Origin of the Name
Maori traditions of the Great Migration tell of the canoe Tainui being hauled across the Tamaki Isthmus to become the first of the great canoes to reach the Manukau. The anxiety of Hoturoa, Te-Manuka-O-Hoturoa, as he steered Tainui towards the breakers at the harbour entrance, has been suggested as the origin of the name Manuka, first applied to the heads, then extended to cover the harbour, and since corrupted to Manukau. Other suggested derivations include “bathing place for sea birds” (manu, “bird”, kau, “a swim”), “place of the wading birds”, “nothing but birds”, and a corruption of the name of the ubiquitous scrubland plant, manuka.
With portages both to the Pacific Ocean and to the Waikato River, the Manukau was an important natural waterway to the Maori. Snapper, flounders, mullet, and shellfish such as scallops, cockles, and pipis, made it a valued fishing ground. Many villages were established around the shores and forts built on most of the volcanic cones. The effects of Maori settlement around the harbour are not certainly known, but quite considerable areas must have been cleared by fire to make room for cultivation. By the eighteenth century the Tamaki Isthmus was largely covered by ferns, manuka, and tussock, apart from the areas under cultivation; but to the south large areas of bush survived, and to the north-west the Waitakeres were bush clad. The principal trees were totara, rimu, matai, and puiriri, with kahikatea on the swamps. Kauri trees were scattered throughout, but were plentiful only at the northern end of Awhitu Peninsula and in the Waitakeres. Cabbage trees, nikau palms and the various tree ferns gave character to the bush, whilst colour was provided by the giant rata, the clematis, and, close to the water, the pohutukawa.