Tai Rua

Waianakarua Road, Bridge Point

  • Tai Rua, Waianakarua.
    Copyright: Heritage New Zealand. Taken By: Heather Bauchop. Date: 4/07/2016.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 2 Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 5692 Date Entered 11th March 1985


City/District Council

Waitaki District


Otago Region

Legal description

Pt Sec 23 Blk III Otepopo SD and Sec 22 Blk III Otepopo SD (CT OT10D/345), Otago Land District


Providing a link to some of the earliest peoples who lived in Otago who hunted the long extinct moa and lived on the North Otago coast, Tai Rua is a site of cultural, historical and archaeological significance.

The name Tai Rua was recorded by historian Gilbert Stevenson in his 1947 publication as belonging to the adjacent headland, now called Bridge Point. Archaeologist Michael Trotter adopted this name for the nearby archaeological site. The site is in an area of pasture at the north end of a strip of flat coastal land north of the Waianakarua River. The excavation began as a salvage expedition, but was extended as more cultural material was found. All artefacts and bones were retained, while shells, burnt stones, charcoal and soil were sampled. The excavation deliberately left the majority of the site ‘untouched.’ Later the excavation was extended to include both sides of the road – these excavations took place in 1958 and 1959. In 1960, Peter Gathercole took over the excavation, with the aim of providing training for students. Tai Rua was excavated four times between 1960 and 1962. In 1968 the excavation was opened briefly and used for dating in 1973.

Trotter found that, although the stratigraphy varied, ‘there was basically one main occupational deposit.’ Trotter divided the site conceptually into 5 areas – blackened soil with a sparse amount of faunal remains and artefacts; sparse occupational material except in three fireplace hollows filled with charcoal and burnt stones; several layers of material from ‘a single period of prehistoric occupation, partly disturbed in places by European activities – including shell midden; an area notable for its post holes and small fireplace hollows; and a concentration of moa bones and some shell midden. He concluded that there may have been a sleeping/shelter area, a large midden area, a cooking area and a moa butchering area.

In Notornis, Trotter records the bird species found at Tai Rua during excavations in the 1950s and early 1960s. He identifies the site as occupied between 14th and 16th centuries by Maori whose ‘economy was to some extent based on the hunting and utilization of moas and other now extinct birds, and whose material culture forms a phase intermediate to “typical” Archaic Moa-hunter and Classic Māori.’

The over 1500 portable artefacts recovered from the site included flake tools, cores, and waste flakes of siliceous stone; unfinished and completed fish-hooks and other items made from bones and teeth; cutting, chopping and hammering tools, plus greywacke sinkers; shell ornaments; files and grindstones; and clay that had been moulded and baked.

Trotter concluded that the site was occupied by a ‘small group of people’ where they undertook butchering, cooking, refuse dumping and lighting fires. Protein food was largely moa flesh, shellfish and fish, with dogs, seals and small birds providing a smaller proportion of their diet. Tools were made from rock from a variety of locations, but principally within 50 kilometres of Tai Rua, but with small amounts from as far away as the West Coast, northern Marlborough and the northern half of the North Island. He concluded that although ‘the artefact assemblage from Tai Rua differs greatly from that of Wairau Bar, which is commonly thought of as a “type site” for the Moa-hunter period of Polynesian culture in New Zealand, this may well have been due to factors other than solely an evolutionary change during the period of 150-100 radiocarbon years between their occupations.’ The site may have been a less permanent settlement and one based on fish-hook production comparted with Wairau.

In 2016, its location marked by an information board, the site remains a reminder of the significant Māori presence on the coast in North Otago.


Additional informationopen/close

Construction Dates

Original Construction
Original Occupation

1958 - 1959
Site excavated

1960 - 1962
Site excavated

1968 -
Site excavated

Public NZAA Number


Completion Date

29th January 2018

Report Written By

Heather Bauchop

Information Sources

Birds of a Feather

Atholl Anderson (ed), Birds of a Feather, New Zealand Archaeological Association Monograph II, BAR International Series 62, Oxford, 1979

Birds of a Feather

Atholl Anderson (ed), Birds of a Feather, New Zealand Archaeological Association Monograph II, BAR International Series 62, Oxford, 1979

Michael Trotter, ‘Tai Rua: A Moa-Hunter Site in North Otago,’ in Atholl Anderson (ed), Birds of a Feather, New Zealand Archaeological Association Monograph II, BAR International Series 62, Oxford, 1979

Maori and Pakeha in North Otago

G.B. Stevenson, Maori and Pakeha in North Otago, A.H. & A.W. Reed, Wellington, 1947

Avian Remains from North Otago Archaeological Sites

Michael Trotter ‘Avian Remains from North Otago Archaeological Sites’, Notornis (XII)

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