Cultural history of Whirinaki

Thank you to DOC for this information 🙂

Early history
The Korowai (cloak) of Whirinaki Te Pua-a-Tāne Conservation Park embraces Ngāti Whare iwi and is woven through co-management.

The threads are the park’s biodiversity, and its historic, cultural and spiritual taonga. By nurturing the forest, recreational, social and economic opportunities flow for all people.

Māori have lived here probably as long as the oldest trees still standing. The original inhabitants of the Whirinaki valley were believed to have been Te Marangaranga. They were conquered by Wharepakau and his nephew Tangiharuru, descendants of Toi the great Māori chief. Through this conquest Wharepakau and Tangiharuru, with their people, occupied the lands in the Whirinaki and Rangitaiki Valleys and their descendants have lived in the district ever since. Ngāti Whare are descendents of Wharepakau and regard themselves as the guardians of Whirinaki Te Pua-a-Tāne Conservation Park.

As a result of historical Treaty of Waitangi claims, Ngāti Whare has established an ongoing and active partnership with the Crown in relation to the land, rivers, sacred land and other special taonga. Ngāti Whare and the Department of Conservation are currently working on a unique co-managed conservation management plan, which is a milestone for both parties.

Māori association with the forest is also spiritual. Whirinaki protects and preserves the people and legends of the past, is traditionally known as a pātaka kai (source of food), and provides herbs and building materials for cultural purposes.

These include tōtara for meeting houses and other carving work. The right to take these resources is special to Ngāti Whare and arises from their significant relationship with the forest. This commitment also extends to a long-term project to regenerate the podocarp forest that will enhance its overall value and ecological health and create an expanding conservation park for future generations of Ngāti Whare.

The first Pākehā to visit the area was Reverend William Colenso who came to Te Whaiti in 1842. By 1885 surveying of the proposed State Highway 38 began but met with resistance from Tūhoe—one clash in 1889 led to the establishment of a police station at Te Whaiti. In the same year, a store was established with the well-known historian Elsdon Best as the shopkeeper. The presence of the store and road construction work gradually eased relations between Māori and European residents.

Many pā, settlement and old garden sites remain in the forest as reminders of the area’s long history of occupation.

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