Battle of Rangiriri
Rangiriri is a small town in the Waikato region of New Zealand. It is located on the Waikato river near to Lake Waikare in the Waikato District. Rangiriri is approximately an hour driver from Auckland and Hamilton. Rangiriri was the site of a major Māori defence structure during the time of the Invasion of the Waikato, the major campaign of the New Zealand Wars. The Battle of Rangiriri, which was fought on 20–21 November 1863, cost both sides more than any other engagement of the land wars. More than 1400 British and New Zealand Colonial forces defeated about 500 warriors of the Kingitanga (Māori King Movement), which was the main resistance in expansion of British settlement and colonial rule in the North Island of New Zealand. This war also resulted in the capture of 183 Māori prisoners, which impacted on their subsequent ability to oppose the far bigger British force.
The Waikato War of 1863-64 was the most intensive of ‘Queen Victoria’s little wars’ in New Zealand. By this time the government forces were better organised and equipped with new technology. They were making good good use of stemers for transportation of forces and war equipments. The strength of British and New Zealand Colonial forces was around 12000. But on other side, the King Movement could field no more than 2000 of its 5000 part-time warriors at a time.The steamers, which now made the rivers more a liability than a resource for the pā-builders, gave british forces a momentum, whereas his foes needed time to regroup and resupply. Five hundred warriors of the Kingitanga were still preparing a new defensive line at Rangiriri when they were attacked on 20 November 1863.
Rangiriri straddled an isthmus between the Waikato River and Lake Kopuera. A strong central redoubt was flanked by rifle pits and other defensive positions. The outnumbered Kingites repelled at least eight attacks and forced government troops to spend a wretched night bivouacked on the wet ground. Victory probably came by mistake; misinterpreting a white parley flag for surrender, the British got inside the pā before the defenders realised what was going on. The Kingites lost 47 men (more than the British) but their biggest loss was the 180 captured. Three weeks later British Forces occupied Ngāruawāhia which was the King’s capital. Later they went on to occupy Rangiaowhia and win a decisive battle at Ōrākau in 1864. When the battle shifted to Tauranga, the British were heavily defeated at Gate Pā before gaining revenge at nearby Te Ranga on 21 June, effectively ending the Waikato War.
As part of work on the Waikato Expressway, the NZ Transport Agency has restored a pa site that straddled State Highway. It was completed in 2017 and now open to public. However, the erosion and road construction have destroyed some of the site, but still one can have a clear idea of the battle.There are several related places to visit. Te Wheoro’s Redoubt was built a few years later on the site of part of the Rangiriri defences. A few hundred metres away in Rangiriri township are the Māori War and Early Settlers’ Cemetery and, near the tavern, the privately-run Rangiriri Battle Site Heritage Centre, which incorporates a café.