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First People in Te Waipounamu 

The first Polynesian people to settle the South Island Aotearoa, New Zealand arrived from Hawaiki between 1250 and 1300AD. The oral histories tell of Rākaihautu and his family from the Waitaha tribe, who voyaged by Uruao (a sea canoe) by navigating the stars to Te Waipounamu. 

After arriving in Whakatū (Nelson) in the South Island, the group split into two groups, with Rakaihautū leading one to Foveaux Strait. Rakaihautū dug out many of the lakes and rivers around the South Island. When he finished creating all of this, he rested his kō (his lake digging stick) on top of a Mountain, which was named Tuhiraki. 



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Exploring the Maniototo

After Māori settled on the coast of the South Island, Maori soon began exploring inland to make use of all the resources offered. The Waihemo River was one of the known trails leading into the Ida Valley from the Shag River Mouth Village in the 14th Century. The Ida Valley and Central Otago was a mahinga kai area with the collecting of food and stone common during the warmer seasons, with the colder seasons spent on the coast. 

Fire was used by Māori and this changed the landscape from woody vegetation to grasslands. Grasses such as Chionchola rubra, C. rigida and C. macra tussock took over the land and the land was known as Maniototo or Plains of Blood from the red colour of these tussocks. Archaeologists have found evidence of early Māori using the area around Oturehua for finding food and raw materials. Fire was used draw out large game birds such as Moa and these fires could rage out of control and lead to large amounts of deforestation in the Waipounamu (South Island). 


Silvery Cotton Plant, Celmisia semicordata Petrie, collected February 1913, Buckland Peaks, South of Westport., New Zealand. CC BY 4.0. Te Papa (SP003293)

Pātearoa (Rock and Pillar) is a significant place for Waitaha, Kāti Mamoe and Kāi Tahu iwi with taoka (artefacts) being found in the area. While coastal areas of the South Island were used for areas for pā sites, the interior was useful as a place for hunting eels, catching birds and many people travelled through the area to acquire material such as stone and pounamu.

The wider Strath Taieri was a place of mahinga kai where resources such as harakeke (flax) and tī kōuka (cabbage tree) with the stems and roots of tī kōuka cooked and eaten. Both of these plants leaves were made into pāraerae (sandals) that protected feet against the rough terrain.  Māori valued various plant species that grew within the area such as taramea (wild Spaniard), tikumu (mountain daisy), and tauhinu (cottonwood). They also used silcrete rock, which was used for large knives, found throughout the Strath Taieri and Maniototo areas. These knives were likely used in moa and seal hunting, and are found in many historic sites throughout southern New Zealand.

Te Paruparu-a-Te-Kaunia (the Great Moss Swamp), which is situated on the Rock and Pillar range, was important with animals hunted for food such as ducks and weka. Tikumu (Celmisia) was used for special korowai (cloak), which grows on the slopes of Patearoa, and speargrass oil (Taramea), which was known for its distinctive perfume, could also be sourced in the area.  


Kakahu tikumu - mountain-daisy cloak


Krzysztof Golik, CC BY-SA 4.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons

Rockshelters in the Schist

Visible along the trail north of Alexandra are numerous outcrops of schist rock that have the shape and development of tors and naturally formed rockshelters (small caves and overhangs) that have historically been used by both moa and Māori moa-hunters passing through the area. This site in particular has some nice examples of modern day rockshelters that are evidently used by skinks, birds, paper wasps and rabbits today, and are broadly similar to those in which moa and other extinct animal remains have been found around the region.

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Figure 21: A small rockshelter in the schist beside the trail near Alexandra. Internship Report by Jenny Stein. Location: North of Alexandra (375693 m E, 4988883 m S; UTM Zone 59G)

There have been many disociveries in the Maniototo. Hover over the triangles to see a sample of discoveries. 

How do they know?


Found from Rockshelter or cleft near Hyde: large hanks of cord, tapa cloth, strips of Hoheria spp, bark, woven sash and matting. 

Found in Middlemarch: roll of Hoheria spp. tapa.

Found Rock and Pillar: Wooden bowl, wooden club.

Found Patearoa: patu

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