History of the Estuary — Part one


Te Ihutai (the Avon-Heathcote Estuary) is of great cultural importance to tangata whenua (localindigenous people) within Canterbury. Well before the arrival of Europeans in 1850, Te Ihutai was a place of settlement and making kai (food gathering) for people of Waitara, Ngāti Mamoe and Ngāi Tahu. Waitara iwi (tribe) were the first to settle, living in two main kainga (settlements) around the estuary- Te Rae Kura (Redcliffs) and Te Kai o Te Karoro (South New Brighton). Ngāti Mamoe settled here in the 1500s on Tauhinu Korokio, known today as Mt Pleasant. In the 1600s Ngāi Tahu established a pā (fortfied village) in Kaiapoi, about 20km north of Christchurch. Instead of permanently living around the estuary they visited and used the area for making kai.

Whare (houses) were built from local materials such as flax, raupō and native trees, and caves along the shoreline between Redcliffs and Sumner provided not only shelter but also materials for making tools and reg pigments for dye.

Their diet was varied thanks to the abundant food naturally on offer such as tuere (blind eels) tuna (eels) inanga (whitebait) pātiki (flounder) pipi (shellfish, tango (cockles), and whētiko (periwinkle).



The sandy soils found at places like the mouth of the Avon River/Ōtākaro also allowed for the cultivation of edible rots like kūmara and aruhe (fern root), while the mouth of the Heathcote River/Ōpāwaho was used as kainga nohoanga (seasonal settlement) and gathering place for travellers. A sophisticated mix of tools were used for fishing; from nets spears and eel weirs built of manuka, to horseshoe-shaped fish traps built of stone. Hīnaki (eel pots) were also set at mānuka weirs near the mouth of the rivers , capturing large numbers of eels during their migrations. With no electricity and seasonal shifts in food availability, food preserving was essential. Tuna (eels) and inanga were dried on racks in the sun while more oily fish were stored in kelp frond containers, and after cooking pipe were strung together with flax and left to dry.