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Our Environment: Issue 27 Winter 2001

 Our Environment: Christchurch City Councils Environmental Newsletter

Exploring The Upper Heathcote

Jackie TonkinE nga mana, e nga reo, e nga karangataha maha o nga hau e wha tenei te mihi ki a koutou, ki nga tipuna kua haere ki te po, haere, haere, haere atu ra. Ki te hau kainga, Waitaha, Ngati Mamoe, Ngai Tahu he mihi, he mhihi, he mihi. Ki Ngai Tuahuriri te kaitiaki o te awa he mihi. Usually I work at Hillmorton High School teaching science, horticulture, Te Reo Maori and working with whanau students. This year I had the good fortune to be awarded a Royal Society Teaching Fellowship. This has given me a year’s sabbatical and time to pursue two interests, the natural world and taha Maori. I have concentrated my research on the Upper Heathcote River and its environs because this is where I live and work. I want to get an understanding of the natural processes and human activities that have changed the landscape.

Maori have a long association - over 1000 years -with the Upper Heathcote River. A number of settlements were established beside the river because it was a source of fresh spring water, it was a mahinga kai resource producing eels, mud eels, native trout, aruhe (fern root) and kiore (native rat), and it was a pathway to Lake Waihora. The river meandered through large swamps where harakeke (flax), toetoe (sedge grass) and raupo (bullrush) grew in abundance. These plants had a myriad of uses but one interesting use unique to the South Island was the manufacture of reed crafts or boats called mokihi. In fact the Ngai Tahu name for the Upper Heathcote was Waimokihi, the river of reed boats.

The river’s role changed dramatically after Pakeha settlement. Some of the trivia I have collected and enjoyed so far:

I have read a lot, learnt heaps and I am amazed that so many developments, such as the City Council’s restoration projects, have gone unnoticed by me for so long.

Jacky Tonkin

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