Tag Archives: Kurahaupo


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Following the incident in Golden Bay, and the recovery of the cock-boat, the officers of the Zeehaen returned to their own ship, and soon after both ships weighed anchors and turned to leave the Bay heading ENE. At noon they were 2 Dutch myles south of their noon position on the previous day, and there Tasman convened the Ships’ Council.

“About noon skipper Gerrit Jansz and Mr. Gilsemans again came on board of us; we also sent for their first mate and convened the council, with whom we drew up the resolution following, to wit:
 Visscher’s chart of New Zealand up to the night December 19th, 1642

Visscher’s chart of New Zealand up to the night December 19th, 1642

Seeing that the detestable deed of these natives against four men of the Zeehaan’s crew, perpetrated this morning, must teach us to consider the inhabitants of this country as enemies; that therefore it will be best to sail eastward along the coast, following the trend of the land in order to ascertain whether there are any fitting places where refreshments and water would be obtainable; all of which will be found set forth in extenso in this day’s resolution.

In this murderous spot (to which we have accordingly given the name of Moordenaersbay) we lay at anchor on 40° 50′ South Latitude, 191° 30′ Longitude. “

Unfortunately, Tasman’s recorded position at anchor in Murderers Bay cannot be relied on at all as it was an estimation of both latitude and longitude. His previous ‘observed’ latitude was prior to entering the Bay.

The Sailor’s journal for the day was brief, but included the names of the men from the Heemskerck who had been killed;

“In the morning, before breakfast, nine ships, full of people, came from the land, which we thought came to us to make peace, and treat us with friendship; but, on the contrary, they have, to our deep regret killed three of our people. May our Lord God preserve us from greater misfortune. The first was called Jan Tyssen, from Oue-ven; the second Tobias Pietersz, from Delft; the third Jan Isbrantsz. Soon afterwards we got under sail, steering our course N.E. by E.”

This marks the last mention in the Dutch record of the events in Golden Bay.

No detailed account by the Ngati Tumatakokiri was ever recorded, and as far as we know only 3 men survived their subsequent conquest. These three lived the rest of their lives as slaves of their conquerors.

This pencil sketch of Kehu snaring a Weka, by Charles Heaphy, is the only known depiction of any Ngati Tumatakokiri

This pencil sketch of Kehu snaring a Weka, by Charles Heaphy, is the only known original depiction of any Ngati Tumatakokiri (click to open at source)

Hone Mokehakeha, better known as Kehu, and Pikiwati were slaves to the Ngati Rarua. Eruera Te Whatapakoko, who was originally from Golden Bay was slave to Hohepa Tamaihengia of NgatiToa.

In the 1850’s, Land Agent James Mackay met Ngati Tumatakokiri survivor Eruera Te Whatapakoko. When asked if he’d heard of or seen white men in former days Erueha told him that his ancestors had killed some men who came in a ship to Wharawharangi, near Separation Point. From the hill behind Wainui, Eruera pointed out to Mackay where Tasman’s men had been killed by his ancestors.

This gives us no new detail of what happened there that day, but it is confirmation that it was indeed the Ngati Tumatakokiri that Tasman met.

When James Cook came to New Zealand in 1769-70 he carried with him a copy of Tasman’s journal; he made multiple references to it. His copy of Tasman’s journal clearly included the illustrations, as Joseph Banks recorded in Queen Charlotte Sound that; “The men in these boats were dressd much as they are represented in Tasmans figure”.

On anchoring in Ships Cove, Cook knew that he was quite close to the location of Tasman’s “Murtherers Bay”, and asked the natives if they’d seen ships like his before.

“These people declared to us this morning, that they never either saw or heard of a Ship like ours being upon this Coast before. From this it appears that they have no Tradition among them of Tasman being here, for I believe Murtherers bay, the place where he anchor’d, not to be far from this place; “

Cook stayed for 3 weeks in Queen Charlotte sound, and as he was preparing to leave, a local called Topaa, who they referred to as the ‘old man’, came aboard to say goodbye.

In this last conversation, conducted through Tupaia, Cook again enquired after Tasman’s visit.

His journal entry for Feb 6th 1770 recorded the exchange.

“Amongst other conversation that passed between him and Tupia, he was asked if either he or any of his Ancestors had ever seen or heard of any Ship like this being in these parts; to which question he answer’d in the Negative, but said that his Ancestors had told him that there came once to this place a small Vessel from a distant part, wherein were 4 Men that were all kill’d upon their landing;”

Joseph Banks, Botanist on the Endeavour, recorded a similar exchange with Topaa:

“neither himself his father or his grandfather ever heard of ships as large as this being here before, but that [they] have a tradition of 2 large vessels, much larger than theirs, which some time or other came here and were totaly destroyd by the inhabitants and all the people belonging to them killd’. This Tupia says is a very old tradition, much older than his great grandfather, and relates to two large canoes which came from Olimaroa, one of the Islands he has mentiond to us.”

Although the details conflict, this is clear evidence that Tasman’s visit was still known to the people in Queen Charlotte’s Sound nearly 130 years after the event. Topaa said that it was his ‘ancestors’ that killed Tasman’s men, and this is curious as Queen Charlotte’s Sound was not Ngati Tumatakokiri territory. Perhaps he was related to the Ngati Tumatakokiri (which is not at all unlikely), or in ‘ancestors’ he was referring to the wider ancestry of the Kurahaupo people, which he would have in common.

As Tasman’s party left Golden Bay, they believed they were leaving land behind them, and passing again into open ocean.

On Dec 16th, the evening before they’d seen smoke, Tasman had written that: “we found the furthest point of the land that we could see to bear from us east by north, the land falling off so abruptly there that we did not doubt that this was the farthest extremity.”

Now, leaving Golden Bay, they saw the lie of the coast continuing to the East, and were sure that they’d rounded the northernmost tip of the land and were entering the Pacific Ocean.

Since they were now leaving this land behind them, they named it.

“This is the second land which we have sailed along and discovered. In honour of their High Mightinesses the States-General we gave Staten Landt, since we deemed it quite possible that this land is part of the great Staten Land, though this is not certain. This land seems to be a very fine country and we trust that this is the mainland coast of the unknown South land. To this course we have given the name of Abel Tasman passagie, because he has been the first to navigate it.”

Tasman named the country “Staten Landt”.

Tasman's course leaving Golden Bay

Tasman’s course leaving Golden Bay

His journal entry for December 19th details their exit from the Bay:

“From here we shaped our course east-north-east. At noon Latitude estimated 40° 57′, Longitude 191° 41′; course kept south, sailed 2 myles. In the afternoon we got the wind from the west-north-west when, on the advice of our steersmen and with our own approval, we turned our course north-east by north.”

It had been a big day for Tasman and his men, and no doubt they were pleased to leave Murderers Bay behind them, but the day’s excitement was not yet over.

Tasman believed he was sailing into open ocean. He was sorely mistaken.


Blood on the water

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Kurahaupo banner

The Heemskerck and Zeehaen at anchor in Golden Bay

The Heemskerck and Zeehaen at anchor in Golden Bay

On the morning of December 19th, 1642, Abel Tasman was sat at anchor in Golden Bay, with his two ships, the Heemskerck and the Zeehaen.

At first light a native boat had come out to them, stayed a while and then gone away. They had showed some of their trading goods to the natives, but the south-landers had shown no interest.

From the land, the Chief had gone out with one of the boats to have a closer look at the enemy. So far, they had only been up close in the dark. Now he had looked in their eyes, he and he had measured their strength. He had demanded that they explain themselves, but had received no satisfaction.

The Maori were extremely wary of visitors.

When they saw strangers, they didn’t know if they were friend or foe, and they assumed the latter. They were foe until they accounted for themselves satisfactorily and were given permission to stay.

The residents had all rights, the visitors had none.

There were strict protocols about how to approach when entering someone else’s territory. If they did not observe these protocols, or did not observe them properly, then they were a danger, and the resident Maori would not wait for them to strike first.

The Maori observed the precautionary principal… A dead stranger can’t hurt you.

Anyone who was not up to mischief would have explained who they were, and what their purpose was. These strangers hadn’t done that.

Tasman had not observed the proper protocols.

The strangers had come uninvited, they had not said who they were, they had not asked if they could stay, and they stayed un-bidden.

Now, it was his duty, Chief of the Ngati Tumatakokiri, to protect his people, and teach the strangers some manners.

Early morning, Dec 19th 1642, Golden Bay, New Zealand

Tasman’s Journal
“Early in the morning a boat manned with 13 natives approached to about a stone’s cast from our ships; they called out several times but we did not understand them, …
                         … They did not come nearer, however, but at last paddled back to shore.”

“In the meanwhile, at our summons sent the previous evening, the officers of the Zeehaan came on board of us, upon which we convened a council and resolved to go as near the shore as we could, since there was good anchoring-ground here, and these people apparently sought our friendship.”

Diary: Taupo Pa
It was still early when we assembled on the shore. The Tohunga spoke a karakia over us, our weapons, and our boats. Then we took our positions and paddled from the beach.

We went in nine good boats. Of all out boats, these were the best for fighting from; steady and fast. I was in the biggest of them, with 16 paddlers and the steersman. I was as strong a paddler as most of the men, and was proud to be given a place in the crew.

“Shortly after we had drawn up this resolution we saw 7 more boats put off from the shore, one of which (high and pointed in front, manned with 17 natives) paddled round behind the Zeehaan while another, with 13 able-bodied men in her, approached to within half a stone’s throw of our ship; the men in these two boats now and then called out to each other; we held up and showed them as before white linens, etc., but they remained where they were.”

As we got closer to the ships we separated and stood singly. Each of the big ships had one small boat, but when we arrived both were tied to the ship with the higher pointed stern. The Chief said this should be the ship of their chief, and took his position there. We moved our waka to the far side of the ship with the fat stern, and the others placed themselves around evenly.

At some time, the strangers would take a small boat back to the other ship… and when they did, we would be ready.

The strangers on both ships were shouting and waving things at us, but the Chief called out for us to ignore that, and hold our positions.

All the officers of both ships were on the Heemskerck. A Ships Council had been convened to agree and record what to do next. They had decided that they would move closer ashore; it was good anchoring ground in a safe harbour, and they could re-stock their supplies here.

With all the officers of the Zeehaen at the Ship’s Council, the Zeehaen was left without any senior command, so they sent instructions across to the crew on the Zeehaen.

At this stage, Tasman’s party still believed that there was no threat from the Maori. Tasman wrote that “these people apparently sought our friendship”, and the Sailors Journal recorded the same sentiment; “nine ships, full of people, came from the land, we thought came to us to make peace”.

They were gravely mistaken.

“The skipper of the Zeehaan now sent out to them his quartermaster with her Cock-boat with six paddlers in it, with orders for the second mates that, if these people should offer to come alongside the Zeehaan, they should not allow too many of them on board of her, but use great caution and be well on their guard.”

In the Zeehaen’s Cock-boat were the Quartermaster from the Zeehaen, the Gunner from the Heemskerck and five others. There is no indication in the journal texts, or in Gilsemans’ drawing, that they were armed any way, and their is no suggestion anywhere that any of the occupants of this boat were soldiers.

After some time we heard the Chief calling.

One of the small boats was loading,
… he could see no weapons
… just paddles
… there were only seven of them.

Be ready; wait for the signal.

We could barely believe these strangers could be so stupid. While they stayed on their ships we couldn’t get to them, and they were safe. But when they were on the open water they were assailable. And according to the chief, there were only a few of them, and armed only with their clumsy paddles.

We sat quiet in the water, poised for the command.

The small boat moved off coming towards our ship. It moved very slowly. We waited in silence, waiting for the signal.

Then we heard calling from the chiefs boat, and paddles in the air. Now!

Nine boats pivoted in union. Heads and shoulders went forward, and paddles dug hard into the water. We sped, with accelerating strokes, bellowing towards the little boat halfway between the ships. What a ruckus was coming from our boats.

The Ngati Tumatakokiri attacking the Zeehaen's Cock-boat

The Ngati Tumatakokiri attacking the Zeehaen’s Cock-boat

“Just as the Cock-boat of the Zeehaan had put off from board again those in the prow before us, between the two ships, began to paddle so furiously towards it that, when they were about halfway slightly nearer to our ship, they struck the Zeehaan’s Cock-boat so violently alongside with the stem of their prow that it got a violent lurch, upon which the foremost man in this prow of villains with a long, blunt pike thrust the quartermaster Cornelis Joppen in the neck several times with so much force that the poor man fell overboard.”

The Ngati Tumatakokiri attacking the Zeehaen's Cock-boat

The Ngati Tumatakokiri attacking the Zeehaen’s Cock-boat

The Chiefs boats got there first. They were at full speed and hit the strangers boat square across its middle; the strangers seemed shocked and confused by what was happening. But if any of them thought to defend themselves with their paddles, it was too late. One of our men was up immediately, his Pouwhenua flashing in the light. He caught one of the them by surprise and had three or four good strikes before the man even knew what was happening, then made a hit that pitched the stranger right out of the boat. The strangers oars were too heavy to move quickly, and they couldn’t block the blows from our Pouwhenua.

Our men jumped straight in, patus moving like blurs. Two more of the strangers dived over the side, but our men dealt to the others. They dragged one of the strangers into the Chiefs boat, and then we all turned and left as quickly as we came, before the visitors could summon their thunder and lightning on us.

“Upon this the other natives, with short thick clubs which we at first mistook for heavy blunt parangs, and with their paddles, fell upon the men in the Cock-boat and overcame them by main force, in which fray three of our men were killed and a fourth got mortally wounded through the heavy blows.”

[From the Barber-surgeon’s account]
“Half-way between the two ships the boat was attacked from all sides by the Southlanders: who approaching made a fearful noise, and treated the seven sailors in such a way: that they beat four to death with long staffs. The remaining three swam away. After committing this murder, they rowed with incredible skillfulness to the shore: so that before could (we could) use the guns, they were out of range.”

[From the sailors account]
“In the morning, before breakfast, nine ships, full of people, came from the land, which we thought came to us to make peace, and treat us with friendship; but, on the contrary, they have, to our deep regret killed three of our people. May our Lord God preserve us from greater misfortune. The first was called Jan Tyssen, from Oue-ven; the second Tobias Pietersz, from Delft; the third Jan Isbrantsz.

The Cock-boat being brough back by the Heemskerck's pinnace

The Cock-boat being brough back by the Heemskerck’s pinnace

The quartermaster and two sailors swam to our ship, whence we had sent our pinnace to pick them up, which they got into alive. After this outrageous and detestable crime the murderers sent the Cock-boat adrift, having taken one of the dead bodies into their prow and thrown another into the sea.”

Once we had put some distance between ourselves and the ships, we turned to look. Then the thunder and lightning began. It came from both ships. First there was the flash, a cloud of smoke, the boom of the thunder, and then fish would jump to the surface where the lightning bolt landed.

We watched on as their other small boat went out to pick up the survivors.

Tasman’s Journal
“Ourselves and those on board the Zeehaan seeing this, diligently fired our muskets and guns and, although we did not hit any of them, the two prows made haste to the shore, where they were out of the reach of shot.

With our fore upper-deck and bow guns we now fired several shots in the direction of their prows, but none of them took effect.”

When the Cock-boat was nearly halfway to the Zeehaen, the Ngati Tumatakokiri had attacked; suddenly and ferociously. On command they paddled in fast and hard, making a huge noise, confusing and frightening their enemy, and then they struck without hesitation. After only a few moments three of Tasman’s people were in the water, swimming for the Heemskerck, and the other four were either dead or taken.

Tasman’s ships opened fire with musket and cannon, but didn’t hit anything.

Holman, the Skipper of the Heemskerck, took the Pinnace to rescue the swimmers.

After a while the thunder attack stopped, and quiet fell over the water. As we sat in our positions near the shore waiting for the next action, we watched the small boat we had attacked return to its ship. Soon after, to our delight and surprise, we saw sails appear on both ships.

The Chief now called in the remaining men good boats, and we all set off to chase them from the bay.

Tasman leaving Golden Bay being pursued by the Ngati Tumatakokiri

Tasman leaving Golden Bay being pursued by the Ngati Tumatakokiri

“We now weighed anchor and set sail, since we could not hope to enter into any friendly relations with these people, or to be able to get water or refreshments here.

Having weighed anchor and being under sail, we saw 22 prows near the shore, of which eleven, swarming with people, were making for our ships. We kept quiet until some of the foremost were within reach of our guns, and then fired 1 or 2 shots from the gun-room with our pieces, without however doing them any harm; those on board the Zeehaan also fired, and in the largest prow hit a man who held a small white flag in his hand, and who fell down. We also heard the canister-shot strike the prows inside and outside, but could not make out what other damage it had done. As soon as they had got this volley they paddled back to shore with great speed, two of them hoisting a sort of tingang sails.

They remained lying near the shore without visiting us any further.”

The wind was light and their ships were only moving away slowly, so we closed on them quickly and easily. As we got close the thunder attack started again. This time we found that the lightning bolts were accompanied by flying stones. Some of these hit the boats and one of our men was hit and fell.

The Chief, seeing that the ships were still leaving, had us turn back; there was no shelter from the flying rocks, and going on would only mean taking casualties for no gain.

We turned back towards the shore. Those that carried sails used them to preserve their strength should another fight come.

When we were beyond the limit of the flying rocks we stopped, and waited, holding our place between the strangers and the land.

We remained there at the ready. The visitors stopped for the while in the middle of the Bay, but then began moving again, and to our delight finally left in the direction of Rangitoto. Our brothers there should by now have heard of the approaching strangers. Now we can tell them that they are scared of a fight.

Tonight there will be feasting and celebrations, and around the fire the story will be told.

For generations to come people will talk about this day. The day that the Ngati Tumatakokiri chased the Spirit Ships from Mohua.

Written this day, 2nd September, 2014.

Gilsemans' drawing of the events of December 19th

Gilsemans’ drawing of the events of December 19th

The Armouries

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Kurahaupo banner

The Dutch Armoury

Tasman’s written instructions explicitly described the danger involved in engaging with natives.

“In landing with small craft extreme caution will everywhere have to be used, seeing that it is well-known that the southern regions are peopled by fierce savages, for which reason you will always have to be well armed and to use every prudent precaution, since experience has taught in all parts of the world that barbarian men are nowise to be trusted, because they commonly think that the foreigners who so unexpectedly appear before them, have come only to seize their land “

The VOC wanted Tasman to establish amicable relations with anyone they met, so that they could be engaged in trade, but they did not leave Tasman unprepared for trouble.

Cannon on the VOC replica ship, the Duyfken

Cannon on the VOC replica ship, the Duyfken

Swivel cannon on the VOC replica ship, the Duyfken

Swivel cannon on the VOC replica ship, the Duyfken

17th century Dutch musketeer

17th century Dutch musketeer

VOC cutlass

VOC cutlass

Both ships carried cannons, and the Heemskerck was originally designed as a small warship. It had cannons in fixed positions in the aft, and along its sides. In addition it had swivel guns mounted on the gunwale. They fired single shot, various types of shrapnel and grapeshot, and ‘cannister shot’, where shrapnel was loaded in the gun encapsulated in a tin wrapper.
Following the activity on the night of December 18th, Tasman had ordered the guns be cleaned and readied for use. Hand to hand weapons were also placed on the decks: including pikes, cutlasses, knives and muskets.
In addition to the officers and sailing crew, Tasman had muskets and 19 Soldiers. In the 17th century, muskets were powerful, but only accurate over a limited range; an Infantryman a hundred paces away was relatively safe.

Tasman didn’t record how the Maori responded to meeting firearms, except to say that they backed off when the big guns were fired, but James Cook provided this insight.

“Musquetry they never regarded unless they felt the Effect; but great Guns they did, because they threw stones farther than they could Comprehend.”


The Maori Armoury

To repel the Dutch, the Maori had quite literally “Sticks and Stones”.

The Maori used no projectile weapons (with very limited exceptions); no slingshot, catapult or even bow and arrow. James Cook recorded seeing bows and arrows in Tahiti, but was told that these were not fighting weapons, but boys’ playthings. Similarly, a dart launched from a stick and string existed, but was not used as weapons. The Maori had a larger version of this for throwing spears into Pa’s, but that is the limit of their projectile weapons.

maori warrior

Maori warrior. 1769

Maori fighting was almost exclusively hand to hand.

This engraving is from a sketch made by Sydney Parkinson on Cooks first visit to New Zealand in 1769-70. It is captioned “A New Zealand Warrior in his proper dress & completely Armed, According to their Manner”.

It shows only two weapons.

In the Warriors right hand is a Tewhatewha. This is the style of staff most commonly shown in early illustrations of Maori. One end has a carved blade, and the other is sharpened to a point. It is used like a club or hammer, and the end blade can be thrusted into the enemy, or used as a crook.

Once the enemy was close, the weapon was reversed, and the point used for stabbing.

The Pouwhenua is a similar weapon, but has a broad blade instead of the quarter moon shape. The Taiaha was a similar length, but carved to a spear like point.

The neck area was a primary target with this type of weapon.

stone patu

Stone patu

Tucked into a strap around the warriors waist is a patu. These were made of wood, whalebone or stone. Whalebone was favoured over wood as it didn’t crack or splinter, and it is likely that some of the Ngati Tumatakokiri had these; herd strandings of whales on the inside of the spit in Golden Bay, is relatively common.

In some districts patu are also known as ‘mere’, but in other parts this term is exclusively reserved for a patu made from pounamu.

Patu and mere have the end and sides sharpened, with a hole behind the handle part for a wrist loop.

This video demonstrates use of the Pouwhenua and Patu.


On the morning of December 19th, 1642, while the day was still young, nine boats full of Maori Warriors paddled towards two huge ships intending to engage their foe.

Whilst they were similar in numbers, the Maori were armed only with oars, sticks and clubs.

The two ships they were paddling towards were brimming with gunpowder and steel.


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The Maori were hopelessly out-gunned; literally.

While to the eyes of the Dutchmen the south-landers had only the most primitive of weapons, this did not make them harmless.

The Maori were fearless, ruthless, and magnificent strategists; as the British would repeatedly discover to their cost two hundred years later.

What the Ngati Tumatakokiri saw on the morning of December 19th, 1642

The ‘Duyfken’, a replica of the VOC vessel that first found Australia in 1606

The Duyfken is a ‘Yacht’ of the same prescription as the Heemskerck. It was a standard formula used by the VOC, and designed for use as a light warship. The Heemskerck had the same sail, deck and general layout as the Duyfken, but was 30% larger.

Apart from being slightly smaller, the Dufken is otherwise very similar to the Heemskerck. These images of the Duyfken replica allow us to understand what the Ngati Tumatakokiri found themselves looking at on the morning of December 19th, 1642.

Diary: Taupo Pa.

At first light the Chief had called the men together again.

Last night they had been out to the ships, but only in darkness. We know now that they are enemies, and we need to know more of them.

The chief said that now it was light he would make another visit, and this time they would see the enemy plainly.

He took just one boat, with twelve of our finest fighters, and went to have a proper look.

They weren’t gone too long.

They went right up to the ships, but this time nothing happened… there wasn’t any lightning, and there were no new surprises that we could see.

When they returned he told us of the enemy’s strength.

Replica of the VOC vessel 'Duyfken'

Approaching the stern of the Duyfken from water level.

Replica of the VOC vessel 'Duyfken'

The bow of the Duyfken

Replica of the VOC vessel 'Duyfken'

The stern of the Duyfken. Note the stern lantern

Replica of the VOC vessel 'Duyfken'

Looking onto the decks of the Duyfken

They had gone very close up to the ships, less than a stone’s throw away, so they could study them properly. They had exchanged words again, but it seemed that neither understood the other any better than they had done last night. The strangers hadn’t tried to scare them away this time.

Each ship has perhaps 50 or 60 men on it, they saw no women, and the men are of odd appearance. They wear clothes that cover them completely, except for their heads and hands. Their clothes were made from a soft material, again like tapa, and are of all the colours imaginable.

They have strangely pale skin, like the colour of someone who is unwell, and they are mostly a bit smaller than us, but definitely not any bigger.

Some of the men on the ships, but only a few, have shiny hats. These shine like the sun reflecting off a wave; such taonga probably marks them as Chiefs or lieutenants.

These men don’t look frightening when you see them properly in daylight; if anything, they appear rather weakly.

The whole size of the ships is about 50 steps long, and about 10 steps wide.

On each boat stand three huge posts, two taller, and one shorter. These are so big that they must each have been made from a single tree. The posts are held up with a lot of ropes coming down to the sides of the ships. The sails are tied to poles that are fixed to these posts, and the sails are bunched up very tightly on them. The sails do indeed look like they are made of tapa; they are not woven flax.

The ships’ hulls are made of many small pieces of wood, but the method if fixing them together is mysterious; perhaps they are tied on the inside somehow.

The front is slightly raised, but the stern is very high, and stands off the water as tall as five men. The sides are lowest along the middle part. At the lowest places the sides of the ships are still higher than a man can reach. It would be difficult to climb onto the ships, but this is possible where the ropes holding the posts are tied to the sides of the ship.

On the prow of the ships is a painted carving of their God, which we didn’t recognise.

All around on the inside, the men stand on raised platforms. These are at the correct height for fending off attackers. Some of the men held long pointed poles, taller than a man, which would be very good for reaching anyone trying to climb the sides; other men had waved shorter ones at them.

Each of the ships seems to have only one small boat, secured by a rope back to the ship. The small boats can hold perhaps 10 or 12 people sat side by side, with another in the steering position. They paddle with their backs to where they were going, which means that only the steersman can see what is happening ahead of them. These little boats can carry a lot, but they are slow and unsteady.

When the Chief had finished describing the enemy, talk turned to strategy and tactics, and our respective strengths and weaknesses.

There was also some talk of their magic.

We had seen their lightning last night, but not since, and while it was alarming, it didn’t seem dangerous. It was quickly dismissed; only small children were afraid of lightning.

It would be very hard to attack the main ships, and success was unlikely; the defenders had the higher and steadier positions. To attack you had to both climb and fight. You would be one armed, unsteady, and below them, exposed to their long poles.

The ships are good defensive positions; it would be like trying to attack a Pa, and there were enough of the strangers that they couldn’t be overwhelmed in a mass attack, as we could only climb on the ships in a few places at once.

We wouldn’t succeed in an attack the main ships, but their small boats are vulnerable. You can’t fight well in a single hull, it’s too unstable, but we can from our boats. Their little boats are slow to turn and slow to run; they are also exposed to being overturned. And their paddles are poor weapons; they are too long, heavy and unwieldy. Once we get in close, they cannot use them against us.

It was soon settled.

The chief announced that we will see if we can draw them out from the big ships into their little boats; if we can, then we will beat them easily on the water.

Dead is best, but hostages might be good too… though no-one knew quite what we would do with a hostage, since we can’t communicate with their relatives to make any bargain.

We will see if they still want to stay after they have seen some of their own blood.

Into darkness

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Diary: Taupo Pa.

We stared into the darkness, but couldn’t make anything out. There was some light from the moon, but not enough to see any detail. We knew where they were though, we could see the stars on the ships, but that was all.

All we knew was that our men had gone right up to the Spirit Ships, but beyond that, all detail was lost to the dark.

Looking towards Taupo Point from near Parapara

Looking west from the middle of Golden Bay 30 minutes after sunset

The night was calm and quiet; just a few birds and the faint slop of waves on the rocks below. Occasionally we thought we might have heard the muffled sound of a chant, but we couldn’t really tell. But we could sometimes hear a blast from the Pukaea.

Suddenly there was a flash of lightening from one of the ships, and then a sharp clap of thunder; then… nothing.

Some said they heard the the screams of the men, and a final woeful blast from the Pukaea, but I couldn’t be sure.

Then there was nothing, just the sounds of the night; the birds and the washing of the waves. It was fully dark. The stars were clear and bright… and the brightest two stars were right there, where the ships stood.

We didn’t know what had happened, and we didn’t know what to think.

Had they all been killed by the lightning?

I went with some of the others down to the beach where the boats were assembled, but nobody there knew any more than we did. Soon after we heard shouting; there were boats coming in! and to our great relief we heard the voices of our men returning.

Looking east from near Parapara 30 minutes after sunset

Looking east from the middle of Golden Bay 30 minutes after sunset

Fire on the beach in Golden Bay 2 hours after sunset

Fire on the beach in Golden Bay 2 hours after sunset

We gathered around the Chief, and in the firelight he told us what had happened.

They had rowed out to meet the strangers, but the strangers had turned away and run off before they met.

The chief wasn’t going to take that sort of rudeness, so they made chase, and were closing fast, but the strangers got back to their ships before they could be caught up.

He said they paddled their boats very strangely; with their backs to where they were going, which seemed very stupid, but that was what they’d seen. And their paddles went out sideways, instead of down into the water… even a child knows that’s silly. He also said their boats were too wide and too short and weren’t very fast; but he marvelled at the size of the trees that must have been used to make them.

On the back of each ship, high up, they have a star, captured in a snare. They also had some smaller stars which were somehow carried around the ships. Sometimes they saw the faces of the men lit up by these small stars, and they looked ghost-like, but that you couldn’t be sure about that as we all appear like that sitting under the moon at night.

We all coo-ed at such wonders.

The Chief had called out to the ships in the proper manner. He had said who he was, and who, and where he was from. He had named our river, and our mountain, that we were Ngati Tumatakokiri from the Kurahaupo, and that we had rightful mana whenua here.

The men on the Spirit Ships had called back, but the words could not be understood… but they were definitely men; this was certain. Even though it was dark there was enough light to know that these were men on those boats; not ghosts or monsters.

Contemporary Pukaea

Contemporary Pukaea

The Chief instructed a call on the Pukaea. If they did not understand our words, they would understand our Call: ‘We are here’… ‘We are already here’.

As visitors, at this they should be respectful, come humbly, and seek our permission to stay.

But they did not.

Instead, they mocked us with a call of their own. It was a different sound, a higher pitch, and with many variations, like a lower but very loud bird-song. Then, to insult us further, another joined from the other ship.

Such rudeness! Visitors showing such disrespect was never before known.

Our men were shouting their outrage, and the Pukaea was sounding hard when a bolt of lightning and thunder suddenly burst from one of the ships. It was so loud that it scared a shoal right out of the water; all around they heard the fish splashing.

Our men had roared in defiance. But then, as it was full dark, and seeing they would get no satisfaction this evening, the Chief ordered them back.

When he finished speaking we still sat there, mesmerised.

The Tohunga then spoke about the magic; the ships, the sails, the captured stars, and the lightning and thunder. There were many stories, old stories, of similar magic, though none here had seen anything remotely similar… and none of it really helped.

What we now know is that these are men, not Gods or ghouls, and that they have not come with good purpose.

They have wonderful magic and sorcery, but they are still men; men with slow boats.

This is our rightful place. They have no business here except by our invitation, and we do not extend it.

More men had arrived than last time I was on the beach. Everyone is here. There are now more boats than I had even seen in one place before. They are still working on some of the boats. Those that have been paired in the past and can be fastened together quickly, are being made ready for fighting.

In the morning, we will tell the strangers that they are not welcome here, and must leave. If they do not leave, then we will help them change their minds.

The men were being organised into crews, and a few of the women stepped forward too.

We began to prepare ourselves. If it comes to it, we will fight tomorrow.

I will be in one of the boats.

Danger in the Bay

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Tasman's anchorage and the nearest Maori occupation areas

Tasman’s anchorage and the nearest Maori occupation areas

Diary: Taupo Pa.

We were all awake by first light.

We went to the lookout to see for ourselves what was happening.

With the light, the stars had transformed back into ships again, and they were still there, in the same place.

It seemed a long time before they started moving, but when they did, they didn’t turn away as we had hoped, they kept coming towards us, to the very end of Onetahua and then beyond.

For a while there was great excitement. The Spirit Ships continued to sail east, well past the point where you turn to come into the Bay, and we thought they were making for Rangitoto.

But that turned out to be wrong. Instead of continuing to the east, they suddenly turned, and came into the Bay.

Now, everything became more urgent… they are coming!

We carried more water into the Pa and filled everything we had; others were stockpiling firewood, and some were strengthening the palisade.

All the time we heard news from the lookout. The ships were in the Bay, but moving very slowly.

At the middle of the day two small boats came from the big ones; one from each. These ships were so big that they had their own boats! Some said the Spirit Boats had spawned young.

Throughout the day, more men, and more boats were arriving. They came from further round the bay, coming closer to where the danger was.

There were a lot of people to feed.

There was an ongoing hui on the shore as the men gave their opinions, heard the chiefs, and discussed what to do. Counsel was sought from the Kaumatua and Tohungas who gave their wisdom on the happenings of before, and on the spirits and omens.

In the late afternoon the wind stopped. The big ships stopped moving, and as the sun set, their sails disappeared. But the small boats still came on.

The ships were close enough now to see them better. They were so big! As the men had said, they were very wide, and they were very high. It was impossible for them to stay upright without some sort of charm.

They were so wide it looked like they had a wall built around them; the height of three or four men. And the sails… if they were truly made of tapa, then it seemed like all the tapa in the world was on those ships. There was some movement on the ships, but they were still too far away for even the sharpest eyed of us to make out exactly what it was. Some thought they might be floating islands.

As it grew later the small boats were still getting closer, and now we thought that we could see men in them. Men, not monsters. But what manner of men, that could summon such magic, we had no idea.

Then it was decided. We would go to meet them on the water. It was better to meet them there than let their magic come ashore, especially as it was coming on dark. We did not want their magic loose in the darkness. We did not want them among us when we couldn’t see them.

So two boats went out to meet them, one of ours for each of theirs.

Two wakas at sunset. The location and photographer are unknow

Two wakas at sunset. The location and photographer are unknown

Two boats was fair. It was an appropriate meeting party. It made no threat, but equally it conceded nothing.

We could have sent far more, but that would be threatening, and we don’t know yet what other powers they possess. It was also thought unwise to show our full force until we know more of theirs.

The two boats would go out to the visitors to discover their intent and hear their Pepeha; two boats filled with our strongest and bravest.

Two other fast boats stood in the water, crewed and at the ready in case they were needed.

As our men moved towards them, the Spirit Ships’ boats turned, and starting making their way back. We thought ours might come back too, on account of the closing darkness, but they didn’t.

We watched as our men followed them on, closing, and then in the failing light… they went right up to the Spirit Ships.

How brave they were, and how proud we were of them.

As they disappeared into darkness, we prayed for their safety, and the Tohunga made his enchantments.

Spirit ships

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Looking towards Taupo Point from near Parapara

Looking towards Taupo Point from near Parapara

Diary: Taupo Pa, Mohua

Yesterday was just a normal summer day. It was beautiful; sunny, warm and calm.

We were busy weeding the kumara fields, the children were playing in the sea, and the men were fishing and making.

But today, everything has changed.

First thing this morning there was shouting. There was smoke coming from above Puponga.

The signal fires were lit!

We could see the smoke across the bay, but had no idea what the danger was, except that it was serious. Smoke from the Puponga hills had to be serious.

We have our own people in both directions from the Bay; to Rangitoto in the East, and to Hokitika down the coast. People often pass this way, most often our own, and they use our Bay to refresh themselves either before or after travelling the west coast. Sometimes there are people from other tribes. They have already passed many of our own to get here, so we are cautious, but don’t expect trouble from them. They explain who they are and their purpose, and make their oblations. They take only what they need, and no more. Then they go, usually in pursuit of stones; Pounamu and Pahautane.

People trading or travelling come along the coast; it is the safe way. It is dangerous to cross the open sea, and anyone doing so is either foolish or of foul purpose. If someone wanted to sneak up on us, then they would come from the open sea; from Taranaki, or Whanganui.

That’s why we have the watchers. And this morning, they have lit the fires.

Some of the men took off in boats, to see the people further around the Bay and find out what was happening. We could only sit and wait and wonder.

Soon enough the messages were coming back from across the Bay, and down from up the hill.

Two boats have been seen, coming from Whanganui. This would normally be cause enough for concern; attacks have come from the Whanganui direction in the past, but this news was even more alarming.

They are not ordinary boats. They are Spirit Ships, or the work of some powerful sorcery.

The men say boats are very very big, much longer than anything we have ever seen, and very, very fat. They say the boats must be enchanted as they stand very high above the water, but they don’t tip over, even though they have just a single hull, without any outriggers or anything else to hold them upright.

They had been seen at dawn by the sentries near Wharariki and the others along the Puponga ridge.

The boats had come towards them and then turned towards the sun, which lit their enormous sails. The sails are so white it seems like they are made of tapa… but no tapa can be made that strong. The sails are very high and very wide, and they are squares which go sideways across the boats, not triangles along their length like ours.

The men say they do not know how these sails can make the boats move, or how they are pushed so high, or why the wind doesn’t overturn them.

People from the tops above Wainui and Taupo said the boats were moving slowly along Onetahua and would reach the end by nightfall.

They could be in the Bay any time after that.

Early Maori settlement in Golden Bay

Early Maori settlements in Golden Bay

By the evening we could see them from our hill, but we couldn’t make out any detail. They were just two marks on the horizon, a little back from the point of the spit and as far out to sea.

At night the two boats turned into stars, but the stars didn’t move.

Nobody knows what they are or what it means, though there are many stories starting; stories of goblins and fairy folk and taniwha, of witchcraft and sorcery, ghosts and spirits … but nobody knows.

Runners have gone up the valley, and over the hill, boats have gone around to our cousins at Totaranui and to the bays between and beyond. Word will reach Motueka and Whakatu soon.

We have moved the small children and the old ones out to the Pa at Taupo point, and are moving our Taonga, and food there as fast as we can. The Pa is a good place if trouble comes into the Bay. There are two ways to run, if that’s what we have to do; we can flee into the Bay, or away from it.

Taupo Pa

The Pa at Taupo Point, drawn in 1844.
Citation: Messenger, Arthur Herbert, 1877-1962. Messenger, Arthur Herbert 1877-1962 :Taupo, Massacre Bay. 1921 [i.e 1844]. Ref: A-173-015. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand

The men are assembling with their weapons, and are getting the best boats together. They are working as fast as they can to make them ready and are lashing more into pairs; they are better for fighting from like that.

All around the Bay the other families are doing the same; at Tata, Parapara, Aorere, Pakawau and Puponga.

There will be sentries on the lookout all night, so we won’t be taken by surprise, but I don’t think we will sleep much anyway.

What do they want with us? Will they go past, or will they come in? Will they come in the dark? Will there be fighting? Will we all be killed… or taken?

May the spirits of our ancestors keep us safe.


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“we saw no human beings nor any smoke rising; nor can the people here have any boats, since we did not see any signs of them”

Range of the Ngati Tumatakokiri

Range of the Ngati Tumatakokiri

Whilst Tasman may have seen no signs of people, they were there. The North and West coasts of the South Island had been occupied for a long time, and in many locations.

The Waitaha people had been there since at least the thirteenth century and were displaced by the Ngati Wairangi and others, who in turn were displaced in the mid sixteenth century by the Ngati Tumatakokiri; descendants of the Kurahaupo voyagers. In time the Ngati Tumatakokiri too fell to other invaders.

Archaeological evidence shows that the whole North facing coast was occupied with settlements in every significant bay and at every major river mouth.

From Tasman Bay and Golden Bay the Ngati Tumatakokiri expanded their influence and control down the West Coast, and inland up the principal rivers.

They controlled a huge area rich with important stone and food resources.

On the West Coast was the highly prized aromatic herb ‘kakara taramea’ which gave its name to the Karamea River, the settlement at the river mouth, and the whole Karamea Bight.

South of Cape Foulwind was Pahautane, origin of a particularly hard flint, and south of that was the settlement at the Hokitika River mouth where they found Pounamu; Greenstone. This beautiful and durable stone was admired above all others, and was traded the length and breadth of the country.

The Kawatiri river gave them access to Lakes Rotoiti and Rotoroa which were brimming with fish and waterfowl. The bluffs to the north of Lake Rotoiti gave them another source of Argillite, otherwise found on Rangitioto (D’Urville Island).

All the major rivers gave them access to the interior, and moa.

Site of the Kawatiri excavations

Site of the Kawatiri excavations

Archaeological excavations at Kawatiri (Westport) reveal occupation beginning in the early 14th century. Carbon dating of items from the site shows that it was in continuous, or near continuous occupation from that time on.

There were people at Kawatiri when Abel Tasman’s two ships sailed past.

The people living at Kawatiri were industrious, and either travelled great distances for resources, or traded widely, or both.

The settlement site was a lagoon just inside the Kawatiri (Buller) River mouth, which is now greatly reduced by silt build-up due to improvements to the river’s flow made to make Westport Harbour more accessible. The site was also much closer to the shoreline than at present due to sand accretion on the ocean beach over the intervening period.

Part of a waka prow found on Farewell Spit

Part of a waka prow found on Farewell Spit

The Ngati Tumatakokiri were living there when Abel Tasman passed by, and despite what he wrote, they did have boats. At that time all Maori had boats.

New Zealand was settled by people who came in boats from the central pacific. It was settled first around the coast, then up the rivers and only after that did some Maori become completely land-bound.

The Maori had no pack animals; no horses, donkeys, or mules, and no wheel. Apart from walking with your load on your back, boats were their only transport.

The Maori used boats for fishing, for carrying people and produce, and for trade; and trade they did.

Boats were how they moved around… and were how they moved things around.

The excavations at Kawatiri revealed large deposits of stone chips left over from adze making, and much of this came from remarkably distant sources.

Sources of the stone used for adze making at Katawiri

Sources of the stone used for adze making at Kawatiri

Pounamu came from Hokitika and further down the west coast, Pahautane flint from between Kawatiri and Māwhera (Greymouth). Argillite from the Marlborough sounds and by Lake Rotoiti, Limestone Flint from the east coast, Silcrete from Central Otago, and Obsidian from the Coromandel Peninsula and particularly Mayor Island (the Maori call Mayor Island “Tuhua”, their word for Obsidian).

Stone is heavy, and the Maori had only 2 choices; either to carry it on their backs, or put it in boats. There is no doubt whatsoever that most of the stone used at Kawatiri was carried there in boats. In the case of the Obsidian, it was the only way.

Between noon on Dec 15th and noon December 16th Tasman sailed right across the Karamea bight, and past another site of significant occupation. At the Karamea River mouth is a huge field of mizzens; old waste pits. Only a few of these have been explored, but the remains subjected to carbon dating show occupation from the thirteenth century onwards, though it is unclear if settlement was continuous, or halted around the early 1600’s. Certainly the site was occupied when European settlers arrived as the location drew the name ‘Maori Point’.

At noon of December 16th Tasman’s ships passed the entrance to the Heaphy River, another site frequented by the Maori. But as with the Karamea site it isn’t known with any certainty if there was anyone actually at the Heaphy site at that time.

Tasman said there were no people there, but at the time Kawatiri was well established as a settlement, not a transient hunting location.

Whilst it might have been difficult to see the Heemkerck or the Zeehaen, from Karamea or Heaphy, they could easily have been seen from the dune tops at Kawatiri.

The Three Steeples from the mouth on the Buller River

The Three Steeples from the mouth on the Buller River

On the morning of Dec 15th, Tasman was off the Three Steeples. He recorded that “one mile west of this point we could sound no bottom.”

In that position he was 2 Dutch myles from the dune tops next to where the Tumatakokiri lived. His ships would appear about as prominent on the horizon as those rocks. If there was anyone looking, they would have been noticed. At that distance they would be clearly distinguishable as two vessels. An observer with keen eyesight could count the sails.

We don’t know if they were seen that day; no sighting of strange ships has survived into the contemporary oral tradition. It might have been remembered in the Ngati Tumatakokiri tradition, but that was lost with their demise. All that we know for certain is that it was perfectly possible for Tasman’s ships to be seen.

Two days later however, they were seen, … and of that, there is no doubt whatsoever.


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Journey of the Ngati Tumatakokiri to the South Island

Journey of the Ngati Tumatakokiri to the South Island

Diary. To Arapaoa

We sailed down the coast, always close enough to see it, but well clear of the reefs and breakers. Where we were going we would should never be out of sight of land.

As we went south, we kept the main land on our left and headed to the gap between the land and the big island they call Kapiti. Past kapiti we could see high land to the south west. That was where we were going.

We kept going until this land was to our west and then turned to it. It wasn’t too far across, but we had been warned to be careful. The water between the main land and Te Tau Ihu could be very dangerous. It was called ‘Te Moana-a-Raukawa’.

It would only take a few hours to cross, but the water could get very rough with a strong current, and the weather could change quickly, taking all land from sight and sweeping us away.

The men said it was a good day to cross, and soon enough we were looking up at steep tree covered hills and along a rocky shoreline. We sailed on for a while along a narrow passage, before seeing a good landing place where we beached the boats.

The men scouted the land while we prepared food.

We unwrapped and dried our Kumara, then carefully re-wrapped it. They still looked good. The weather here is warm, and there is plenty of sheltered north facing land. Soon we will burn some fields and plant the seeds.

We have found that we are on a big island, Arapaoa. The land beyond is very big indeed.

The earliest settlers in the top of the South Island were the Hāwea and Waitaha, and they had their roots in antiquity, counting the ‘fairy people’; Tūtūmaiao, Maeroro, Tūrehu, and Patupaiarehe among their ancestors.

The Ngati Mamoe, another Kurahaupo group left Heretaunga and settled the northern areas of Te Tau Ihu beginning a slow migration drift south for these original peoples. They were displaced by incoming tribes.

First came the Ngāti Wairangi, from the Whanganui district, who lived in western Mōhua. Then came the Kurahaupo people; first the Ngati Mamoe, then Ngai Tara, Ngati Tumatakokiri, and Rangitane. At each new wave of settlement the original tribes were pushed further south.

Tribes from the North Island were attracted to this region because of its minerals such as Argillite, and Pounamu, premium resources for tools and weapons. The area was also rich with local foods; seafood, sea birds, water fowl, eels and up the rivers; moa.

The history of the top of the South Island reveals a continuous series of invasions from tribes from the North.

Not all tribes were completely displaced. The Ngāti Kuia remained and integrated with successive immigrant groups; Ngāti Wairangi, the Ngāti Kopia, the Ngāti Haua, the Ngāi Tawake, the Ngāti Whakamana, the Ngā Te Heiwi and the Ngāti Tumatakokiri.

Diary. Leaving Arapaoa

We have stayed here a long time but must move on. Our cousins the Ngai Tara claim this land is their Rohe, and we are not strong enough to fight them for it. To the east are our other cousins from the Kurahaupo, the Rangitane… so we will go west. There are only a few people there. Some are Ngati Mamoe, also of the Kurahaupo and Heretaunga, and there are some others. The Waitaha have been there longer.

There is plenty of room for us there, and we are many and strong. There is a big bay there called Mohua that has good kai moana, it is warm with a fertile plain behind it and beyond that are big forests full of moa.

In Mohua we will have the fruits of the sea, and good land for our crops. It will be a good place.

Journey of the Ngati Tumatakokiri to Mohua (Golden Bay)

Journey of the Ngati Tumatakokiri to Mohua (Golden Bay)

The Ngai Tara had held some presence in the Marlborough sounds from soon after their arrival in Te Whanganui a Tara (Wellington Harbour); it was close, and lay in plain sight of their southern coast.

Over time they asserted their occupation right over the Ngati Tumatakokiri, and this appears to have been resolved without conflict. There is no record of fighting between the Ngati Tumatakokiri and either Ngai Tara or Rangitane; indeed they all acted together against enemies in the Blenheim area.

Our understanding of the timeline for the migration of the Ngati Tumatakokiri is in some respects incomplete. We don’t know exactly when they left the Taupo area, descended the River Road and moved on to the Marlborough sounds. Nor do we know how long they stayed at Arapaoa before moving to Mohua (Golden Bay).

We do however know that they were firmly established in Mohua in the Sixteenth century. But they may have been in the region a lot longer.

A drawing by Isaac Gilsemans, on the Zeehaen, shows Maori boats in Golden Bay; one in significant detail. These were double hulled vessels in the Polynesian tradition. Abel Tasman’s journal text records that two of these multi-hull boats hoisted sails.

These are important details. It shows that the Ngati Tumatakokiri still retained Polynesian sailing knowledge, and still used their boats rigged in pairs on the sea.

If the move between Heretaunga and Whanganui had taken longer than a generation, then this knowledge, and the ability to sail these boats, would have been lost at Taupo; there is no need for ocean sailing skills or technology there. It would not have been practised and therefore couldn’t be passed to the next generation. So the journey from Heretaunga to Whanganui must have occurred within a generation. At least one person who knew how to build and sail multi-hull boats must have reached the west coast, because these skills survived into the 17th century in Golden Bay.

Regarding the time spent in the Marlborough sounds there is another indicator. Tumatakokiri (Whatonga’s son) had a grandson called Nukuwaiata, and this name is memorialised as an island between D’urville Island and Arapaoa.

The Ngati Tumatakokiri could have been at the north of the South Island as early as three generations after the arrival of the Kurahaupo.

Mohua bird

The area ‘Mohua’ takes its name from this bird that was abundant in the top of the South Island until the 19th Century.

Diary. Mohua

Here in Mohua we have a good life. The mountains behind the plains are very high, and shelter us from the bad westerly weather. The bay is full of kai moana, and our Kumara grow well here.

The men used to chase moa out of the forest onto Onetahua (farewell spit) where they were trapped, but now they have to go up the rivers to find them.

There is always great feasting when they return.

Our people are spread out a long way now, south, east and west. They are up the valley, out to the ocean side, south to Katawiri and well beyond. The people in the south visit us by boat, or on foot, as there is a way to the west coast through the mountains.

When they come to trade they bring Pounamu… it is a wonder to look on and very hard. It is better than our pakohe for some things. Our pakohe fractures to a very sharp edge, but it is brittle in comparison to Pounamu and difficult to work. Often, just as the tool is nearly finished the stone will fracture the wrong way, and has to be thrown away.

Pounamu is beautiful and a good stone for working wood, but it takes a long time to grind a good edge.

We trade them Pakohe and Kumara for the green stone. They can’t grow Kumara south of this valley.

Working with Pounamu

From Te Papa. Dante Bonica, an expert in stone tools, demonstrates the shaping and polishing of pounamu. Auckland, July 2009 (Click to run the video).

This video shows Pounamu being worked. It includes demonstrations of the tools used for shaping the stone. These are similar to the tools used for cutting and drilling timber. The video also shows a piece of Argillite being fractured to create a cutting edge.

Rohe of the Ngati Tumatakokiri

Rohe of the Ngati Tumatakokiri

In Golden Bay, the Ngati Tumatakokiri flourished. By the time Abel Tasman arrived, the Ngāti Tūmatakōkiri, commanded a huge territory from the north-eastern Tasman Bay, to Cape Farewell, and down the West Coast to beyond Greymouth. Inland their range included the land up the Buller river to Lake Rotoiti and Lake Rotoroa and in the south, Lake Brunner.

The Ngāti Tūmatakōkiri were dominant for approximately two hundred years, but around 1810 they eventually fell to attacks from surrounding tribes; Ngāi Tahu from the West Coast, Ngāti Kuia and Rangitāne from the east and Ngāti Apa from the north.

The Ngāti Tūmatakōkiri was finally conquered after battles in the Parapoa Range. The surviving members were either taken into slavery, or dispersed… and with that their oral history was mostly lost.


Onetahua: Farewell Spit, means ‘heaped up sand’.
Te Tau Ihu: The top of the South Island.
Katawiri: Westport.
Pakohe: Argillite, a hard stone that fractures to a sharp edge.
Pounamu: Nephrite jade, also commonly called ‘Greenstone’
Kai moana: Seafood.


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The boulder bar at the mouth of the Wairau river.

The boulder bar at the mouth of the Wairau river.

It’s not much to look at, but Wairau is probably the most important archaeological site in New Zealand.

It is the location of the oldest known settlement, and also the location of the oldest human remains yet discovered.

Interest in the site originated in 1939 when schoolboy Jim Eyles found some old bones. He had come across an ‘Urupa’, or burial ground. He discovered more in 1942, and this attracted academic interest. In 1942, Roger Duff began what would be a prolonged series of investigations on the Wairau Bar. In his excavations, 2000 items were removed to the Canterbury, including more than 40 skeletons.

The Wairau bar occupation site

The Wairau bar occupation site

The site, now a long boulder spit, used to be an island, and was home to a significant village. The Urupa was separated from the dwellings by about 60m. The site comprises; building footprints, ovens, waste pits, and adze work sites, and covers about 11 hectares (≈3 acres). More than 60 grave sites have been exposed, containing precious items as well as the individuals’ remains.

Of the 2,000 items catalogued, three are of particular interest; tattoo chisels, a shell tool, and argillite adze heads.

The tattoo chisels demonstrate that this was a settlement with ordered society, not just a place of occasional repose occupied during seasonal food gathering. Tattoo tools meant that there were people there of various ages, young and older, and that they observed religious and customary practises. This was a centre of settlement, not a food gathering outpost.

The shell tool is made from ‘Acus crenulatus’. This a gastropod species found in Polynesia, but exotic to New Zealand; it had been carried to the Wairau Bar from Polynesia. One edge of the shell is sharpened for cutting. It is not known if it was carried by the original owner, or by a close descendant, but the former is quite likely; as such tools have a limited useful lifespan.

The Wairau Bar site was established; either by original Polynesian immigrants, or their very close descendants.

The Argillite adze heads are interesting in several respects; there are so many of them, there is no argillite source within 100 km; and the style of the adze head is Polynesian, not the evolved Maori form.

Carbon dating of the human remains confidently ages them at 1290 AD +/- 10 years. This is the earliest secure dating of any New Zealand colonisation.


The skeletons of a kiwi, ostritch and moa

The locality, at the mouth of the Wairau River provided the population with a wide variety of food. Immediately to hand there was fur seal, fish, shellfish, eels and water fowl. The Wairau river also gave them access to the interior of the South Island, where the flightless giant moa roamed in abundance.

Moa bones and eggs were also found within some of the grave sites. The moa became extinct within about a century of human arrival, so their presence in the graves suggests that these graves are either those of a founding population, or one that was only descended a very few generations from the founding population.

The other evidence suggesting that this settlement was Polynesian, or immediately following, comes from DNA analysis of the remains. The complete genome of four individuals was extracted. It shows that three of the four individuals had no common recent maternal ancestor.

These individuals were only distantly related. If they were the offspring of a local population, then they would be very closely related. This further suggests that the occupants of the voyaging waka’s were deliberately selected from diverse family groups.

Adze head mounted on a contemporary shaft

An adze head mounted on a contemporary shaft

69 adzes were found at the Wairau Bar site. The huge number of stone chips suggests that adze making was an industry, not simply manufacture for their own use. It is estimated that about 12,000 adze heads were made there; astonishingly, most were made from stone from distant sources.

Most adzes were made from Argillite. The closest sources for this are the eastern side of D’Urville island, up the Wairau River, near Lake Rotorua. Three of the adzes were made of Greenstone from the West Coast of the South Island, and one was of Tahanga basalt, from the Coromandel. There were also Chert chips from Kaikoura.

This indicates that either the Wairau Bar population travelled extensively around both the North and South Islands, or that stone was brought to them and traded. Either way, even though the total population was very small, large distances were routinely travelled to acquire or trade significant resources.

Adzes were essential for shaping wood, and for the making of boats. They were also required for Moa hunting. The rubbish pits contained the remains of over 4,000 moa.

The Wairau Bar location is an extraordinary source of information about New Zealand’s first settlers, and how they lived. What has been learned about archaic settlement could not have been achieved without the extraordinary assistance of the local tribe; Rangitāne o Wairau.

Maori hold their ‘tupuna’, their ancestors, in the highest regard, and their remains and relics are revered and most sacred. They are not normally given up to be poked and prodded by curious Europeans.
The Rangitāne o Wairau however, gave permission for some of these relics to be forensically examined… even though this would require their partial destruction. From this we have learned an enormous range of detail about where these people came from, what they ate, and what their lives were like. It was a most remarkable gift.

In 2009 the remains of 41 individuals were returned to the Rangitane o Wairau after many years at the Canterbury Museum. The Rangitane o Wairau recognised them as ‘tupuna’, ancestors, , and re-interred them with utmost reverence.

The tribe ‘Rangitane o Wairau ‘ takes its name from Rangitane, the grandson of Whatonga. The Rangitane occupied the area in the 1500’s; prior to that it was occupied by Ngati Mamoe, and Ngai Tara.

All three tribes descend from the occupants of the Kurahaupo.

Wairau location map

Wairau location map

The Wairau river, and surrounding plains were within easy reach of any population in the Wellington area. From the Harbour, ‘Te Whanganui a Tara’, you followed the coast west, then cut across the narrowest part of Cook Strait ( just 22km) to Arapawa Island in the Marlborough Sounds. Then, you followed the coast South until you met the river mouth. The Wairau is the first major river you meet, and this gives access to the interior of the South Island, and to the moa.

In fair conditions this could be achieved in a single day’s sailing.

Even before settling on the Bar, there would had been regular expeditions up the Wairau River by the Wellington population, to exploit the moa resource.

We do not know, but it is perfectly possible that the Wairau bar was occupied by people that had travelled with Tara from Heretaunga to Mirimar. Among them could have been ‘originals’ that had voyaged from Ra-iatea, on the Kurahaupo.