The importance of Manuhaea to Ngai Tahu
Twentyfive kilometres from Makarora you reach The Neck, an extraordinary piece of land. It’s about a kilometre wide and it separates Lake Wanaka from Lake Hawea. It owes its existence to a branch of the Hawea Glacier that joined with the Wanaka Glacier during the last ice age. If you’d arrived at The Neck 200 years ago, you would have found it home to a kainga mahinga kai (a foodgathering settlement) called Manuhaea. This settlement was extremely important to Ngai Tahu as it was at the centre of a network of trails that linked the east, west and south coasts. As well as being centrally located, its position between the two lakes would have given it some strategic value in terms of defending it from invaders.
Not only was it a place of strategic importance, but it was also the site of a whare wananga, a traditional centre of learning — perhaps the source of the name of nearby Wanaka, as Wanaka is the Ngai Tahu spelling of wananga. One of the core roles of the whare wananga was as a place where tohunga (learned ones, priests, healers and experts) came to learn whakapapa, karakia, waiata and other core skills such as carving and tattooing.
The people here would have had good access to food sources, including eels in a small nearby lagoon, and birds that were abundant here, such as weka, kiwi, kaka and kereru. There was also plenty of water for irrigating food crops.
Manuhaea’s importance to local Ngai Tahu saw it targeted by Ngati Tama (Taranaki) warrior Te Puoho and 100 of his people in 1836, with the northern invaders attacking a family living north of Manuhaea at Makarora. One of the people they took prisoner, Pukuharuru, escaped and warned his family to the south. The people of Manuhaea managed to flee across what is now the Lindis Pass and back to the east coast along the Waitaki Valley. Manuhaea was never permanently settled again by Ngai Tahu.
However, following the tenure review process, a scheme whereby land that was formerly leased by farmers was traded or sold in exchange for freehold land, for Glen Dene Station, the cultural and historical importance of this piece of land to tangata whenua was acknowledged.
As a result, in 2006, land at The
Neck was gazetted as a conservation area in order that it be protected for future generations.