Takapuneke (also known as Red House Bay) was the scene of a dramatic and horrifying event in 1830 that was of great significance in New Zealand’s history.
In 1830, the bay was the site of the kainga (settlement) of Te Maiharanui, an upoko ariki (paramount chief) of the main South Island iwi (tribe) Ngai Tahu. In that year the Ngati Toa chief, Te Rauparaha, bent on revenge for the slaughter of several Ngai Toa chiefs at the Ngai Tahu pa (fortified village) at Kaiapoi, persuaded Captain Stewart of the brig Elizabeth to take him and his warriors south, in return for a cargo of dressed flax. Stewart brought the Elizabeth to anchor off Takapuneke, and with the Ngati Toa war-party concealed below decks, invited Te Maiharanui on board. Te Maiharanui was taken prisoner by Te Rauparaha and his village attacked and destroyed, with heavy loss of life. To this day, Takapuneke is tapu ground to the Maori of nearby Onuku.
Stewart’s complicity in Te Rauparaha’s attack on Takapuneke appalled the British authorities in Sydney and in London, but Stewart escaped being brought to justice. The event, however, contributed directly to the appointment of a British Resident in New Zealand which led in turn to the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi and the assumption by Britain of sovereignty over New Zealand in 1840.
Takapuneke is thus a place of great importance in the history of New Zealand. This historical importance and the significance of the site to local Ngai Tahu were so little appreciated in later years that Akaroa’s sewage treatment works and rubbish dump were established at Takapuneke in the 1960s and 1970s, actions which were later described as shameful. More recently, efforts have been made by the Onuku Runanga, supported by the Akaroa Civic Trust, to have all the land at Takapuneke protected as an historic reserve. The land included a block between the probable site of Te Maiharanui’s kainga and Green’s Point for which a residential subdivision had been planned.
These efforts were finally successful when the Christchurch City Council agreed to take the necessary legal steps for the land to become a reserve.