Story: Mātaitai – shellfish gathering

Page 4. Pāua, kina, pipi, cockles and tuatua

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When people say they are going out to gather kaimoana (seafood), they are often only going for pāua and kina.


Pāua (Haliotis iris) are found in crevices, on the undersides of reef shelves, and clinging to rocks in channels through the reef. They feed on seaweed, and the colours of the shells vary according to the type of seaweed that is most abundant in the area.

The shells were used for the eyes in carvings, and the thick lip of the shell was fashioned into kahawai, a fishing lure. They are also used extensively for jewellery.

Some people use the hua (stomach or roe) in pāua fritters, or by itself, but most pāua are taken only for the flesh. Very fresh pāua can be fried immediately, but if they are to be eaten later, they are generally beaten with a steak tenderiser to soften the flesh. A favourite recipe is to combine the minced flesh with a little onion and cream. Whichever recipe is favoured, pāua need very little cooking.

Muddy waters

In Wairarapa, pāua were often put in fresh water for a few days before being eaten. These places were known as wai pāua (pāua water). A man named Te Harara had his harvest stolen from his wai pāua by a local woman. However, she made a large number of footprints around the area, to give the impression that a group of travellers had passed by and taken the shellfish. Her deception worked and she was not, at the time, identified as the thief.

To comply with fishing regulations, only pāua that measure more than 125 millimetres may be taken, with a limit of 10 per person per day. The use of diving tanks is prohibited when gathering – under the amateur fishing regulations only free divers may collect them.


Kina (sea urchins or Evechinus chloroticus) are found under rocks and rock shelves on the shore below the high-tide mark. They often have small stones, shells, and seaweed such as neptune’s necklace (Hormosira banksii) on their spikes as camouflage against snapper and other predators. The daily limit of kina is 50 per person per day.


The shellfish that are most associated with summer holidays are pipi (Paphies australis). They are found in the sandy banks near the mouth of estuaries, and harbours where there is considerable water flow.

The daily limit is 150 per person, and although a minimum size is not stipulated in the regulations, only larger pipi should be taken. In earlier times people had specific flax baskets for pipi. Smaller specimens would fall between the woven strips and back into the beds as the basket was gently swirled through the water.


Tuangi (cockles, or Austrovenus stutchburyi) are found near pipi beds, although most are in the mudflats of estuaries rather than the sandier beds in the flowing water preferred by pipi.


Tuatua (Paphies subtriangulata) are larger than pipi and found on sandy beaches. They are usually harvested when there is a very low tide. People feel for the shellfish with their feet, only grasping them with their hands when they have located a group. The daily limit is 150 per person, except in the Auckland and Coromandel fishing area, where it is 50.

How to cite this page:

Mere Whaanga, 'Mātaitai – shellfish gathering - Pāua, kina, pipi, cockles and tuatua', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 22 May 2024)

Story by Mere Whaanga, published 12 Jun 2006