Collaborative effort to restore Māori heritage site

Through the joint efforts of the landowners, forestry company Farman Turkington, Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga, archaeologists and iwi, one of Wairarapa’s most significant Maōri heritage sites has been restored.

The area of Makotuku Stream near Palliser Bay housed some of New Zealand’s earliest settlers, with a village along the ridges of the hills, a pa site, and gardens below - known as the cross site.

Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga Central Archaeologist, Christine Barnett, says the consultation and collaboration between all the parties was particularly heartening. The cross site is part of a wider system of recorded horticultural sites on the Wairarapa coast which hold valuable archaeological information and are ngā taonga tuku iho nō ngā tupuna, treasures handed down by our ancestors.

Spokesman for Farman Turkington, Josh Blazek, said parts of the area had been under threat from a strand of pine trees, originally planted to stablilise land adjacent to the cross site. “With the harvesting of nearby trees opening the pines up to wind loading, the time had come where decisions had to be made on whether they would be left to take their natural course, or be removed.  Leaving the trees in place would have threatened the historical sites below if the trees fell during high winds, because the ground would be ripped up.”

Archaeologist, Foss Leach, first surveyed the site in 1969 spending three years uncovering the archaeological history of the settlement site. “Palliser Bay was occupied at about the earliest time in New Zealand. There were other places that were settled about the same time, but we are terribly fortunate to know a great deal about the earliest people who were living along this coast”. Leach said that many of the valleys along Palliser Bay were similar, but none had been explored anywhere as much as this one.

Haami Te Whaiti, representing Kahungunu ki Wairarapa and Rangitane O Wairarapa, said that iwi had a strong attachment to the area. “There was a sense of sadness that these trees were still here, and we didn’t know how to deal with them. We are so appreciative of what has been done, there have been sacrifices to do this,” he said.

Josh Blazek said it took a lot of technical logging and care from the team planning right down to the order that they felled trees to protect the site.

Landowners, Donald McAlraith and Pru Lilgurn’s family have farming in the area since the 1800s, mostly in sheep and beef, but recently converted to forestry.  Lilgurn said they wanted to do the right thing for the site and were happy to half fund the project with the forestry company.

Foss Leach said the features of the site that remained were ‘a wonderful gift from the past.”