Porirua's Archaeology

This page outlines the type of archaeological remains found in Porirua.

Archaeology sites of interest in Porirua

Archaeologists and other interested people have been recording the location of archaeological sites in Porirua since the late 1950s, when the New Zealand Archaeological Association’s Site Recording Scheme was first started. Before that, there are many written observations about evidence of Maori settlements, particularly observations made by Eldson Best and Leslie Adkin. Not all archaeological sites in Porirua have been officially recorded though. Most of the recorded sites are near the coast and the harbour margins, as these are places to live that have been favoured by people throughout the district’s history.

The earliest dated site in Porirua is at Paremata; it is also one of very few in the wider Wellington region known from this time. It contains the remains of moa, the large flightless bird, and other birds that are now extinct. Other sites related to a former Maori way of life include pa sites, settlements and gardens. There are four recorded pa on strategic ridge top locations which were defended by the natural steep terrain, ditches, banks and/or wooden palisades. Pa built by Ngati Toa in the 19th century tended to be located on flat land by the coast and were often surrounded by palisades. There is recorded archaeological evidence of some of these settlements at Mana Island, Plimmerton and Paremata. There are also undefended sites related to living and gardening, with artificial terraces cut from the hills and pits, or cellars, made to store kumara crops grown in nearby gardens. The groves of karaka trees in the small valleys around the coast are also associated with former Maori occupation.

The remains of some key early European industries in New Zealand have also been recorded in Porirua. There were several shore based whaling stations on the coast and on Mana Island in the 1830s and 1840s. There is some surviving archaeological evidence of the Korohiwa station, east of Round Point, but little else is visible in the district. Mana Island has the remains of the second lighthouse built in the Wellington region, also with archaeological evidence of the keeper’s house and gardens. Mana Island was also the location of one of the first farms in New Zealand, and there is a ditch and bank fence enclosure likely to be associated with this early farm.

Image showing Paremata Barracks which is one of Porirua City's archaeological sites.
Paremata Barracks (pictured) is one of Porirua City's archaeological sites.
Photo courtesy of the Heritage New Zealand.

There are sites in Porirua City that relate to nationally significant historical events, particularly military campaigns, such as the New Zealand Wars and World War II. There are several sites that relate to the New Zealand wars. During 1840-1848 over half of the military structures built in New Zealand were in Wellington, the Hutt Valley and Porirua. The stone barracks at Paremata is one of only two surviving standing structures in New Zealand dating from this period. Other sites associated with the conflict include the sites at Horokiri Battle Hill and Te Rangihaeata’s pa Matai-Taua at the head of the Pauatahanui Inlet (now the location of St Albans Church). Important figures, such as Te Rauparaha, Te Rangihaeata and Governor Grey are also associated with these places. Sites relating to WWII include pillboxes for machine gun operations, a road block and the camps at Judgeford and Motukaraka Point.

In addition to historical events on a grand scale, archaeological sites can also remind us about everyday life. Middens and ovens are the remains of food preparation and eating. There are numerous shell middens recorded around the harbour and coastline that can sometimes be seen in road cuttings or at the back of beaches. Shell fish were often a significant part of the diet for Maori.

Return to Porirua's Heritage page or continue on to the Archaeological Investigations page.