History and Culture

Wairarapa Moana - A taonga

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Wairarapa Moana has long been a place of significant customary and spiritual importance. It was among the first areas settled in New Zealand with sites dating back some 800 years.

In providing an abundance of natural food and resources (tuna, fish, waterfowl, raupo and flax) the Moana has been a valued taonga. Tuna (our native freshwater eel) was caught in vast quantities during the seasonal migration to the sea. The catch could be dried for storage or trading. Seasonal eeling settlements dotted the edge of Wairarapa Moana. Some of these are recorded archaeological sites.


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The stories on these pages of the website introduce the history of Wairarapa Moana and its peoples.  These pages are based on the exhibition:  Wairarapa Moana He Pātaka Kai, He Pātaka Kōrero (Stories about a lake and its people).  This exhibition was conceived and realised by Aratoi, Wairarapa Museum of art and history in 2010-2011. At the end of each webpage there is a formatted PDF version for downloading, printing or reading.


A valued land

Settlers initially leased land from Maori landowners and established sheep and cattle stations. The Crown made leasing illegal, buying land from Maori for nominal amounts and selling it to settlers for a profit. Maori kept the lakes and flood-prone areas that were critical for eel fishing.

There were decades of disagreement between Maori and the farmers. This was over the natural blocking of the outlet at Lake Onoke to the sea, which allowed the lakes and wetlands to fill up. Maori wanted high water for fishing while the farmers wanted to keep the water levels low for dry pasture.

This dispute was resolved when the Moana was gifted by the tangata whenua to the Crown in 1896. Maori were promised reserves in exchange. However, these promises were not honoured by the Crown.  Later they were given land much further away at Pouākani, Mangakino in the Waikato.

A Wairarapa Moana timeline from the Waitangi Tribunal can be found on the Wairarapa Moana Trust website.  This illustrates the significant events relating to Wairarapa Moana, Pouākani and Mangakino from 1840 through to 2002.

The 2010 Waitangi Tribunal report recommends returning the lake beds of Wairarapa Moana and government land surrounding the Moana to Wairarapa Maori. This is a pending settlement.


Wairarapa Iwi

Two iwi share the role of tangata whenua of Wairarapa: Ngāti Kahungunu ki Wairarapa and Rangitāne o Wairarapa. Each has representation on the governance of the Wairarapa Moana Wetlands Project.


Archaeological sites

There are recorded archaeological sites around Wairarapa Moana.  At these locations physical evidence of human activity has been found.  The sites can be located on the interactive map on Archsite, the archaeological site recording scheme of the NZ Archaeological Association (NZAA).



Content on this page was last updated: 09/03/2017 11:50am