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Ruapekapeka Pā theft raises questions over security of historic NZ sites

Northland iwi now have to decide what will become of Māori land war artifacts recovered after they were dug up and stolen from the Ruapekapeka Pā, one of the country's most significant pā sites.

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The long-term future of the weaponry dug up in January at Ruapekapeka Pā is still to be decided. Source: 1 NEWS

The incident has raised questions over the security of historic sites across the country.

Remnants remain from the Battle of Ruapekapeka, the last of the Northern Wars of 1846.

Fighting went on for days and resulted in a stalemate. It all unfolded at the highly intricate pā, made up of tunnels, rifle pits and trenches — a blueprint for modern warfare.

Now the pā's suffered a fresh attack. Using a metal detector, a thief identified weaponry then dug up parts of the site in January.

They took historic gems, damaging the land in the process. Members of the public alerted authorities — the relics were tracked down and the offender was caught.

"There are people in our area calling for the person responsible to be beaten up, for their hands to be chopped off — those times have passed now but that gives you a sense of how the people in this area feel about how important the land at this site is," a trustee of Te Ruapekapeka Trust, Pita Tipene, said.

The offender claims he made an honest mistake and was fined $1600, but the Department of Conservation said this isn't an isolated incident and historic places across New Zealand are being damaged by human impact.

"Every year across the country there is damage to our cultural heritage sites. Some are done with metal detectors like this incident, some are done on private land by people that don't know they've got sites," DOC heritage advisor Andrew Blanshard explained.

"We've also got cases of people breaking into mine shafts and other significant heritage places and stealing and damaging."

Te Ruapekapeka Trust's now considering how to future proof the sacred site.

"We've now got to rethink because relying on the local people to come across a person who was fossiking around in this land in this soil is not good enough," Tipene said.

"So we really need to future proof Te Ruapekapeka and make sure that we know whats going on here all the time. If that means that we have kaitiaki up here all the time, well we're gonna need to look at it."

As for what was stolen, it's now being cared for by DOC. Its long-term future is still to be decided.