Wāhi tapu declared as a result of excavation

Part of Oneroa/Long Beach near Russell is to be declared wāhi tapu, a Sacred Place, by Kororāreka Marae. The wāhi tapu will run from the white marker post to the right of the fig tree to the start of the spinifex grass.

An excavation takes place at Oneroa.
The recent archaeological excavation at Oneroa near Russell. Photo: HNZPT.expand/collapse

While it will have no material effect on peoples’ enjoyment of the beach it will serve as a reminder that this is a special place which should be shown appropriate respect.

The decision to designate the area wāhi tapu was made following a recent initiative led by Kororāreka Marae for a small part of the foreshore to be excavated, with a view to removing any kōiwi/human remains present and reinterring them at the local urupā in line with local tikanga.  

The University of Auckland, Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga and Far North District Council provided support for the joint excavation which ran over four days. 

The excavation was initiated after two kōiwi pre-Christian burials had eroded out of this part of the Oneroa beach coastal reserve over the past 18 months, with the possibility that further could later be exposed. 

A series of hui hosted by Kororāreka Marae were held with interested hapū to discuss the issue. As a result, a resolution was agreed that rather than waiting for erosion events to expose kōiwi and possibly wash them into the moana, the area around where they were found should instead be investigated and any further human remains found be removed and reburied. 

The excavation did not uncover any further kōiwi, but did reveal a number of archaeological features including flaked obsidian (volcanic glass) and chert, both being types of rock that could be flaked for use as cutting tools. Another example of flakable rock that was uncovered in the excavation may be Bowenite a type of pounamu from the South Island.

“All of these materials are exotic to the area – so people must have brought them here from other parts of the country,” says James Robinson, the lead archaeologist on the excavation.

“Although we didn’t find kōiwi it was important to complete the excavation. We now know that there are no kōiwi present in the immediate foreshore area, which will give people a lot of comfort. The features we did find, however, have confirmed the early nature of human activity in this area.”

According to Kororāreka Marae Chair Deb Rewiri, the excavation has provided closure for the hapū.

“We believe there may be further kōiwi present elsewhere along the Oneroa Bay foreshore, and of course it’s quite possible that other remains may still be present further inland from the beach front,” she says. 

“If that’s the case, they are not in direct danger from the effects of erosion so there is no need for any intervention at this stage. Kōiwi that have been recovered from the area in the recent past have been reinterred at Russell Cemetery and eventually two pou will be installed at the beach and the urupā, identifying the site.”

- John O'Hare