Exploring Otautahi

Imagine a distant past where the mist and fog shrouded flatlands, spreading out towards the sea, rich with bird and water life …


A description of Ōtautahi/Christchurch from well before my great-grandparents arrived.  The earthquakes have reminded us of the swampy start the city had, but what else do we know about those early times and lives of Ōtautahi?

To find out, visit Tī Kōuka Whenua, a website within our website, packed full with knowledge of local Māori history.

Navigate using the maps or index, and let yourself wander and learn about another time in the life of our city and surrounds. Places, people and their joint histories are explained here.

Rapanui, or Shag Rock was once a pointer to The Estuary/Te Wahapū and the wetlands beyond. The pre-earthquake image is of course more elegant than the untidy pile it has become. The estuary was not only an abundant source of food, but created opportunities to trade and connect among the hundreds of  people who resided here.

There are some scary snippets of Māori history in this little treasure too, like the spine-chilling story attached to Ō Kete Upoko. It’s not hard to build a picture of thriving and vibrant communities all around Canterbury and Banks Peninsula./Horomaka.  Such as the stories of Kawatea/Okains Bay. I will definitely visit the museum there this summer!


Did you know that Mt Bossu/Tuhiraki, a peak in Akaroa harbour is said to have been formed when the Ngāi Tahu explorer Rākaihautū thrust his kō (digging stick) into Horomaka after using it to dig out all the principal lakes of Te Wai Pounamu  including nearby Te Roto o Wairewa and Te Waihora? Reading about the recent bloody history of Kaiapoi I learnt the meaning of the name comes from the fact that  kai/food for the Pa at that site needed to be brought in from elsewhere/swung in or ‘poi’ to feed the inhabitants.

Tī Kōuka Whenua gives us a glimpse of a way of life in Te Ao Māori and allows us to gain more than just a picture of events.  Ngā Kohatu Whakarakaraka o Tamatea Pōkai Whenua, which is the Māori name for the Port Hills is an example, where reading about Te Poho o Tamatea leaves us searching for more and more…

At the bottom of each page the sources used are named, and many of these are available through the library catalogue.

If you’re hungry for more information about Te Ao Māori, look through our resources on the Māori Tab of our website. Not to be missed is Te Whata Raki, where waiata and pictures together teach us some traditional stories.

The message included on the introduction page still applies:

Toitū te whenua ~ Leave the land undisturbed.

Schoolhouse at Rapaki