Waimātaitai Occupation Site

Waimataitai Lagoon, Katiki Beach

  • Waimātaitai Occupation Site, Katiki Beach. Waimātaitai Lagoon from Katiki Beach.
    Copyright: Heritage New Zealand. Taken By: Matt Schmidt. Date: 1/06/2016.
  • Waimātaitai Occupation Site, Katiki Beach. Eroded dune edges at Waimātaitai Lagoon.
    Copyright: Heritage New Zealand. Taken By: Matt Schmidt. Date: 1/06/2016.
  • Waimātaitai Occupation Site, Katiki Beach.
    Copyright: Heritage New Zealand. Date: 1/08/1979.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 2 Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 5694 Date Entered 11th March 1985


City/District Council

Waitaki District


Otago Region

Legal description

Lot 2 DP 2554 (CT OT177/23), Otago Land District


Waimātaitai Occupation Site, located on Waimātaitai lagoon at the north end of Katiki Beach in North Otago, is a moa-hunter site that provides evidence of how the early people who lived here lived and more specifically, what they ate. The site has cultural, archaeological and scientific significance.

Waimātaitai is a shallow lagoon with a narrow entrance to the sea bordered by sandhills a few metres above sea level. The name Waimātaitai (wai – water, and mātaitai – salty or brackish water) reflects the location of the tidal lagoon at the north end of Katiki Beach, just south of Moeraki Peninsula. Its sheltered location, the abundant kai moana (seafood) nearby makes it a good place to harvest food. The archaeological evidence provides information about what the tangata whenua of this place harvested, and when people lived there.

Archaeologist Michael Trotter formally recorded this site in 1951 when heavy seas tore away part of the western bank of the estuary, exposing a hard sand ledge just above water level on top of which was a midden area. Trotter had found artefacts at the midden edge. Test pits determined that the midden extended west some distance. In 1954 Trotter excavated the site – clearing away and sieving the over-burden. He noted two other occupational strata. Broken moa bone, mostly leg pieces, sometimes burnt, were found through the deposit, as well as a few complete bones. Bones of the Giant Rail (Aptornis otidiformis) were also found in cooking place refuse, the first bones to be found in a midden indicating that, ‘at least in this locality, the species existed contemporaneously with, and was eaten by, the moa hunters.’ The presence of burnt moa bone also shows that the site was occupied when at least three species of moa still existed.

In the New Zealand Archaeological Association Newsletter, Trotter describes the site at Waimātaitai Mouth as ‘a small Moa-hunting and fishing camp, but there are two narrow occupational strata of indeterminate age above the main deposit. The main items of interest obtained from limited excavations are barbed points of composite fish-hooks and bones of Aptirnus [sic]. Erosion is taking place at a high rate and if it continues little will be left of the site in a few years.’ Another nearby site he describes as ‘Katiki Beach Sandhills’ where ‘several burials’ were found by Hart, Teviotdale and others. ‘Skeletal remains and midden material are still found but most has been wind-disturbed. Moa bones in association with occupational material are apparently sub-fossil, and burials appear to be Ngāi Tahu.’

Trotter wrote of the avian remains found at North Otago sites in Notornis. He argues the sites were occupied by Māori ‘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 the “typical” Archaic Moa-hunter and Classic Maori in Otago.’ Artefacts from the sites included greywacke or argillite adzes, and moa bone fish hooks, both with and without barbs. Bird species had been used for food and their bones found in middens. The find of Aptornis bones at Waimātaitai was the ‘first definite evidence of its contemporaneous existence with man.’


Additional informationopen/close

Construction Dates

1954 -
Trotter excavation

Public NZAA Number


Completion Date

17th January 2018

Report Written By

Heather Bauchop

Information Sources

New Zealand Archaeological Association (NZAA)

New Zealand Archaeological Association

Michael M. Trotter, ‘Archaeological Investigations in North Otago’, New Zealand Archaeological Association Newsletter, 13 (3) 1959

Journal of the Polynesian Society

Journal of the Polynesian Society

Michael M. Trotter, ‘First Excavation of a Moa Hunter Camp Site at Waimataitai Mouth, Katiki,’ The Journal of the Polynesian Society, 64 (3) 1955

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