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Early Māori History

For centuries Maungatapere was an important location for Māori, and like its surrounding districts, has been inhabited by various hapū right up to the current day.
The rich volcanic soil was good for growing staple crops such as kumara, and Maungatapere also served as a meeting point between various ara (trails) in the region.

Pacific explorers

Māori explorers first arrived from the Pacific into Ipiripiri the Bay of Islands as far back as 1300 years ago in what according to archaeological records is believed to be one of New Zealand's earliest sites of Polynesian settlement. Over the following centuries Māori migrated and settled through Te Tai Tokerau Northland and beyond.

A great place to grow food

Early Māori found the volcanic fields around Northland a great place for growing essential crops, and Maungatapere, Maunu and Whatitiri maunga were all home to various pa and villages. The rich soil sustained many types of native plants which provided a varied and abundant diet.

The land is more fertile than surrounding clay soils and the volcanic ash made it easier to cultivate the ground using handheld wooden implements. The stones from the lava flow also meant the soil was warmer and gave longer growing seasons for subtropical plants such as kumara, gourds, yams and taro. The volcanic rocks were often heaped up to create raised rock gardens that helped hold in soil moisture and warmed the soil.

These volcanic soils were prized and sought after by those who didn’t have them, so storehouses of crops such as kumara needed to be protected from those who didn’t have such abundant growing conditions.

The abundance of springs from the maunga aquifers were good for the gardens, and the various streams and rivers around the area provided an abundance of kai such as tuna (eel), kēwai (freshwater crayfish), kokopu (trout), inanga (whitebait) and kākahi (freshwater mussels).

Kāheru includes several types of wooden spades and light cultivating tools known as ketu, wauwau, and pinaki.

They were used for lighter cultivation work, such as loosening soil, weeding, and the various tasks associated with ngaki (cultivation operations).

This pātua is a basket made of totara bark with vine and was used to collect various food items.

This hīnaki or eel/fish trap is a tried-and-true method for catching fish around the world. Different types of baits would be used in conjunction such as a handful of worms or birds.

Once the bait is placed in the vine basket, it is placed in the water and anchored with stones. Prey can enter through the cone shape and are not able to escape. This one has a single entrance but other hīnaki could have multiple. Some traps even had sticks that eels would have to push through to get to the bait to secure their catch.

Images and information thanks to Whangarei Museum Kiwi North.

Transport links

As the area was heavily wooded with native forest, the Wairua and Māngere Rivers and their networks of tributaries played an important part as a ‘highway’ connecting hapū and allowing trade between the Far North and further south via waka tiwai (river canoes).  The rivers connected to traditional ara (pathways).

Maungatapere was also a key meeting point between various trails in the region that stretched from the east to west coasts.

War parties, inter-iwi marriage brokers, traders and diplomats traversed these routes.
Local hapū went through centuries of loss, fragile peace, deals and alliances, always exhibiting sheer determination to dig in to their rohe. These upheavals have led to some challenges for modern-day Treaty settlements.

waka (c) Kiwi North.jpg

The Whangarei Museum at Kiwi North is the kaitiaki of two waka tiwai (river canoes) from the Mangakahia-Whatitiri area (as seen on the header image of this page).

One is 9.6 m long and the other 5.5 m long, although both easily handled by one person. Each has their own whakapapa, leading back to their original crafting in the early to mid-nineteenth century, although the exact details of their origins are lost with the memories of our tipuna (ancestors). 

Images and information thanks to Whangarei Museum Kiwi North.


When European settlers arrived in the 1800s there was a chain of Maori hapū stretching from Porotī to Raumanga. At that time Te Tirarau Kūkupa was the leading rangatira of most of the hapū from Whangārei to inland. When Tirarau died, the mantle was passed to his younger brother Taurau Kūkupa.

Pre-1900, marae were all over the place and not as we see them now. There are six current marae sites between Maungatapere and Twin Bridges - Maungarongo Marae in Porotī, located at the head of Te Waipao (Porotī Springs), Waimarie on Draffin Rd, Korokota on Tokiri Rd, Titoki, Te Aroha at Parakao, Te Tarai o Rahiri at Pakotai and Parahaki at Nukutawhiti—and today their people come from all over.

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Maungarongo Marae, Source Maori Maps


We’ve shared a very brief overview of the history of early Māori – which is rich and varied – using a variety of sources. This information is shared with the best of intentions, and after consultation with local iwi, however we acknowledge that oral history and euro-centric written history are not always aligned. Oral history relies on the perspective of the storyteller, and evolves, whereas written history locks in a version and doesn’t always allow for variations or different perspectives. History varies even within and across local hapū according to the perspective of the person sharing it.


POROTĪ SPRINGS AND THE RESOURCE MANAGEMENT ACT, 1991-2015, A report commissioned by the Waitangi Tribunal for the Te Paparahi o Te Raki inquiry (Wai 1040), April 2016

Maunu and Hora Hora Structure Plan, Adopted 2009, Whangārei District Council

Wairua River residents up the creek without a paddle, Northern Advocate, 1 December 2018

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