The epic journey of the great Polynesian explorer Kupe left ancient names on the Wairarapa landscape, Nga waka a Kupe, the great waka of Kupe is located near Martinborough and Nga Ra o Kupe, located on the South Coast at Matakitaki a Kupe (Cape Palliser).


Traces of settlements two centuries after Kupe have been unearthed on the south coast of the Wairarapa. Archaeological evidence tells us that New Zealand’s oldest inhabited dwelling is a whare (house) site located in the Omoekau Valley above Cape Palliser. The residents were proficient gardeners and an intensive walled system of Kumara gardens is still distinguishable today. Their coastal situation gave them access to an ocean teeming with kai moana (sea food) as well as entry onto the coastal highway by waka (watercraft) or on foot.

1600 IWI

By 1600 Rangitane and then Ngati Kahungunu have arrived and settled in the Wairarapa. Conflict and disputes take place between the two iwi, however intermarriage and diplomacy prevail and on the whole, they coexist peacefully in the region. ‘Te Rerewa’, a political agreement negotiated in the 1600’s established an ongoing accord between the two iwi which still continues today.


Tangata whenua (People of the land), Rangitane o Wairarapa and Ngati Kahungunu o Wairarapa, had been settled throughout the region for several centuries, living with relative ease and making use of the Wairarapa’s rich resources when Captain James Cook sailed up the coast in 1770. Ancestors of the south coast hapu Ngati Hinewaka ventured out to Cook’s ship, Endeavour.

“Canoes came off to the ship wherein were between 30 & 40 of the Natives who had been puling after us for some time; it appear’d from the behaver of these people that they had heard of our being upon the coast, for they came along side and some of them on board the ship with out showing the least signs of fear: they were no sooner on board than they asked for nails but when nails were given them … (it) was plain that they had never seen any before, yet thay not only knowed how to ask for them but knowed what use to apply them to and therefore must have heard of Nails which they called Whow, the name of a tool among them made generally of bone which they use as a chisel… ” 1955, Beaglehole J.C. (ed) The Journals of Captain James Cook, Vol. 1 pg178, Cambridge

The locals exchanged koura (crayfish) for the nails.

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