In 1846, Ruapekapeka Pā was a remarkable fortification. With its double-row of massive timber palisades, rifle trenches, flanking angles and bomb-proof bunkers, Ruapekapeka was a masterpiece of military engineering. Ruapekapeka represented a transition from traditional Māori pa, to defences especially designed to counter the long distance projectile and explosive weaponry of the British. The site is remarkable to this day with its highly visible and well-preserved defences carved into the landscape.
The British soldiers, sailors, and allied Māori set up three defended positions when they arrived to launch their offensive against the pā. Their main camp, northwest of the pā and lower down the ridge, bore some resemblance to a Māori village, with grass huts and a timber stockade. Several pieces of artillery were sited at the main camp, and gun batteries were located in two forward positions only 200 – 300 m from the defences of the pā.