Story: Northland places

Page 9 – The Waiōmio valley


Valley south-west of the Bay of Islands, crossed by the Waiōmio Stream. It is known as the cradle of the Ngāti Hine people. The area was discovered by Hineamaru, a descendant of Rāhiri, the ancestor of the Ngāpuhi tribe.

Caves at the village of Waiōmio, 4 km south of Kawakawa, are on land owned by descendants of the Ngāti Hine ancestor Te Ruki Kawiti. The caves have delicate stalactite and stalagmite formations and contain glow worms. Another notable site is the remains of the massive Ruapekapeka , 14 km south-east of Kawakawa. A battle took place there in 1846. This was the last engagement in the conflict in the Bay of Islands between British troops and Ngāpuhi forces led by Hōne Heke and Kawiti.

The bat’s nest

The inaccessible inland site of Ruapekapeka pā explains its name, which means ‘the bat’s nest’. This extraordinary fortification, designed by the Ngāti Hine chief Te Ruki Kawiti, incorporated palisades, trenches, and underground shelters. In early 1846 it withstood heavy bombardment by British forces before its defences were breached. When the British finally entered they found only a handful of Māori still inside – the rest had strategically withdrawn.


Town 17 km south of Paihia at the confluence of the Waiōmio and Waiharakeke streams. These flow out into the Kawakawa River estuary and out to the Bay of Islands.

In 2013 it had a population of 1,218, including many young Māori. The site of an early flax-milling enterprise, Kawakawa developed as a service town when coal was found in 1861. The coal was railed to Ōpua for shipment. Coal mining has now ceased.

Kawakawa was once the headquarters of the former Bay of Islands county. Farming is now the principal economic activity.

In the 1970s the Austrian artist Friedensreich Hundertwasser moved to the vicinity. The town’s unique public toilets were made to his design. They feature inset glass and tiles, sculptures, a living tree, and a grass roof.


Town 5 km south-west of Kawakawa. In 2013 it had a population of 1,431, with similar ethnic and age characteristics as at Kawakawa. Moerewa developed in the 1940s around a meat-freezing works (now much smaller) and a dairy factory (now closed). Cutbacks in local industries and services in the 1980s resulted in hardship for many. In response, the He Iwi Kōtahi Tatou Trust was formed to provide youth training, social services and community development initiatives. As a result, there are now a number of Māori-owned businesses, selling contemporary Māori art, crafts and clothing.

How to cite this page:

Claudia Orange. 'Northland places - The Waiōmio valley', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, updated 22-Apr-15