Motueka’s First Harbour


One Place, Many Names

Manuka's Bush, The Kumaras, Raumanuka, Murphy's Harbour, and Te Kumara are all the same place: the area at the end of what is now Staples Street that served as Motueka’s harbour until 1856.

How can one place have so many names? Here are some of the answers to that question.

Cairn marking the location of the original harbour. Photo supplied by author
Click image to enlarge

The Kumaras/ Te Kūmara

By the 1840's Māori were cultivating both traditional crops like kūmara as well as European crops.1 kūmara had long been a staple in the Māori diet and an extensive crop had been planted sometime before the arrival of the European settlers.

The crops may have had the distinction of lending their name to the place, but they were not the most distinct thing about it. It was not the kūmara or even the old wakas and carvings strewn along the foreshore that stood out most to early European settlers. It was the smell: the pungent smell of drying fish.2

Eels and whitebait were caught in the river and other fish were also brought back from the fishing grounds at Astrolabe. The day's catch was hung outside over poles to dry and the fish would later be rehydrated and boiled before eating.3

Manuka's Bush/Raumanuka

In 1842 one of the earliest settlers to the region, Captain Frederick Moore, built himself a wooden jetty at the harbour. Moore never had legal title to the land he occupied,4 but he was allowed to use it, mainly because he was married to a Te Ati Awa woman named Paru.5 He eventually fell out of favour with his in-laws for selling off subsections.6

Moore's wooden jetty stood among some very tall manuka trees.7 The trees were so tall they could be seen from Riwaka and, it is because of these trees, that the harbour became known as Manuka's Bush and Raumanuka.

The original harbour at low tide. Photo supplied by author
Click image to enlarge

Murphy's Harbour

The final appellation, Murphy's Harbour, gets its name from Captain Moore's Irish boatman, Murphy. Murphy had a boat shed at the end of the road leading up to the harbour and locals often referred to the area as ‘Murphy’s boat shed and harbour’ which was often just shortened to ‘Murphy’s Harbour’.8

By 1856 the harbour had silted up too much and a new wharf was built one mile south at Doctor's Creek.9 The first harbour remained a popular fishing spot into the 1920s and 1930s but, by the 1980s, there were complaints that the area was nothing more than a rubbish dump. 10 Efforts to clean it up were started,11 and today it is part of the Raumanuka Reserve.


Based on research compiled for an upcoming exhibition at the Motueka District Museum by Joanna Szczepanski 2012


Sources used in this story

  1. Challis, A.J. (1978) Motueka: An Archaeological Survey. Auckland: Longman Paul Ltd. p. 8; Mitchell, H. & J. (2007) Te Tau Ihu O Te Waka A History of Maori of Nelson and Marlborough. Volume II: Te Ara Hou- The New Society. Wellington, Huia Publishers. p. 306; Allan, R. (1965) Nelson: A history of early settlement. Wellington: A.H. & A.W. Reed. p. 215; McAloon, Jim (1997) Nelson: A regional history. Whatamango Bay: Cape Catley Ltd. p. 39
  2. Challis, p. 8; Washbourn, E. (1970) Courage and Camp Ovens: Five Generations at Golden Bay.  Wellington: A.H. & A.W. Reed. p. 27
  3. Challis, p. 8; Washbourn p.27
  4. Lash, M. (1992) Nelson Notables 1840-1940: A Dictionary of Regional Biography. Nelson: Nelson Historical Society. p. 110-111
  5. Mitchell, p. 307; Holyoake, F. (1985, April) Fascinating history of the Kumaras. Historic Motueka. Motueka Golden Bay News. p. 3.
  6. Astwood, K. (2009, September 8) New Zealand Historic Places Trust Registration Report for a Historic Place: Motueka Wharf (Former) and Memorial.
  7. Murray, H. N. (1973?) Riwaka and Motueka: Note on the early history. Unpublished manuscript., Holyoake 1985
  8. Murray
  9. Holyoake (1985); Holyoake, F.(1990, May 2) ‘History of wharf’. Historic Motueka. Motueka Golden Bay News.
  10. Holyoake (1985) 
  11. Holyoake (1985)

Want to find out more about the Motueka’s First Harbour ? View Further Sources here.

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  • Well done Joanna. If this is a taste of the content in the upcoming exhibition, I can't wait to come and learn more when it opens.

    Posted by Lois Walker, ()

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Further sources - Motueka’s First Harbour




  • History of wharf (1990, May 2) Historic Motueka. Motueka Golden Bay News. May 2. 
  • Holyoake, Fergus (1985) ‘Fascinating history of the Kumaras’. Historic Motueka. Motueka Golden Bay News. April 3.
  • Murray, H.N. Motueka place names (1973) Journal of the Nelson Historical Society, 2 (6), p.32



  • Murray, H. N. (1973?) Riwaka and Motueka: Note on the early history. Unpublished manuscript [held Motueka and District Historical Association Collection]

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