Nelson Historical Society Journal, Volume 3, Issue 2, August 1976
The geographical features of the shoreline of the Park favoured settlement by New Zealand's earliest Polynesian occupiers and the indented coastline offered shelter and food for a succession of tribes from the North Island.
It is not certain when the first people occupied the shores of the region, but one can assume that, like other places in Tasman Bay, the population would be quite significant by the 13th Century A.D. Research and laboratory dating have confirmed the hunting of moas during this era, not only in the open plain lands of the Waimea, but in secluded bays surrounded by a forest environment. The moa hunting age is confined to the earliest period of Polynesian settlement, a "discovery age" where the first people exploited the natural food resources to such an extent, that soon the most common species were diminished to a state of near extinction.
Although bones of the moa are most common in fissures and pot-holes throughout the Nelson area, most, if not all of these would pre-date human occupation. The undisputed evidence of man's association with the extinct moa is the finding of broken and charred bones in the lowest levels of the midden heaps. These occur frequently along the coast-line of Tasman Bay, but not so intensively as elsewhere in New Zealand, where extensive plain lands supported a greater and more varied moa population. Nelson's rugged hinterland and confined river plains restricted thoroughfare for both moa and man alike.
The most common moa so far found in the Nelson region, is the small species (anomalopteryx didiformus) which did not exceed four feet in height, and a slender, thin-legged variety (dinornis torosus).
Bones from both species have been found in Moa Hunter camps in Tasman Bay, but, as yet, only remains of the bush moa anomalopteryx are evident from Maori camps in the Park.page 2
The extent of a true moa hunting period of Maori culture varies from region to region and could very well have ceased up to a century earlier in some districts.
With the extermination of the moa, there was a greater reliance on a fish and mollusc diet supplemented by birds, seals and also the dogs and rats brought from Polynesia.
Artifacts from the Moa Hunter period of Maori culture are likely to occur anywhere along the coastline and are evidence of a nomadic, wandering existence, based on a hunting and fishing economy. Their settlements are usually based on an estuarine delta-like environment of which Awaroa is an example.
Anapai, Awaroa and Adele Island have all yielded distinctive "early" culture artifacts, typical of the Moa Hunter period. There are large adzes made from argillite and stone ornaments of serpentine, with occasional examples of bone fish hooks and pendants.
Possibly their nearest cultural relations surviving into historical times were the Moriori of the Chatham Islands who are traditionally supposed to have set out from Rangitoto (D'Urville Is.) via Cook Strait for their new homeland.
But traditional history of the area is very sketchy and we refer those interested to J. D. Pearts "Old Tasman Bay", 1937.
The first known tribe to live in the vicinity were the Ngaitara who came from the Wellington area. They are supposed to have died out about 1600 A.D. from violating a tapu and were followed by the Ngati Tumatakokiri who came from the Marlborough Sounds and gradually spread as far as Karamea.
They disputed with their neighbours Rangitane and Ngati Kuia in the Sounds and Ngai Tahu in the upper Grey River Valley. After surviving attacks by Ngati Apa and Ngai Tahu, they succumbed to a second attack by Ngati Apa who replaced them in Golden Bay and West Whanganui areas and subjugated them in Tasman Bay.
During their vassalage, the Ngati Tumatakokiri, living a life of banishment, became very knowledgable of the wooded interior. Kehu (Ekehu) and Pikiwati were of this tribe, and with their wives, capably guided the European explorers Heaphy and Brunner into the interior and down the West Coast.
Two survivors of the Ngati Tumatakokiri living at the Croisilles, said that it was their ancestors who were hostile to page 3Tasman at "Whanawhana" (Whariwharangi) near Separation Point over 200 years earlier.
A remnant pocket of Ngati Tumatakokiri, living in Totaranui about 1825, killed two survivors from a vessel wrecked on the West Coast.
The inter-tribal skirmishes which took place within the Bay amounted to no more than family quarrels, compared with Te Rauparaha's raids of 1828. Weapons of stone and wood were no defence against the muskets of Te Rauparaha's warriors. The local tribes were almost completely destroyed, and the loss of their leaders and learned men deprived us of the traditional history of the Abel Tasman National Park and surrounding districts.
The new occupiers, Ngati Tama, Te Atiawa and Ngati Rarua, all shared the land, but not without dispute among themselves. The Park area was virtually deserted, with a concentration of people on its borders. The Ngati Rarua lived near Marahau, and Ngati Tama, with their distinguished chief Te Puoho, at Parapara.
It was from Parapara that Te Puoho assembled his warriors for a final disastrous foray to the far south of the South Island, via the West Coast and Haast Pass, through to Otago, where he and most of his warriors, met their death at the hands of the Ngai Tahu at Tuturau.
Hostilities, hastened by the acquisition of firearms spread to both islands. European diseases in epidemic proportions further reduced the remnants of the population.
Within fifty years, five centuries of heritage and tradition had crumbled into oblivion, due to savage inter-tribal wars and disease. Some endeavour is now being made to reconstruct the culture of those former inhabitants. Archaeologists literally sift evidence from the soil, and when this is collated and placed in its correct perspective, the story gradually unfolds.
Those interested and well intentioned members of the public who wish to investigate some find of possible archeaological interest, should remember the historical importance of this research. For this reason both the local Nelson Provincial Museum and the Park Board stipulate that all excavations must be controlled by the Park Board or district authorised museum. The new Antiquities Act also declares any artifacts found anywhere in New Zealand or within the territorial waters of New Zealand will become the property of the Crown after March 1976.page 4
The Historic Places Amendment Act will come into force at the same time. This prohibits anyone, be they landowner or Crown, from disturbing any archaeological site without the prior consent of the Historic Places Trust.
The following line drawings have been abstracted from Tasman (1642) and D'Urville (1827) and illustrate what little we know from graphic sources about the pre-settlement Maori and his evolving culture in Tasman Bay over the span of almost 200 years.
The above, from Tasman, shows the interesting and unexpected fashion in which the hair was tied back in a queue or pig-tail: this is confirmed in the text as being "after the manner of the Japanese" … also the way the cloak is fastened across the chest There is no suggestion in drawing or text of tattooing, which, if present, would almost certainly have been noted on this occasion, the first ever contact between the European and Maori worlds.
From Tasman's sketch, it seems that he encountered at least one double canoe rigged with what we would call a lateen sail. His text makes a reference to the "tingan" rig of the East Indies, and here we can probably rely on a sailor's interested observation of the details of a strange craft and its rig.