Customary marine title granted to ‘The Crabs of Rangataua’

After almost fifty years, work to reclaim kaitiakitanga of Wahi Tapu site, Te Tāhuna o Rangataua, has succeeded. 

Customary marine title of Te Tāhuna o Rangataua has been sought for many decades. The formation of Nga Pāpaka a Rangataua in 2020 bought Tauranga hapū and iwi together in the quest, and last month the High Court granted joint title to five of the seven hapū and iwi: Ngā Pōtiki ā Tamapahore, Ngai Tukairangi, Ngati Tapu, Ngati Hē and Ngati Pūkenga. 

While there is still much to be worked through, including the appeals process, the result was described by Peter Stokes, chairperson of Ngā Pōtikia Tamapahore, as “a positive step forward in protecting an area of significance.” 

Te Tāhuna o Rangataua is a shallow bay in the southern end of Tauranga Bay. With rich and diverse marine and birdlife it has long been an important food gathering site. Crabs were so bounteous that the many people who lived there were widely known as ‘Ngā Pāpaka o Rangataua’ (The crabs of Rangataua).  

Settlement in the area escalated through time and in 1974, despite strong opposition, the Mount Maunganui Borough Reclamation Act 1974 authorised the Council to reclaim and develop around 73 acres of foreshore and seabed land for sewage and other municipal purposes, including the dumping of rubbish.  

Unhappy with the desecration of this taonga, kaumatua, including founding members of the Tauranga Moana Māori Trust Board members Turirangi (Turi) Te Kani (MBE) and Wiremu (Bill) Ōhia (QSO) began work to reclaim kaitiakitanga of Te Tāhuna o Rangataua.  

In 1977 their application to the Town and Country Planning Appeal Board to protect the area by having it declared a Historic-Recreation Reserve was dismissed. Undeterred, they approached the New Zealand Historic Places Trust (now Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga) for help. Archaeologists John Coster and Gabrielle Johnston then conducted a survey of the area. Guided by Tauranga Moana Māori Trust Board members they identified multiple Pa sites and middens. This work documented considerable physical evidence of historic occupation. It supported the extensive oral history which tied hāpu and iwi to area through the centuries.  

Sewage discharge rights into Te Tahuna o Rangataua were disrupted following submissions and protests from the wider community including those led by local Māori. The people were successful, and a government loan provided the local authority with funding for a sewage reticulation system which prevented raw sewage from being poured into the bay. 

With the passing of a generation others rose to the task of reclaiming kaitiakitanga, including applying pressure to have the various names, including Rangataua Bay and Waitoa Bay, removed from maps. In 2011, The New Zealand Geographic board Nga Pou Taunaha o Aotearoa approved the name change on official maps. The historic name of Te Tāhuna o Rangataua was officially reinstated and was gazetted on July 10, 2012. 

In more recent times planting has been undertaken to restore the wetlands next to Te Tāhuna o Rangataua. This work will ease pollution from farmland runoff. 

Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga added Te Tāhuna o Rangataua # 9787 as a Wāhi Tapu to the Rārangi Kōrero/New Zealand Heritage List in 2019.

- Niki Partsch