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About Motueka

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Motueka is a seaside town on the western side of Tasman Bay, in the northern part of New Zealand's South Island. It is about 50km from the nearest city, Nelson, and about a 10-minute drive to the entrance of the world-famous Abel Tasman National Park.

Although the centre of many tourist activities, especially during the summer season, Motueka is a thriving town in its own right, with a varied economy based largely on productive horticulture and agriculture. Essentially, Motueka is a service town, with the district economy based on horticulture, agriculture, fishing, forestry and tourism.

Tourism is playing an increasingly large role in Motueka's steady expansion, which is supporting the growth of a wide range of shops and many eateries, as well as diverse sporting and recreational facilities.

The fact that many of its residents have chosen to move to the town for its well-balanced lifestyle means that there is a strong community spirit. Of course, the town also has a strong Maori history and ongoing presence.

The long summer days and mild winters attract many people to the town and a large number then choose to call Motueka home.

Motueka is the third largest town in the Nelson Province (behind Nelson and Richmond) with a population of 7,593 (2013 Census), though this does not include nearby satellite townships. The surrounding district is home to a further almost 6,000 people approximately. (For more detail, read this news item.)

The climate is one of the best in New Zealand, with the average summer temperature being 21.5 degrees centigrade and 12.8 degrees in winter. The area has on average 2400 hours of sunshine (one of the highest in New Zealand) with 1200mm of rainfall. The Nelson/Tasman region, tucked in between the east and west coasts of the island, is largely protected from the worst weather (the southerly and westerly storms) that blight those coasts. February is the warmest month and July the coldest.

Origin of the name

The name Motueka may literally translate to 'island of bush with Weka birds'. (Motu = island, weka = weka). Actually, weka are not particularly common in the area. [More amusing is the fact that an anagram of "Motueka" is "Make out"!]

In fact, Motueka was the name given to the river by the first Maori settlers. They called the land around the river, where the town now stands, Te Maatu which translates to 'the big wood'.

The name Motueka was actually one of three names that the first Maori in the area took from Hawaiki, the original home of the Maori, before they travelled across the sea to New Zealand. The two other names were Takaka and Aorere, which are both key places in the district.

For Pakeha readers, this naming practice is the same as New Zealand towns being named after English towns or people known to the first British settlers, such as Christchurch or Wellington. These are not meant to have literal translations, and likewise neither strictly does Motueka.

Key nearby features

Pukeone / Mt Campbell

This is the nearest large hill to the township, notable for the radio/TV transmitter at its peak (toward the right of the photo below). Te Atiawa notes that Pukeone (meaning sandy hill) is where Te Atiawa carried the sand to the top of the hill to signal to whanau. The brown area today (often called Brown Acre) marks where the fires used to be. Pukeone is highly significant to Te Atiawa.

For Ngati Rarua there is korero regarding the origins of the name Pukeone and one theory advances that it is a tupuna name from early times perhaps belonging to one of Rakaihautu's party. The translation of Sand Hill however can be related to the practice of carrying sand to the summit of the maunga where signal fires were lit to tell of special occasions. The fires burning on top of Pukeone could be seen as far as away as Whakapuaka. A fire was lit on Pukeone following Wakefield's acceptance of Nelson as a settlement site.

Wharepapa / Arthur range

The largest mountain range in the district, which often is clad in snow for much of winter and spring (on the left side of the photo below). Ngati Tama notes that Wharepapa is a sacred ancestor, providing a historical and spiritual link to the natural world. Wharepapa is the highest maunga in the takiwa and a vital link to the spirits.

Ngati Rarua says the highest peak of these ranges is Tu Ao Wharepapa (Mt Arthur) and is one of the two sacred maunga for the manawhenua of Motueka. Its significance is embodied in the pepeha "Ko Tu Ao Wharepapa te maunga, ko Ngati Rarua te iwi ...". It's an important source of the plant Nei Nei which was used to manufacture the wet weather capes worn by tupuna. Also a number of sacred caves or tomo are situated within this maunga.

There's more information about Motueka and its history on the Our History page »


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