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The Opotaka kainga (settlement) sat on the edge of Lake Rotoaira and was one of a series of similar villages on the lake edge. Opotaka was surrounded by swamp on three sides, and by Lake Rotoaira on the other. Artefacts found at Opotaka confirm that it was probably occupied around the 1820s-1840s, when Maori and Europeans first had contact with each other in the area, and include both traditional artefacts such as obsidian and stone adzes, as well as metal tools.
It was here that the great warrior and Ngāti Toa chief Te Rauparaha, performed the now famous Ka Mate haka for the first time.
During a period of imminent conflict, Te Rauparaha journeyed from Kawhia to seek alliances with other tribes. When he arrived in Taupō he was told by Te Heu Heu, the Paramount Chief of Tūwharetoa that he was being pursued by a war party who were seeking revenge. Te Heu Heu directed Te Rauparaha to Lake Rotoaira to seek protection from his relative Te Wharerangi.
Upon arrival, Te Wharerangi instructed Te Rauparaha to seek refuge in a kumara (sweet potato) pit and for his wife, Te Rangikoaea to sit on top in order to conceal him from his enemies. When the pursuers arrived, Te Rauparaha is said to have muttered “Ka mate! Ka mate!” under his breath (will I die!) and “Ka ora! Ka ora!” (or will I live!). These lines were repeated many times until eventually the pursuers were convinced by Te Wharerangi that Te Rauparaha had escaped towards Taranaki. It was then that Te Rauparaha finally exclaimed “Ka ora, ka ora! Tēnei te tangata pūhuruhuru nāna nei i tiki mai whakawhiti te rā!” (I live! I live! For it was indeed the wondrous power of a woman that fetched the sun and caused it to shine again!)
In 1981, Opotaka was set aside as a Māori Reserve due to its significance to local Ngāti Tūwharetoa and Ngāti Hikairo people. The site has been restored in recent years, and is now managed by Heritage New Zealand. You can see Lake Rotoaira from the site, as well as Motuopuhi Island, which sits opposite it.
This site of the old Māori settlement is well worth a visit to discover the food storage pits, remains of the house sites and imagine Te Rauparaha performing the spine-tingling ‘Ka Mate’ haka for the first time.
Opotaka is located on SH47 between Turangi and National Park.
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