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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 12, Issue 2 (May 1, 1937)

Cannibal Gorge and Its Stories

Cannibal Gorge and Its Stories.

The wildest part of the ancient track through the Upper Maruia was Te Kopi-o-Kai-Tangata, otherwise “Cannibal Gorge.” The gloomy glory of the mountains which wall in the Upper Maruia made strong impression on some of the early English travellers through those parts from the Canterbury and Marlborough side of the Island. One pioneer who passed that way from the cattle and sheep country on the Upper Waiau-ua—the period was the mid-Sixties—described the watershed country as very wild and beautiful, particularly at the Kopi-o-Kai-Tangata. The mountains rose into heights of over six thousand feet, the rugged valley was in places not more than a quarter of a mile in width. When the river was swollen by heavy rains and by the melting of the snow on the Spencer Ranges, the defile was a scene of terrific uproar and tossing foam; the torrent for miles made a sound like Niagara, plunging down over masses of rock in a series of cataracts.

The name Maruia means sheltered, shady, as a valley deep in the hills.

The treasured pounamu was the chief cause of the olden wars between East and West, but it is also handed down as history that the pursuit of wekas and eel-fishing at the heads of the rivers here led to many fights. Besides Ngati-Wairangi, there was Ngati-Tumatakokiri, an ancient tribe of the Buller and Nelson country, that disputed possession of the Maruia Valley and thereabouts with the Ngai-Tahu from Kaiapoi and Kaikoura.

Some people have surmised that the great cannibal conqueror Te Raupa-raha, once made an expedition through the Maruia, but this is not a fact. Rauparaha may have contemplated raiding the West Coast for greenstone, but he secured it in another way by attacking the Ngai-Tahu in Canterbury and Marlborough in 1830 and carrying off their accumulated hoards.