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No. 52 (September 1965)
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History of a Great River

To most people the name ‘Benmore’ brings to mind a picture of the new hydro-electric dam away down south in the Waitaki River Basin. Few people, perhaps, would be aware of the historical and legendary significance of the district which is now under the waters of this great new lake, and of the history belonging to all of the wide area through which the Waitaki River runs from the mountains to the sea.

Route to the West Coast

The Waitaki River derives its name from the Maori words wai (water) and taki (a sounding or weeping). The words Waitaki and Waitangi have the same meaning, for the South Island Maoris did not use the nasal sound Ng, but replaced it usually with the sound K, so that for example tangata became takata, and Rangiora became Rakiora.

The route up the river was frequently travelled by Maori parties on their way to the West Coast in search of the coveted pounamu (greenstone). Usually they crossed to the north of the river close to where Duntroon stands today, later crossing back to the south side at the mouth of the Otematata River.

Fed by Seven Lakes

Serving for much of its length as the boundary between Canterbury and Otago, the river has its source in the Takapo and Pukaki Rivers which are fed by the seven lakes: Lakes Takapo, Pukaki, Ohou, Te Kapaururu, Te Oteote, Otauwhiti and Whakapapa.

The northernmost of these great lakes is Takapo; its correct name is Takapotiri. My Arai-te-uru relatives told me that Takapotiri was the son of Tane-mahuta the forest god, and was the tutelary deity of the kaka, kakapo, kea and tarepo birds. I believe that Parliament decided that Takapo was the correct spelling, but as we all know, the general public still continues to call it Tekapo.

Opposite Takapo is Lake Pukaki, a word which means ‘a great swelling or choking in a throat’. This name refers to the time when the water comes rushing down in the flood season, and there isn't room to contain it. (The word pukaki can also mean a source, as of a river).

Ohou is a lake slightly to the south-west of Pukaki. It is now called Lake Ohau, but according to my people this is incorrect. However though I have heard the name Ohou mentioned by the elders, no-one seems to know much about it. Possibly the name comes from one of the tribes who were the first to arrive here-that is Ngapuhi te Aitanga, Te Rapuwai, Waitaha, Hotumamoe, and later on the Tahupotiki or Ngai Tahu.

There are two places named Ruataniwha or ‘dragon pit’; one is close to Lake Ohou and the other is by the junction of the Ohou and Waitaki Rivers. The taniwha is the counterpart of the English dragon.

The Throne of Patuki

Benmore itself, the great mountain some miles away from the dam, is known to the Maori as Te Taumata o Patuki. The word ‘taumata’ usually means ‘summit’; in this case the expression can be translated as ‘the Throne of Patuki’. I have been told by the elders that Patuki was a chief whose stronghold was Raupuke Island in Foveaux Strait. He was the grandfather of the important chief Tuhawaiki, known to the Pakeha whalers as Bloody Jack.

Behind Lake Ohou are the mountains now known as the Ben Ohau Range. Their old name was Maukatua, or ‘the foremost range of mountains’ (the word mauka is the South Island equivalent of maunga). Alongside them, at the headwaters of Lake Ohou and between the Dobson and Hopkins valleys, is a smaller range of mountains formerly known as Te Taremauka a te Atua, though a more recent Maori word for them is Maumau. Te Taremauka a te Atua means ‘the raised-up mountains of the god’.

Many Names Recorded

The Hopkins River was formerly Otao or ‘driftwood’, and the Huxley River was Tairau, which means ‘a stake or peg’. Broderick Pass, which was very much in use in the old days,

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The district beneath this huge new lake, together with the surrounding countryside, is rich in history and legend.

was formerly known as Te Tarahaka, an expression meaning ‘a thief who steals without qualms or care for the thoughts of others’. Te Waimaturaka or Waimatau, ‘the waters of knowledge’, are on the northern side near Lake Ohou. At the junction of the Takapo and Pukaki Rivers was Te Rauru, an ancient Maori kaika or kainga the site of which has long since disappeared. Te Rauru is the name of a certain method which the Maori used for plaiting flax with seven strands.

Among the many other names in this district are Mt Tauhinu, called after an alpine shrub, and Mt Totara, called after the alpine totara tree. Mt Manahunei's name means ‘the supernatural flowering of grayness on the bullrushes’. Fox Peaks, east of Lake Takapo, were formerly Otupaka, where a very heated quarrel took place. South-east of Lake Takapo is Te Wharerangi or Te Whareraki, ‘the heavenly home’.

Aorangi or Mount Cook

I should like to leave this area for a moment to go across to Aorangi, or Mt Cook. I have often heard over our radio station that this was called by the Maoris the ‘cloud-piercer’, but my grandmother told me that in this case the word is of ancient Arai-te-uru origin.

When the canoe Arai-te-uru was off the east coast of the South Island she struck a rock near Shag Point (many people say that this rock is the prow of the canoe). Now the ariki of this canoe was named Kirikiri Katata. As the canoe was sinking he swam ashore with his mokopuna (grandson) Aorangi. When they reached the shore the old chief had his grandson on his shoulders. They waited for the rest of the party to come ashore, and as they approached their chief the boy cried out, ‘See, I am the highest person in this land!’

Named After His Grandson

Whereupon the chief looked up at his grandson and said, ‘Yes my son, look.’ He pointed towards the Southern Alps, where one lonely peak could be seen above the clouds. ‘I shall name that peak after you, for you and that mountain are indeed the highest in the land.’

This chief Kirikiri Katata also named the lower summit of Aorangi after himself.

Maukatua, the mountain now known as Ben Ohau, had a wife called Aroarokache: until she met Kirikiri Katata she had always been a faithful and dutiful spouse, but Kirikiri.

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Katata persuaded her to leave her husband and to go with him to where the rangatiras reside on the higher peaks. There Aroarokaeh tands today; she is known to the Pakeha as the beautiful Mt Sefton.

Ancient Names on Waitaki River

Returning to the Waitaki River and travelling eight or nine miles down from the junction of the Ohou River, we find on the southern side Te Parikarakaraka, the echoing cliff. Further down, past the Te Kara stream, we come to Te Pari-o-waka-taka-kura or ‘the red cliffs that change their direction’. They are known today as Goose-neck Bend. A mile or so further on is Te Anawhakairo, ‘the cave of carvings,’ then Te Wahi-tatari ‘the visiting place’—that is, the place where parties of travellers used to meet. Further downstream is Te Awa-ataahua or Te Awa-ataka, ‘the beautiful river’, then we reach Te Ana-o-kaitaoka, ‘the cave of ovens where the food was burnt.’ To the east of this is Oteuku, ‘the bill of white clay’, now known as Sugar Loaf Hill.

Then onwards to Te Ana-haruru, ‘the cave of vibrations,’ so called because a party of Maoris were resting there when Te Ruamoko, god of earthquakes, was moving around underground. Away in the distance stands Pass Peak, once known as Te Kaihikihiki, ‘the food bearer’. This used to be a route to the West Coast. Otematata Saddle was known to the old people as Otematakou and also as ‘the pass of Tauahuriri’ (a famous Ngai Tahu chieftain).

West of the Otematakou Saddle the first stream was formerly known as Te Maukatipua, ‘the mountain demons’, though this was later changed to Otamatapio, ‘a green uncooked plant’. As the Waitaki River turns to the east we find a certain rock named Te Papaka-o-huruhuru, ‘the resting-place of Huruhuru’. Nearby is Parsons Rock, formerly Te Ikaraeroa, ‘a lofty headland’. This is another name of ancient Arai-te-uru origin.

Te Hakataramea River gives its name today to the town of Hakataramea. This name is said to commemorate a dance which took place there long ago, in which the dancers wore sachets made from the skins of laughing owls (whekau) and filled with the sap of the sweet-scented taramea stalks. A bridge over the Waitaki connects Hakataramea with Te Kohurau, ‘the place of a hundred mists’, now known as Karou.

These and a great many other names recall

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the lives of all those who lived and hunted in this area throughout the ages, over a period of time stretching back far beyond the arrival of the ‘Great Fleet’ 600 years ago. Among the other remaining tokens of this long history are the rock paintings and other relics which have been discovered in many places.

Driven from Ancestral Lands

It was in the Waitaki area also that the last remnants of this ancient race were hunted and driven from their homes by mounted constabulary and runholders armed with guns. There had long been disputes about the ownership of the upper Waitaki valley, the Maori owners claiming that they had sold to the Pakeha only the land in sight of the coast. In 1877 a group of about 150 Maoris went to live on the bleak, swampy flats at Omarama (four miles south of the new dam) in order to demonstrate their rights to the surrounding country.

But two years later they were driven out by the armed constabulary and it was only through the timely intervention of Ihaia Tainui, Member of Parliament for Southern Maori, that bloodshed was avoided.

It was the middle of winter. Snow was falling, and it was bitterly cold. With their carts and drays, the small group of Waitaha began the long, painful trek to the mouth of the river, where they still owned a few acres. One can well imagine the feelings of their old chief and tohunga Maiharoa as he passed through the tribal camping ground of Maukatipua and climbed to the top of the Otematakou Saddle. The last of the ancient lineage of the chiefs of Waitaha, he looked back, deprived of his birthright, at the lands where for remote ages his people had hunted, fought and died. Slowly he turned his back on those great mountains and valleys, and with a sad heart began the long journey to the coast.

The dispute over this area, along with other South Island disputes, was settled only in 1944, when the Government offered to settle what were known as the Ngaitahu Claims for £300,000, payment to be spread over 30 years. This offer was accepted, and so the Ngaitahu Trust Board came into being.

Power and Warmth from Benmore

And now much of this historic district has been obliterated by this new lake made by men. When W. B. Mantell, the Pakeha explorer, first entered the Waitaki region in 1848, he said to the Maori chief Huruhuru, ‘some day a bridge and a city will be here’. Today there stands in that high region the great dam and powerhouse which will bring power to our cities and warmth and light to our homes. Though we have lost a part of our cultural heritage, we shall in the end be well repaid through the efforts of the Pakeha and Maori builders of this great project.

The Te Puea Trophy, awarded annually to the branch of the Maori Women's Welfare League with the best report of its activities, went this year to Nga Iwi District Council (Auckland). Runners-up were Rotorua District Council and Maketu Isolated Branch.

Eight of the Maoris who made their opera debut in the New Zealand Opera Company's production of ‘Porgy and Bess’ earlier this year were retained for the chorus of ‘II Trovatore’, the present production. They are Josh Gardiner. George Henare, Bob Hirini, Tuta Kainamu, Peter Keiha, Mark Metekingi, Don Selwyn and Ross Waters.