We Are Ngai Tahu – Cultural Mapping Project

The Route to Pounamu

Nōti Raureka

The traditional travel route of Nōti Raureka (Browning Pass) played a significant role in Ngāi Tahu gaining manawhenua of Te Tai Poutini (West Coast) and control of the valuable pounamu trade. The discovery of the pass is traditionally attributed to the arrival on the east coast of a Kāti Wairaki woman named Raureka, for whom the pass is named. By the time Ngāi Tahu arrived in Te Waipounamu, Te Tai Poutini had been occupied for some generations by Kāti Wairaki, a people who originated from ancient Taranaki near Patea. The detailed explanation of the pass given by Raureka to Ngāi Tūhaitara led to Ngāi Tahu travelling over the pass and eventually defeating Kāti Wairaki to take control of the pounamu trade of Te Tai Poutini.

Pounamu, also known as greenstone, jade or nephrite, was one of the most treasured of all natural resources for Māori. Adzes, chisels, knives and weapons of pounamu lifted the material condition of our ancestors onto another developmental plane.

By the time Ngāi Tahu gained control of Canterbury and Horomaka/Te Pātaka-a-Rākaihautū (Banks Peninsula), Te Tai Poutini had been occupied for some generations by Kāti Wairaki who controlled the pounamu trade throughout Te Waipounamu. Kāti Wairaki transported pounamu along the west coast to the Nelson area and from there to Whanganui and into the North Island’s main pounamu trading centres.

The revelation of the pass at the head of the Rakaia River is traditionally accorded to the arrival on the east coast of a Kāti Wairaki woman named Raureka. Born at the old settlement of Lake Kaniere, Raureka found her way across Kā Tiritiri-o-Te-Moana (the Southern Alps) carrying with her a pounamu toki (adze). On arrival in the Arowhenua region she was met and cared for by a party of Kāi Tūhaitara to whom she demonstrated the superiority of her stone tool. More importantly she revealed the route she had taken and provoked further exploration of the foothills and the route itself.

It was the knowledge of the route that was of first importance. Tūhaitara knew of the pounamu and its superiority. What they wanted to know was how to get to it. The detailed explanation of the route by Raureka is the key traditional event which led to the further exploration and later utilisation of the region not simply as a trade route but as a major resource zone in its own right.

The story of Raureka and the discovery of pounamu was depicted in South Canterbury Saga, a film made by Folio Films in 1952 to commemorate the Timaru Centennial. The film features Ngāi Tahu whānau members as the cast and was filmed on the banks of the Ōpihi River.

Dawn Of Recorded Maori History

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Information provided by Tarawhata to Edward Shortland

In 1843-44 Edward Shortland held the title of Protector for the Aborigines. During his census of the southern Māori population of New Zealand he travelled from Waikouaiti to Akaroa. Shortland was initially unable to cross the Waitaki River, staying with the southern Ngāi Tahu rangatira Te Huruhuru at Te Puna-a-Maru on the southern bank of the Waitaki.

Shortland eventually managed to cross the Waitaki where he was guided by Te Huruhuru along the old Māori travel route to Waihao. From there, Shortland continued travelling north along the coastline reaching the Kāti Huirapa pā of Te Waiateruati, near the Ōpihi River.

At Te Waiateruati Shortland was hosted by the Kāti Huirapa chief Te Rehe. Tarawhata, a son of Te Rehe, accompanied Shortland for the remainder of his journey north. During the journey Tarawhata explained to Shortland that the Rakaia River was sourced from nine bodies of water, with the northernmost one being Ōkapohia near Arahura. The expression that Tarawhata used was “ki te ritenga mai o Arahura”, which literally means “opposite the Arahura”. Tarawhata named the sources of the Rakaia as Ōkapohia, Ōnakariki, Te Waitāwhiri (Wilberforce River), Pōhatukoko, Kareaonui, Rakaia-waipākihi (Mathias River), Rakaia-waiki (southern branch of the Rakaia River), Ōtūroto (Lake Heron) and Maimai.

<p>This is a section of the map of Te Waipounamu drawn by Edward Shortland. The map shows that the Orakaia has its source in nine lakes. This information was provided by Tarawhata when he guided Shortland from Te Waiateruati north. <em>Shortland, E. (1974) The southern districts of New Zealand: a journal, with passing notices of the customs of the aborigines. Christchurch, N.Z.: Capper Press. (Original work published 1851)</em></p>
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Reverend Canon James West Stack Map

In the 1860s the Public Works department of the Canterbury Provincial Government approached the Reverend Canon James West Stack for assistance in finding out information about Māori travel routes through Kā Tiritiri-o-te-moana (the Southern Alps). In the course of his research, Stack found only one Māori who had personally travelled over Nōti Raureka. Other Māori informants explained that they had ventured to the Upper Rakaia but did not travel any further because avalanches had earned it a dangerous reputation.

“I am sorry to say the only Maori who has gone to the West Coast by the old route is now too infirm to leave his whare. There are no Maoris now living, except this old man, who know anything about the route beyond what they have heard in the past from others.”Reverend James West Stack, 31st March 1865

Stack's unnamed Māori informant drew a map of Nōti Raureka, detailing some of the travel route's significant landscape features. The historian William Anderson Taylor located a copy of Stack’s map and drew a sketch of it. It is understood that Taylor drew the names on the map. Stack’s original map shows a small lake, Whakarewa (Lake Browning), situated at the top of the pass. The sketch also shows a cave at the bottom of the pass that was used by travellers, and was apparently still used for shelter up to the middle of the twentieth century.

This sketch drawn by historian William Andersen Taylor of Nōti Raureka (Browning Pass) is of a map drawn by Canon James West Stack in 1865 based on information received by an unidentified Māori who had personally travelled over the pass. W.A. Taylor Collection, 1968.213.2433, Canterbury Museum

Julius Von Haast

One of the earliest maps of Māori place names in the Rakaia catchment was drawn by the well-known geologist Julius Von Haast. Von Haast, who founded the Canterbury Museum, was one of the first geologists to investigate the geology of the Canterbury and Nelson regions. Although Von Haast did not name his Ngāi Tahu informants, the information he gathered is consistent with other reliable sources for the Rakaia catchment, particularly the evidence gathered from Ngāi Tahu kaumātua during the 1879 Smith-Nairn Royal Commission of Inquiry into the Ngāi Tahu land claims.