trust and DOC as a place where all New Zealanders can come and reflect on past events that have shaped our nation.

Ruapekapeka Pā is one of New Zealand’s top 20 iconic sites of historic heritage, in company with (for example) The Bridge to Nowhere, Ship Cove and Government Buildings, Wellington.

Ruapekapeka Pā is the best preserved Northern Wars site with features visible on the surface.

Ruapekapeka Pā and battlefield is an Historic Reserve located 14 kilometres south east of the Northland town of Kawakawa. Managed jointly by the Department of Conservation and Te Ruapekapeka Trust, the is one of the largest and most complex sites in New Zealand. It is also the site of the last battle (and first major armed conflict) in “The Flagstaff War” between British Colonial soldiers and Ngāpuhi forces led by Te Ruki Kawiti and Hōne  Heke. This battle took place on 10 January 1846.


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