The Otago Harbour is a site of singular importance to the Kai Tahu, Kati Mamoe, and Waitaha people of this district. It has been a source of nourishment, a major highway, a sheltering location for human settlement, a burial place and a symbol carrying the ancestral, spiritual and religious traditions of all the generations prior to European settlement.

Tahu Potiki, Te Runanga o Otakou, submission regarding ‘Project next Generation’ on the harbour 2011

Maori Legend – Taniwha Creation of Otago Harbour

Listen to Tahu Potiki recount  How Otago Harbour was formed.

“Regarding their legends, the Maori people of Otakou used to speak about taniwhas and fabulous monsters which performed extraordinary deeds. Hoani Karetai, the paramount chief of Otakou, used to speak about a taniwha which was the guardian of the spirit of a famous Kati Mamoe chief. This taniwha lost its master and set out in search of him. From Silverstream near the base of Whare Flat, it journeyed as far as the present Mosgiel. Then it took its course down the Taieri River and wriggling, caused all the sharp bends and twists in the river. The same taniwha scooped out the Otago Harbour. The monster now lies solidified in the Saddle Hill. The humps of the hill are named Pukemakamaka and Turimakamaka”.

The Maoris of the South Island, TA Pybus, Reed, 1954

Early Maori Visits

The Island has had many names over the course of time.  Local Maori, the tangata whenua (people of the land), knew Quarantine Island as ‘Kamau Taurua’.  Just as  Scottish and English settlers brought names from ‘home’ with them, like ‘Dunedin’, Kai Tahu settlers gave new places names from their ancestral homeland.

The Island was significant as ‘mahika kai’ a gathering place for food and resources, as evidenced by several midden on the Island, which contain shells and fishbone.

Thanks to Otago Polytech Communication Design students, Ella Cameron, Riley Coughlin, Cameron Tillotson, Laura Wellman and Silas Kemp for making this animation of QIKTC member, Kuini Scott, welcoming you to the Island, and talking about early Maori journeying in the Harbour.

Maori fishing in Otago Harbour in the 1860’s (Te Ara)

Further information obout Otago Harbour can be obtained from Ngai Tahu and information on the Ngai Tahu claim and sale of Quarantine Island / Kamau Taurua as part of the Otago Deed 1844.

Including a recent stay by rangatahi

More information about Otago Harbour Megan Potiki