Kaikōura Tītī

The population of Māori for the Kaikōura region can date back to as early as the 10th or early 11th century. Early on, the population was made up of small family groups whose settlements were in sheltered bays and at the river mouths or by coastal lagoons. The small, unfortified settlements were often located on ridges and spurs which were terraced as sites for family houses and, in some places, for food stores. At first, these early Māori would have relied heavily on kai moana as their main food source.

The coming of new peoples to the area introduced new settlement patterns to those early Māori in the area Village systems and whare wānanga were introduced and resources were better utilized. River fishing techniques, such as hīnaki and eel weirs, were taught so that tuna could be reliably included in the seasonal gathering of foodstuffs and both kūmara seed tubers and the knowledge on how to grow these prized foods were introduced. The seasonal nature of food resources was mastered. The moa was hunted and provided meat, skin and bone and when they became extinct there were plentiful supplies of other birds and plant products to take their place. Well known food trails were in annual use and the inland nohanga (seasonal occupation site) were used extensively. Eventually fortified pā or villages, extensive gardens and the cultivation of aruhe (fernroot), tī kouka (cabbage trees) and karaka were introduced, while the knowledge of better food storage and trade with other iwi was learned.

The Kaikōura region was favoured by Māori because of the huge amount of food gathering resources within the area. The sea provided kai moana, rivers gave freshwater fish and tuna, and the land was plentiful in plants and bird life.

The Kaikōura tītī, or hutton shearwater, is a native to Kaikōura. The Kaikōura Seaward Ranges are the only place in the world these birds nest and breed. Both the Seaward Ranges and inland ranges would have once been greatly populated with tītī, which were a prized food source for Māori living in the area. Hunting parties would have travelled from their coastal settlements inland to harvest tītī. They would have had nohoanga in the areas, where they would preserve the tītī in a pōhā (kelp bag) before returning home. Pōhā would keep the birds for up to a number of years. Feathers and down would have been used in cloaks and mats, and uneaten birds could be traded with other hapū for things such as pounamu.

Due to colonisation, the introduction of predators and changes due to land development brought an end to the customary harvest, while the continued presence of predators such as feral pigs have seen tītī numbers decline to near extinction.

Further south, on the Tītī Islands (located around Rakiura/Stewart Island) Māori are still harvesting tītī (sooty shearwater) today. These rights are restricted solely to Māori families who have joint ownership and rights of access. Chicks can be harvested each year from April through May and the tītī can be used for food and for their feathers and down. The harvest has huge cultural significance and is a way for those whānau to connect with their ancestors and past.

Today in Kaikōura tītī numbers are back on the rise thanks to the The Hutton’s Shearwater Charitable Trust and many volunteers dedicated to increasing tītī numbers and colonies. Harvesting of tītī in Kaikōura is not permitted.

However it’s important to note the work that went on immediately prior to the establishment of the Huttons Shearwater Charitable Trust, so that an accurate record of these events is known.

Back in 1999 when WhaleWatch Kaikōura first purchased the property on the Kaikōura Peninsula, our Upoko the late Bill Solomon articulated his desire to establish a new colony on the Peninsula, in an attempt to increase the number of birds, that were on the decline because of predation. It was at this point that WhaleWatch Kaikōura first considered allowing part of its landholding to be set aside for a tītī colony. The desire to increase the numbers of these birds was to one day enable our children to be able to gather their own tītī from their own place, just as their ancestors did. Many conversations then occurred with the Department of Conservation to see how feasible this would be and with the help of the rūnanga and DoC this desire came to fruition. Thankfully WhaleWatch Kaikōura set aside the area for a new colony and the rest, as they say, is history.

But this is an important milestone in the history of this new colony because if these conversations and agreements hadn’t taken place, there would be no colony on the Peninsula. This should be known and acknowledged by all who are involved in this species recovery programme.