Rich in the resources needed to sustain human life and located alongside much-used waterways, Hauraki had a turbulent Māori history of migration, warfare and intense competition over natural resources.
Oyster-shell lure at Tairua
In 1964 a fish lure made from the shell of a pearl oyster was found during an archaeological dig at Tairua. Given the absence of pearl oysters in New Zealand waters, it must have been the possession of a migrant from East Polynesia.
The first settlers
The islands of the Hauraki Gulf and the Coromandel Peninsula were likely places of first landfall for Polynesian migrants around 1250–1300.
Archaeological investigation of middens (ancient refuse heaps) on east coast beaches of the peninsula in the 1960s revealed evidence of moa hunting and raids on seal rookeries.
The Māori names of Hauraki places tell the story of discovery and settlement, beginning with the exploits of the mythical Māui.
- Coromandel Peninsula: Te Tara-o-te-Ika a Māui (the jagged barb of Māui’s fish), or Te Paeroa-a-Toi (Toi’s long mountain range)
- Whitianga: Te Whitianga-a-Kupe (Kupe’s crossing)
- Mercury Bay: Te Whanganui-a-Hei (the great harbour of Hei)
- Hauraki Gulf: Tīkapa Moana (an allusion to ceremonies designed to protect Tainui and Te Arawa tribes, which took place at a small island off Cape Colville known as Tīkapa or Takapū, which means gannet).
Hauraki itself means the north-west wind, which brought many raiding parties to the region.
Phases of history
Coromandel excavations have contributed much to the development of archaeological ideas in New Zealand. In the 1930s curio-hunters found numerous highly developed artefacts at Ōruarangi, a swamp pā close to the mouth of the Waihou River. Archaeologist Jack Golson observed that these belonged to a much more advanced material culture than that of the first settlers. He proposed two phases in Māori culture: archaic, 1250–1500, and classic, 1500–1769. Present-day archaeologists are inclined to shorten the archaic phase by about 100 years, suggesting a faster rate of adaptation.
Ngāti Hako are the oldest surviving tribe of Hauraki. Their origins are unclear, but they are said to descend from the voyager Toi.
Both Te Arawa and Tainui canoes arrived in Hauraki from East Polynesia, having first made landfall at Whangaparāoa at the far eastern end of Te Moana-nui-a-Toi (the Bay of Plenty). Tainui continued to Kāwhia on the west coast, whilst Te Arawa made a final landfall at Maketū in the Bay of Plenty, but some crew members remained in Hauraki. Ngāti Hei, the descendants of Hei, the brother of Te Arawa chief Tamatekapua, and Ngāti Huarere, the descendants of his grandson Huarere, dominated Hauraki for 300 years. In the 2000s Ngāti Hei retain their Te Arawa identity and affiliation.
Tainui and Marutūahu
After 1550 several waves of Tainui peoples entered Hauraki from the west and south-west. Hotunui arrived first, then his son Marutūahu, and a little later his other sons. Pāoa, from another Tainui line, arrived last. The Tainui migrants fought and conquered Ngāti Huarere. They formed the Marutūahu confederation of tribes: Ngāti Maru, Ngāti Rongoū, Ngāti Tamaterā, Ngāti Whanaunga and Ngāti Pāoa.
Competition for resources among the Marutūahu peoples was intense. The aim was to gain access to a variety of resources – such as eel weirs, inshore fisheries, kauri groves – rather than to consolidate larger territories. The result was a patchwork of customary rights, all needing to be defended against the claims of others.
Staking out fishing rights
The Thames foreshore was one of the richest flatfish grounds in the country. The two kilometres from Tararū hill to the mouth of the Kauaeranga River was divided into 45 separate tribal or hapū interests, each demarcated by inshore stakes.
The lower Waihou
The Waihou River was a ready-made highway and the vast swamp around it was a rich source of food. Despite the discomfort of life in the midst of water, the remains of many settlements are found along the river. Māori used sand and shells to raise settlements above high-water mark. The ‘swamp pā’ of Ōruarangi and Pāterangi at Kōpū, and Kākaramea at Hikutaiā, were then the largest pā.
In 1983 earth-moving work in the river uncovered large middens at a bend in the Ōhinemuri River close to Paeroa. Archaeological investigation showed this to be the site of Te Raupa pā, which missionary Samuel Marsden visited in 1820. It was then the largest swamp pā on the Waihou River.