MotuekaOnline logo Photos of Motueka, New Zealand

Motueka's Tangata Whenua and Marae

Six iwi (tribes) are ‘tangata whenua’, or people of the land, in the Nelson/Tasman area. These are Ngāti Kuia, Ngāti Rarua, Ngāti Tama, Te Atiawa, Ngāti Koata, and Ngāti Toa RaNgātira. Over recent years, iwi and their entities have developed their capacity to invest in a range of Top of the South business and community enterprises.

Outstanding among these is the Wakatu Incorporation, which has an asset base of $250 million, is a major landowner and is involved in fishing, acquaculture, tourism and viticulture. It is also active politically at regional and national levels, trades with other indigenous people and is recognised for innovation and leadership in Maori economic development.

Ngāti Koata has diverse business interests, and Ngāti Tama is looking at a visitor development on coastal land north of Nelson. Treaty settlements have the potential to make Maori entities some of the larger investment enterprises in the region.

The two Iwi of Motueka are Ngāti Rarua and Te Atiawa. For more information, visit the Ngāti Rarua Atiawa Iwi Trust (NRAIT) website. NRAIT was created to manage property on behalf of the descendants of the original Maori land owners in the Motueka. Since the formation of the Trust, the assets that were returned have been nurtured and developed to their current accomplished position.


Legends tell of Uruao, the first of the Polynesian voyaging canoes to land in Nelson. Although the archaeological record is sketchy and the first settlement date debated, carbon dating indicates that, like the rest of New Zealand, Nelson was first settled around the ninth century, and certainly before 1350 AD.

Gardens were quickly established throughout the region, including alongside the Waimea River and in Motueka and Riwaka, Mapua and Parapara. Hunting and gathering, along with cultivation of kumera (sweet potato), were vital to these early settlers and excavations show that a variety of fish were also consumed. Seabirds, ducks, pukeko, kaka, tui and kakariki were just some of the birds that provided sustenance. The abundance of seafood, birds and favourable gardening conditions for kumera made this land sought after.

Most villages were on the coast, close to river valleys. The location of each settlement was planned with both transport and food in mind. Waka (canoes) were used around the coast and up river valleys. Information on the traditions of tribes who lived in the region before and up to the 1820s has been difficult to document in detail, in part due to the displacement of tribes. Ngāti Tumatakokiri were settled over the whole district from Whakapuaka to Karamea by the time Abel Tasman arrived in 1642.

There are many good resources that describe the early Maori settlement and subsequent European colonisation. The information here is from the overview given in ‘Nelson A Regional History’ by Jim McAloon. The book ‘Te tau ihu o te waka: A history of Ma-ori of Marlborough and Nelson. Vol. 1, Te tangata me te whenua’ published by John and Hilary Mitchell in 2005 provides the most in-depth history of pre-European times.

Te Āwhina Marae:

Te Āwhina Marae in Motueka was established on an old pa site (fortified village) that dates back to pre-European settlement. Te Āwhina Marae stands proudly under its two maunga (mountains), Pukeone and Tuao Wharepapa.

The Motueka River runs swiftly, bringing life and nourishment to the district. The tangata whenua in Motueka are Te Atiawa and Ngāti Rarua. To incorporate these iwi, the kawa (protocol) for Te Āwhina is Tae Nga- Kawa (a combination of two protocols).

The first modern building on the site was Te Ahurewa Church, built in 1897. Church services are held on the third Sunday of each month. The wharekai (cooking and eating house) was opened in 1958 to provide a facility for the Maori community and, in particular, for seasonal workers who had come from all over the country to harvest tobacco and hops.

Te Āwhina’s carving school, the only one in the region, was established in 1987 to carve the wharenui (meeting house) and provide training in the traditional art of whakairo. Te Āwhina’s wharenui is named Turangapeke, and the marae also has kaumatua flats, which provide housing for the elderly and enhance marae life.

Click here for details about the services offered today by Te Āwhina Marae »