Korotuaheka/Waitaki River Mouth Moa Butchery Site

304 Kaik Road, Waitaki Bridge

  • Korotuaheka/Waitaki River Mouth Moa Butchery Site, Otago.
    Copyright: Heritage New Zealand.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 2 Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 5690 Date Entered 11th March 1985


Extent of List Entry

Extent includes part of the land described as Lot 2 DP 302602 (CT 10157), Otago Land District, and the archaeological site known as Korotuaheka/Waitaki River Mouth Moa Butchery Site thereon. Refer to the extent map tabled at the Rārangi Kōrero Committee meeting on 8 March 2018.

City/District Council

Waitaki District


Otago Region

Legal description

Lot 2 DP 302602 (CT 10157), Otago Land District


One of the most important and largest Moa-hunting locations in New Zealand, the Korotuaheka/Waitaki River Mouth Moa-hunting Site dates from the thirteenth century. This site is the source of the famous Willet’s Collection of 9,210 archaic taonga held at the North Otago Museum. The site has cultural, archaeological, scientific and historical significance.

The land on which the site is located was surveyed as a Native Reserve in 1868, named Korotuaheka. In 1916 the Māori Land Board sanctioned leasing the reserve to a Pākehā farmer, and a few years later allowed the sale of the reserve, though the urupā was reserved. In 1879 a number of families, led by Te Maiharoa, were evicted from their settlement at Ōmarama where they had been protesting the land sales. They established a settlement at Korotuaheka and built a church/meeting house and established a wānanga on the reserve. Te Maiharoa died at Korotuaheka and was buried there in 1885 or 1886.

The name Waitaki (the waterway of tears) is often referred to in whaikōrero as ‘representing the tears of Aoraki which spill into Lake Pukaki and eventually make their way south along the river to the coast. The whakataukī ‘Ko Waitaki te awa, ka roimata na Aoraki I riringi’ captures this significance – ‘Waitaki is the river, the tears spilled by Aoraki’

This site attracted amateur archaeologists’ attention in 1926, when what became identified as the No. 1 terrace was ploughed, apparently for the first time, exposing moa bones and middens. H.S McCully and A.G. Hornsey of Timaru worked here and on No. 2 terrace. Teviotdale followed their work in 1931, and again in 1936-37, although it has not been possible to identify precisely the area he excavated – his article in the Journal of Polynesian Society provides a detailed description of the site at this time. Hardwicke Knight and Peter Gathercole visited the site in the 1960s, hoping to make contact with knowledgeable locals and examine collections in private hands, to record the occupation area, and to carry out trial excavations. They were successful in determining an extent for the occupation site.

The site is situated about one and a half kilometres south of the Waitaki River Mouth. The site extends over an area of approximately 50 hectares. It is believed by Athol Anderson to possibly be the largest moa hunting site on the east coast of the South Island. Anderson notes that up to 90,000 moa could have been processed here. In 2002 archaeologists Shar Briden and Matthew Schmidt were shown an intact area of the site by the landowner. In places the site is eroding and has also been ploughed. Ploughing and fossicking have destroyed the surface indications of stone pavings and huts. Surface evidence of occupation is scattered over the three river terraces. On the northern side, the occupation evidence finishes at an old water course, with the western and southern margins also clear. On the eastern (seaward) side, the site is being eroded. The Waitaki River Mouth site has been interpreted ‘as an intermittently occupied moa-hunting camp and as a transit camp for summer inland expeditions into the Waitaki catchment for birds and silcrete.’

Ngāi Tahu recognise Korotuaheka as one of the oldest recorded settlement sites in the island. In 2018, the Waitaki River Mouth Moa-hunting Site is in private ownership.


Additional informationopen/close

Construction Dates

Original Construction

1926 -
First ploughing of the site

Teviotdale excavation

1936 - 1937
Teviotdale excavation

1954 -
Site ploughed

1961 - 1963
Gathercole excavation

Public NZAA Number


Completion Date

29th January 2018

Report Written By

Heather Bauchop

Information Sources

New Zealand Archaeological Association (NZAA)

New Zealand Archaeological Association

H. Knight and P. Gathercole, ‘A Reconnaissance at the Waitaki River Mouth, Otago, New Zealand Archaeological Association Newsletter, 4 (3)

Journal of the Polynesian Society

Journal of the Polynesian Society

David Teviotdale, ‘Excavation of a Moa-Hunters’ Camp near the Mouth of the Waitaki River,’ Journal of Polynesian Society, 48 (192), 1939, 167-185

Te Ara - The Encyclopedia of New Zealand

Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand

Ross Somerville. 'Te Maiharoa, Hipa', from the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/biographies/1t48/te-maiharoa-hipa (accessed 31 January 2017)

Lore and History of the South Island Maori

A. Taylor, Lore and History of the South Island Maori, Bascands Ltd, Christchurch

A. Taylor, Lore and History of the South Island Maori, Bascands Ltd, Christchurch, pp. 102-103. Accessed electronically: http://nzetc.victoria.ac.nz/tm/scholarly/tei-TayLore-t1-body1-d12.html , 1 February 2017

Other Information

Please note that entry on the New Zealand Heritage List/Rarangi Korero identifies only the heritage values of the property concerned, and should not be construed as advice on the state of the property, or as a comment of its soundness or safety, including in regard to earthquake risk, safety in the event of fire, or insanitary conditions.

A fully referenced upgrade report is available on request from the Otago/Southland Area Office of Heritage New Zealand