Te Rae o Karaka or Karaka Point


Te Rae o Karaka Historic Reserve occupies a narrow headland that juts out into Totaranui (Queen Charlotte Sound), between Waikawa and Whatamango Bays. It is situated on what is now known as Karaka Point, which lies approximately 5 to 6 miles north-east of Picton.

Karaka Point

Karaka Point. Photo supplied by Picton Historical Society

A substantial pā was built on this promontory by early Ngāti Mamoe resudents (once part of Waitaha and later subsumed into Ngāi Tahu) residents, and succeeding tribes took ownership, peacefully or otherwise, until North Island iwi gained possession of gun power and began their movements and raids to the south. It was Te Ātiawa who swept into Totaranui (Queen Charlotte Sound) in the summer of 1829-30, to attack the resident tribes who had never before met with guns. As news of the disastrous attacks in East Bay and Endeavour Inlet was received from lucky escapees, large numbers of Rangitāne and some of their Ngāti Apa allies retreated to the pā at Karaka Point, believing it to be impregnable.

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Karaka Point. The information board. Image supplied by Picton Historical Society

Researcher and writer on the history of the region, William John Elvy, described the action as told to him by Tuiti Makitānara: “As the invaders approached, the stockade was manned and the warriors on the fighting towers prepared to hurl spears and big stones at the enemy below. As they approached, the attackers singled out the principal chiefs of the defenders by name and insultingly called out that they would be cooked and eaten on the morrow. The defenders replied in similar vein. “Whilst these compliments were being bandied about, some of the attackers landed and took up positions in the manuka scrub on the landward side of the pā. When these were in position, the attackers drew near in their canoes and started picking off the defending chiefs and warriors with their muskets. This death from a distance caused a panic amongst the defenders, who opened the gates on the landward neck of the headland and tried to escape up the hill. But the hidden assailants in the scrub then joined in the attack, and the occupants of the pā were effectively ambushed and totally annihilated.”

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Karaka Point. The pou whenua. Image supplied by Picton Historical Society

For some years the land on the deserted headland was cleared and farmed, but was later gifted to the nation and the site became a Scenic and Historic Reserve in August 1953; the site is also recorded on the Archaeological Society’s file as number 516/198. While it is a beautiful site, with regenerating bush and lovely views, it deserves to be respected as a place where terrible events occurred. Rangitāne have erected a beautiful carved pou representing the story of Kupe’s successful battle with the giant wheke, and interpretive boards are present to describe the visible landscape features. The once impregnable cliff-face now bears a safe, fenced pathway from shore to lookout.

This story by Loreen Brehaut was first published in the Seaport Scene, Picton., 2016. (Updated 2021)

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