Wakapuaka - Rotokura


Wakapuaka is an ancient name;  Kupe bestowed the name on the area because it reminded him of a fishing ground of that name in Hawaiki.

Early Settlers at Rotokura
Rotokura, at the Maheipuku (Pepin Island) end of the boulder bank at Cable Bay, was home to a small kainga about 600+ years ago, in the Archaic or Moa-hunter era.

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Cable Bay. Image supplied by author

Large quadrangular argillite adzes, typical of the Archaic period, some greywacke adzes, “large, often long argillite flake knives for cutting up moa flesh and dismembering seals”, one-piece moa bone bait hooks, and fishing lure shanks made of bone and stone were found on site.  The residents or seasonal campers had a wide variety of protein available, including three distinct moa – the small Northern Bush Moa, a large moa (dinornis torosus), once believed to be extinct before Māori arrived, and Megalapteryx, like a giant kiwi and usually associated with the southern part of the South Island.  Extinct birds such as a swan, a goose, a duck and a little weka were also eaten.

There were remnants of shellfish in the midden at Rotokura, but not in quantities seen in later sites, and indications of a wide range of fish, with snapper the dominant species.  Both land and seabirds were eaten, with spotted shag appearing most frequently, along with kiwi, a number of penguin species, shearwaters, ducks, weka, kererū, kaka, tui and even a takahe.  Seals (fur seals, sea lions, leopard seal and possibly an elephant seal) had been eaten, as well as kurī (the Polynesian dog).

A Later Kainga
A later layer in the midden, dated from the Classic Māori (pre-European) period indicates significant changes in diet.  More shellfish was eaten, snapper was still the most frequently consumed fish, with a lot more barracouta;  there are far fewer seals, no moa, and 24 species of birds – 50% seabirds, 30% forest birds, and 20% wetland birds.  Adzes (still argillite) are smaller.

Te Puoho’s Kainga
After the Tainui-Taranaki alliance invaded Te Tau Ihu (Nelson Marlborough) 1828-1832, Te Puoho ki Te Rangi, the warrior chief of Ngāti Tama, established a kainga at Rotokura.  He departed from Rotokura in 1836 on his ill-fated heke to rid the South Island of Ngāi Tahu.

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View overlooking Cable Bay Telegraph Staion and buildings. Nelson Provincial Museum Tyree Collection 103116

The Cable Station
Cable Bay was part of the Wakapuaka land block of 17,500 acres (8,000ha), which the Ngāti Tama chief, Wi Katene Te Puoho (Te Manu), refused to sell to the Crown in 1855-1856.  He claimed his people needed the 17,500 acres for their subsistence, and retained the land in Original Native Title.

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Deed of Conveyance of land at Cable Bay. AJHR 1936 G-6B p.22

When the Government wanted to secure ten acres for a cable station, the normal process would have required Wi Katene to apply to the Native Land Court to establish ownership over the whole Wakapuaka block, converting its Original Native Title to fee-simple “European title”.  Then ten acres would be partitioned, and a title issued for transfer to the Eastern Extension Telegraph Company.  But Wi Katene was very suspicious of the Native Land Court;  he quite rightly saw the Court as a means to strip Māori of land and refused to have anything to do with it.

Because of Wi Katene’s intransigence and the Government’s impatience a somewhat irregular deed was drafted to make a direct purchase to bypass the Native Land Court.  Wi Katene, his daughter Huria and son-in-law Hemi Matenga signed it on 14 December 1877, and received £200 for the area known as “Rotokura.”


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