Polynesian Resource Center

Dedicated to the preservation and promotion of Polynesian Art and Culture

Tales of the Savage Coast from the book Kaikoura Coast by William J Elvy

Polynesian Resource Center

Bill Elvy was a survey draughtsman who worked for years along the Kaikoura Coast, but more importantly he was a keen amateur historian and his small book is a rare and little known gem that contains evocative sketches of the area's often violence past. The Kaikoura Coast is a stunningly beautiful part of the South Island and thanks to the deep sea trench off the coast was a rich food resource supporting a high population of Maori.

In this little extract Bill Elvy conjures up all savagry and struggle for life on the coast of the pre and post-contact period.

On the beach is the tombstone of Jack White before mentioned, who was drowned while wool was being shipped there in the early days. This was the shipping place for the Waipapa Station wool, a surfboat being kept there for the purpose. At one time it was a whaling station, and when I first saw it 50 years ago whale ribs had provided the posts along the road fence boundry. There is a permanent stream of water flowing through the flat, this stream being called Hau-makariri. Tradition has it that if one drinks the water from this stream he will always return to this beautiful spot. This was the beginning of the beautiful scenic reserves along this coast which extend south from the Iron Gate River.

Waipapa must have had an interesting history, and has been occupied by many different tribes. The stream at the south end of the bay, now called the Limestone, is known to the Maori as Mororimu (moro meaning wave, and rimu, the bull kelp), the name given to it by Rakai-tauwheke, after he had captured the pa and slain all its inhabitants. Reporting on success, he said: “Nothing moves at Waipapa now but the kelp in the sea.”

The fortified pa was on the top of the bluff. The old plantion ground is still tracable, also, above the terrace. The kainga, or village, also seems to have extended to Okiwi Bay, as there are many traces of old occupation there. Okiwi might be translated 'the place of the kiwi bird,' but it may also be the place where a chief called Kiwi lived. On the south side of Okiwi Bay was Rabbit-gate Point, so called because a netting fence and gate were erected there in the old days, presumably in an unsuccessful attempt to keep the rabbit pest from spreading. A short distance south of Rabbit-gate Point is Black Miller stream, which refers, so I am told, to a negro named Millar, who lived there in the early days. I have not gathered the Maori name.

Paparoa Point probably means a long flat rocky point. This was a favourite fishing ground of the Maori, and a grand place to catch crayfish in the season. There is a hole hewn out of the rock there which I was told was cut out by the Maori to keep his surplus fish alve in. Near this point is situated the fabled Black Cave, Te Ana-o-pouri, reputed to be have been the tribal burial cave of the Maoris along the coast for generations. There are some reports still extant that certain pakehas were allowed to visit the cave in the early days, and tales of valuable weapons and ornaments being deposited there for safe keeping. So far as I can gather the entrance to this fabled cave is covered by rock spoil deposited over the entrance when excavating the road and railway. During the railway excavation a leg bone, still wearing a boot, was discovered in the rock, but whether this was part of a joint saved from a cannibal feast is a moot point. The rocks along the coast contain many burial caves, most of them now sealed by the excavated rock.

Polynesian Resource Center

Half-moon Bay is about a mile south of the Ohau. The old whalers told me that they often ran in here in a southerly bluster, as it was a comparatively safe anchorage. The Maori name is Umu-Taoroa (the long cooking oven). I am told the name was given to commemorate a notable cannibal feast which took place when Rakau-tau-wheke captured Rakautara pa. The name means a special kind of oven, where the many dead were laid out in a circle, feet to the cantre, and then cooked by means of the steam method using hot stones, flax mats and then a covering of earth. The joints of meat were done when steam was seen to issue from the uncovered mouths of the dead.

Within these little exracts from Elvy are contained a snapshot of all the struggle and romance of life for both Maori and Pakeha alike on just one stretch of coastline in New Zealand. They are beautiful because Elvy understood that land is everything to people, and as the French understood terroir added the special flavour of the land to the wine, then history adds the special flavour of this piece of land to the lives of the people who lived on it. It is the key to understanding Maori and Polynesians and all indigenous people and hence ourselves. Modern Tourisim is huge waste of human resourses and those of our planet, it is in general a vast waste of time and enormously expensive, yet is rooted in a great deal of the essentual wanderlust of the human spirit. My objection is not of the essentual motivation only the poverty of the execution. If the traveler to New Zealand read Elvy's little book and Fredrick Manning and Logan Campbell and timed a drive from Christchurch to Picton to catch the ferry so that they came down from the Hunterlee's just as the first loom of dawn appeared on the eastern hozizon, then most would carry away something of the unique flavour of this very special place and their lives would be richer for the experience. The truth of tourism is that to be life enhancing it requires effort and intelligence and imagination and nothing truely memorable is ever found in the glossy brochures.

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