Kā Ara Tūpuna


Ngāi Tahu developed, and inherited from much older Iwi, a complex infrastructure of travel routes throughout Te Waipounamu.

Ngāi Tahu collectively describes mahinga kai as the gathering of foods and other resources, the places where they are gathered and the practices used in doing so. Over many generations Ngāi Tahu Whānui developed mahinga kai patterns based on the seasons and lifecycles of various birds, animals and plants.

Ngāi Tahu utilised these trails to connect settlements with mahinga kai areas and other settlements. Trails followed significant mahinga kai resources, with both seasonal and permanent settlements located in strategic locations so foods could be gathered and consumed to sustain people on their journeys. Caves and overhanging rock faces were used as shelter for a nights recovery before the next day’s journey, and hot springs provided relief to tired bones.

These traditional travel routes became memorised and passed on through the generations by careful learning and practice. After inter-generational use Ngāi Tahu hapū and whānau developed an extensive and intimate knowledge of the place-names, stories, mahinga kai resources, resting places and natural features associated with each individual trail.

Many of the first European explorers to the South Island were in fact guided or directed by Ngāi Tahu people. Nathaniel Chalmers was taken through Central Otago by Reko and Kaikōura, Tarawhata guided Shortland through South Canterbury, and Tarapuhi advised Arthur Dobson of the pass at the head of the Waimakariri River which became known as Arthurs Pass. It is no coincidence that most of today’s main transportation routes in the South Island follow these well-used traditional Ngāi Tahu trails.

‘Kā Ara Tūpuna’ takes a comprehensive look at these early Ngāi Tahu travel routes throughout Te Waipounamu which were to became the arteries of important economic and social relationships for Ngāi Tahu.

When early Pākehā explorers, surveyors and government agents arrived in Te Wai Pounamu, in the mid-nineteenth century, they struggled to negotiate the landscape alone, both in physical and cultural terms. Pākehā readily became lost, particularly when negotiating the vast swamplands that were a feature of the Canterbury landscape. River crossing was also particularly fraught and the myriad waterways in the area posed a very real threat of drowning. As a consequence, Pākehā travellers usually engaged Māori guides to assist them as not only navigators and porters but also as interpreters and cultural advisors. For Ngāi Tahu, these arrangements allowed a measure of control over where Pākehā travelled within their rohe (tribal area) and also availed them of the opportunity to be privy to Pākehā activities. Guides were often paid in either money or goods, but their assistance was sometimes provided voluntarily.



The Hurunui is the traditional boundary between Ngāi Tūāhuriri and Ngāti Kurī. There was major Māori occupation at the river mouth, which is evidenced by the numerous Māori archaeological sites located across the hapua area.
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Te Kopi o Ōpihi

The Ōpihi River was the principal travel route from the Arowhenua region to Te Manahuna. By following the Ōpihi River, entrance to Te Manahuna could be effected through Te Kopi o Ōpihi (Burkes Pass). This traditional trail is now more or less followed by State Highway 8 which is the main route into the Mackenzie Basin from the eastern area.

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Mackenzie Basin

Whakatipu is a corruption of the traditional Māori name Whakatipu-wai-Māori. Although wai-Māori means ‘fresh water’, the meaning of Whakatipu is unclear. However, we know that the name Whakatipu is of regional significance as several geographic features within the wider region include the name Whakatipu.
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