Māori oral tradition tells of successive waves of newcomers who have approached Te Tau Ihu o Te Waka-a-Māui, the ‘top of the South’, from across Raukawakawa (Cook Strait). In the 1700s tribes of the Kurahaupō waka (canoe), including Rangitāne and Ngāti Apa, established their mana over these lands. Ngāi Tahu, from the North Island’s East Coast, became dominant south of Te Parinui o Whiti (White Bluffs).
The whalers who frequented the waters around Cook Strait from the 1820s were a magnet to Māori from outside the region. Tainui and Taranaki tribes became allied under the leadership of Ngāti Toa chief Te Rauparaha and moved south. They were victorious in fighting off the northern point of Kapiti Island in 1824 and subsequently invaded the top of the South Island. Ngāti Toa, Ngāti Koata, Ngāti Rārua, Ngāti Tama and Te Āti Awa established settlements in the region. The northerners also attacked Ngāi Tahu but were repulsed in a battle at Kāpara Te Hau (Lake Grassmere) in 1833.
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