Kaiapoi Pā was built on a peninsula, between Woodend and Waikuku by Ngāi Tahu chief Tūrākautahi, in around 1700. It was the first great site established after Ngāi Tahu migrated from the North Island and became the tribe’s largest and most important stronghold as the headquarters of the tribe’s leading chiefs. Over 1000 people were living at the Pā by the time of recorded history. It was considered impregnable, fortified by palisades and ditches and built on a two-hectare peninsula that jutted into a maze of swampy lagoons with only secret access.
The neck of the land to the peninsula was very narrow and surrounded by a deep ditch. A palisade was set up to prevent an attack from the lagoon side. The other possible approaches for attack were guarded by gates which could be easily defended, one facing the lagoon and two opening up to the neck of the lagoon. There was also a thick forest near the Pā. Because of these, the Pā was considered to be impregnable.
The Pā was first named by Tūrākautahi as Te Kōhaka o Te Kaikai-a-Waro, the nesting ground of Kaikai-a-Waro, a local taniwhā.
Te Kōhaka o Te Kaikai-a-Waro was rich in natural resources with plenty of bird and fish life to hunt. It was so full of food and resources that it is now more commonly referred to as Kaiapoi Pā, Kaiapoi literally meaning to swing food. The Pā thrived for well over 100 years.
It was a prosperous time for the Pā and Ngāi Tahu. Food was gathered and stored to distribute to local Māori not living at the Pā. Major decisions affecting the local Māori were also made there.
The village around the Pā seemed to be in the shape of a Tohorā (whale). The Makō, Whekī and Kauāe (the names of the three food stores) were kept in the jawbone and mouth of the whale. The Pukekura, the belly of the whale was the location of the central meetinghouse. There were two gates: one for visitors and one for important guests as well as two areas for landing canoes.
This information has been sourced from the Ngāi Tūāhuriri: Tuahiwi and Takiwā booklet produced by the Ngāi Tūāhuriri Education Committee, 2014 and the Christchurch City Libraries website.