Make a model of the Gate Pā battle site

Activity One: Make a Model of the Battle Site at Gate Pa. A simple guide to help children gain a practical understanding of the Battle of Gate Pa.

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The children make models of waka, ships, tents, mission buildings, gate, trenches (awakeri), fence, palisades (pekerangi), gun carriages etc.

There is enough activity to keep all involved and interested for a long time.

Working with soft sand enables warriors, soldiers and guns to be placed and moved as required.

Most material is freely available.

Materials required:

2 or 3 ‘supermarket’ bags of sand. Add water to keep damp.

Dry twigs of manuka (tea tree) or similar sticks.

Table. A trestle table is ideal.

Usual classroom materials, paint, glue, cardboard, plasticine, Blu Tack etc.


  1. Base plan: Cover table with paper. Paint blue. Draw outline of Tauranga peninsula as it was in 1864. Waikareao Estuary is on the west and Waimapu River is on the east.
  2. Shape land: Spread damp sand in shape of land. Shape hill, Pukehinahina, at Gate Pa with pits and trenches, and shape the Monmouth and Durham redoubts (forts). See Robley sketch. The main rifle pit was the size of a tennis court and a trench connected it to a smaller pit. Don’t worry about trying to do things to scale. It is just to give the children an idea of the scene.
  3. Cart track: Mark the cart track that became Cameron Rd with white flour, as seashells or pumice was used for paths.
  4. Gate and fence: Make the gate that was at Gate Pa and the post and rail fence that marked the border of mission land with strips of white cardboard and glue.
  5. Palisades (pekerangi): Use tea tree sticks for palisades and for cover over the labyrinth of trenches (awakeri) and bunkers.
  6. Gun carriages: These ’carts of terror’ can be made from plasticine or play dough for the carriage and wooden meat skewers or pencil stubs for the cannons. Paint them all with black or grey acrylic paint. Make wheels by drawing round circles (2 cm) on grey/brown cardboard with black spokes etc. Cut out wheels and attach with small pins or toothpicks.
  7. Warriors: There were 230 Māori soldiers. Warriors could be drawn on brown cardboard. Māori had no particular uniform and many preferred to fight with little clothing though most wore some European clothes.
  8. Soldiers: There were 1,700 British troops in blue uniforms so figures need be made in bulk from strips of 5 cm wide blue cardboard cut in to 1 cm individual pieces. Children can draw the details of faces, clothes, guns etc.
  9. Tents: The British troops were housed in bell tents. Cut circles in white paper (diameter 6 cm) then cut in half to make semicircles. Glue straight edges together to make bell-shaped tents. (Ten men slept in each tent, their feet pointing to centre pole.) The main camp was at Te Papa near the Mission House and there was another camp near where the hospital is now situated.
  10. Ships: HMS Miranda, Esk, Harrier, Falcon, Eclipse and Curacoa joined the ships that brought the troops, Sandfly and Corio. These three-masted steam ships (see illustrations) were anchored in the harbour. Draw ship hulls 7cm on cardboard, cut out and stand on Blu Tack. Use tooth picks formasts and glue thin slivers of white paper for furled sails.
  11. Waka: Shape Māori canoes out of sticks. A thousand canoes were counted in and around Tauranga Harbour at about this time. These included waka taua (war canoe), waka kōpapa (general transportation) and waka tētē (used to carrygoods).
  12. Buildings: The Mission House and School buildings were used as headquarters for the troops. Cover matchboxes or other similar-sized boxes with plain paper and draw/paint windows, doors etc. on them.
  13. Flags: Paint Māori warriors’ flag red with white cross, new moon and five-pointed star (see illustration). Glue on to a kebab stick and place behind Māori fortifications. Make a Union Jack flag for the British troops.
  14. Vegetation: Sift dry green powder paint through a tea strainer or sieve to colour sand green where required for grass or flax in swamp areas. Add lichen and dried moss from lawns to make effective-looking bush. 

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