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Cultural heritage

Ohiwa heritage and history

This ancient whakatauaki, handed down for many generations, demonstrates the enduring relationships of tangata whenua with Ohiwa Harbour and its natural resources. The spawning place of the hammerhead shark below Tauwhare pa is an allusion to the plentiful food supplies available there to nurture the newly-born sharks. This in turn alludes to the bounteous nature of the whole Harbour, and the many hands harvesting that bounty throughout history ('noa mai' is an abbreviation of 'noa mai ra ano', since the beginning of time).

E noho ana au ki te koko ki Ohiwa
Kia whakarongo rua aku taringa
Ki te tai o tua o Kanawa
E aki ana mai ki uta ra
Ki te whanau a Tairongo
Kei Tauwhare ko te kopu o te Ururoa
Ko te kai ra i raru, noa mai te Raweketia
E te ringaringa

As I sit on the beach at Ohiwa
I listen to the waves beating over the sandbar at Kanawa
Against the foreshore
The home of my ancestor Tairongo
My mind wanders to Tauwhare
The birthplace of the hammerhead shark
And to the food basket, revered by many hands

Tangata whenua of the Ohiwa Harbour

Ohiwa Harbour lies within the homelands of Upokorehe, Whakatohea, Ngati Awa and Tuhoe.  For centuries, they have lived in and harvested food from Ohiwa Harbour and its environs. This is reflected in the high concentration of cultural and archaeological sites in and around the Harbour. Ohiwa is still recognised as a food basket by Maori and their knowledge of the abundant food resources at Ohiwa has endured for many centuries. The earliest names of the Harbour reflect this, including 'Te Kete Kai a Tairongo' (the food basket of Tairongo) and 'Te Umu Taonoa a Tairongo' (the place where Tairongo found an abundance of food ready to eat).

In the 1860s, all iwi in the eastern Bay of Plenty were dispossessed of much, if not all of their land. For Upokorehe, Whakatohea, Ngati Awa and Tuhoe this included the Ohiwa Harbour and catchment. While the Crown's confiscation adversely affected the ability of tangata whenua to use, occupy and manage Ohiwa Harbour's resources, it did not extinguish their ancestral relationships nor eliminate evidence of their former use and occupation.

Upokorehe, Whakatohea, Ngati Awa and Tuhoe have agreed that as tangata whenua they will work co-operatively to exercise kaitiakitanga (guardianship) of the Ohiwa Harbour. They also acknowledge the relationship that distant iwi like Ngai Tai, Te Whanau a Apanui, Te Whanau a Ehutu, Ngati Manawa, Ngati Whare and others, have with Ohiwa Harbour.

To Maori, Ohiwa Harbour continues to be an important taonga, a priceless treasure that must be looked after so its rich resources are there for future generations to share.


Whakatohea descend from the Nukutere and Mataatua waka, with ancestral lines traced back to Tutamure and Muriwai.  Whakatohea and its hapu Ngati Ruatakena, Ngati Patumoana, Ngati Ngahere, Ngai Tamahaua, Ngati Ira and Te Upokorehe exercise mana over their tribal boundaries, including a 35-km stretch of coastline, from Maraetotara at Ohope in the west to Tarakeha, a fortified ridge pa between Opape and Awaawakino in the east. These coastal boundaries run inland, south-east through mountainous country, and join just south of Matawai.  Customary rights, responsibilities and intimate relationships of Whakatohea with its natural resources have been developed over several centuries. 

Ohiwa Harbour, named 'the daughter of Whakatohea', held plentiful supplies of shellfish, including cockles, mussels and sea snails, and also abundant open-sea fish. Just east of Ohiwa is the Waiotahe River, famous for its seemingly inexhaustible supply of shellfish.  These areas have long provided rich sources of food and continue to be held in high regard by Whakatohea.

As kaitiaki (guardians), Whakatohea treasure the natural resources that lie within their tribal bounds and acknowledge the importance of caring for the Harbour and its surrounds, so that future generations can enjoy its natural beauty and be nourished by the abundance of Te Kete Kai a Tairongo (the food basket of Tairongo). For more information visit the Whakatohea website.


Te Upokorehe live around the Ohiwa Harbour and are active in their kaitiakitanga of the Harbour. For more information, contact Trevor Ransfield on 07 315 4990. You can read more about their mangrove management activities in the case study - Upokorehe get 'hands on' with mangroves

Ngati Awa - For more information visit the Ngati Awa website.

Tuhoe - For more information visit the Tuhoe website.

Colonial times

In recent colonial times, before the development of roads, the Harbour was an important transport hub. There was a busy wharf at Kutarere, serviced by coastal scows (flat-bottomed boats) and another at Port Ohope. Local produce was taken from here to Auckland and household and farming supplies were brought in. There was a hotel at Ohiwa spit (in a location now submerged in the Harbour) at which travellers stayed while they waited for a trading scow or the ferry across the Harbour entrance. Cream and butter were transported by boat to Auckland from the dairy factory at Cheddar Valley. The dairy factory is now a pottery.

Click here to read the story of Leo Ducker, the first pākehā child to be born at Ohiwa (250 KB, pdf).

Read more about the restoration of Ngati Awa farm, located on the fringes of the Ohiwa Harbour in this case study - Ngati Awa Farm land-use change