Māhia heritage tour beckons

Māhia is the latest destination for Historic Places Tairawhiti members interested in learning about the people and places of Te Tairāwhiti.

Stone baptismal font with a chain fence and grass surrounding it.
Whangawehi baptismal font. Photo: HNZPTexpand/collapse

50 members will venture into the lands south of Gisborne to hear first-hand stories of early Māori and European occupation, commerce, and Christianity.

Waikokopu, the starting point for this trip, was once a bustling whaling centre and port. The tour will then move on to the towns of Opoutama, Māhia, Oraka, and Whangawehi – the site of a baptismal font that was used by William Williams to baptise Māori in 1842.

Stories of Ngāti Rongomaiwahine, descended from both Ruawharo, the tohunga of the Tākitimu waka, and Popoto, commander of the Kurahaupō waka, will be of interest. Ruawharo gave the name Te Māhia to the peninsula becuase it resembled a part of his orginial homeland, Te Māhia-mai-tawhiti. Ruawharo also established the whare wānanga Ngāheru-mai-tawhiti, which stood at Waikawa (Portland Island), and became the spiritual centre of the entire East Coast.

The first European trader lived in the area from 1829. Whaling started in earnest in 1837, after an influx of whalers from the Bay of Islands. Two whale fisheries were established; one by the Ward brothers at Waikokopu and the other by Captain William Ellis at Māhia.

By 1851, 140 Europeans and nearly 300 Māori made their living entirely by whaling. About 11 shore whaling stations operated but once the whaling population was plundered, many whalers turned to pioneer farming in the district.

In 2016, the Māhia Peninsula became home to the world’s only private commercial orbital launch site for Rocket Lab.

For two and a half years from 2007, Māhia was also home to Moko, a solitary bottlenose dolphin. A memorial to Moko was unveiled at Māhia in 2011.

During the tour a local resident, Will Coop, will share details of the Portland Island lighthouse service, the shift of the lighthouse keeper’s house to Māhia, and show artefacts from the SS Tasmania; wrecked off Table Cape in 1897. Two life boats arrived safely with passengers at Māhia, but two others went north to Muriwai, just south of Gisborne, where nine lives were lost after the boats overturned in the surf.

Event Details:

Tour: Sunday 15 May, 8.30am-4pm.

$80 for Historic Places Tairawhiti members, $100 non- members.

Bookings to: info@hpt.org.nz.

- Sheridan Gundry