Story: Waka – canoes

Page 5. Other types of waka

All images & media in this story

Waka tīwai

These canoes, also known as waka kōpapa, were probably the most common and numerous. They were formed from a hollowed-out log, with no gunwales, carvings, thwarts, bow or stern pieces. Generally shorter and narrower than the waka taua and waka tētē, they were ideal for moving small groups of people and their belongings up and down rivers, and across harbours. Tribes living near a waterway would use them regularly.

Waka tīwai were also used for recreation. They are still raced in regattas today, especially in the Waikato region, where regular racing series are attended by many local schools. The canoes were sometimes referred to as waka peke (leaping canoes), because at some regattas they would be raced by jumping over logs raised slightly above the water surface. Often described as canoe hurdling, this was last practised at the Tūrangawaewae regatta in the early 1990s.

East Coast mōkihi (rafts)

The 19th-century Ngāti Porou leader Tuta Nihoniho described one form of mōkihi, or raft, constructed by his tribe for inshore fishing. Also known as amatiatia (outriggers), these craft were made of buoyant wood from small trees – whau or houama – and pinned together with mānuka. A second layer of smaller timbers was placed over the main pieces. They were then lashed together with a length of supplejack vine. Two such floats were placed about 1 metre apart and tied to three or four connecting poles. Two people would sit, one on each side, and paddle. The rafts were used for fishing, and to set and collect crayfish traps.

South Island mōkihi

One type of raft was more specific to the South Island tribes. Made of raupō (bulrush) and harakeke (flax), the mōkihi, or mōkī, had two forms. The first was a bundle of dry bulrushes or flax flower stalks on which a person would sit, paddling with his hands or a piece of wood. The second was bigger and more elaborate – several bundles were lashed together to resemble a boat.

These rafts were used to transport people and goods along the South Island’s inland waterways. They did not last as long as canoes of tōtara or kauri, but the materials were usually handy to waterways, the rafts were quick to make, and they made an excellent temporary means of transportation.

How to cite this page:

Hoturoa Barclay-Kerr, 'Waka – canoes - Other types of waka', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 13 April 2024)

Story by Hoturoa Barclay-Kerr, published 12 Jun 2006