This article is written by NZ Landcare/Ngā Matapopore Whenua staffer, Te ao te o Rangi Apaapa (Mātauranga Māori Facilitator)

On the 16th of November 2021, an auspicious occasion was held near the foothills of Maungatautari. This is at the source of the tupuna awa Mangapiko, an awa which flows from Maungatautari through Te Awamutu joining the Waipa awa at Pirongia. We began the blessing of the whenua and awa on farmland managed by the custodian and kaitiaki Bill Garland; the farm is aptly called Rāhiri, meaning welcome. Here we found the source of the Mangapiko as it leaves the protected ngahere forest of the Maungatautari Island Sanctuary.

Maungatautari to Pirongia Ecological Corridor Project

Surrounded by Tui and the sound of the awa as it weaved through lush groves of watercress, the mana whenua, Ngati Koroki Kahukura began a karakia/blessing the kaimahi workers responsible to create a corridor of ecological stepping stones from Maungatautari to Pirongia along this ancient awa/river.

Once this was complete, Bill shared the history of old pā sites resting on his farm. One site was called Te Koukou and still has rua (food storage sites) visible today. We were also lucky to hold a moa bone found at this site dating back centuries, indicating that the Tangata Whenua (people) harvested these ancient manu/birds for kai/food here at the source of the Mangapiko.

Maungatautari to Pirongia Ecological Corridor Project

The next location was on a farm owned by Don (Bush) Macky; here, we were able to see the excellent restoration work he has done near the banks of the Mangapiko around 20kms from Te Awamutu. This location is also near an old pā named Tauwhare; other names are Te Poho o Hikairo and Puni Wāhine. As the sound of the karanga/call echoed through the trees, a sense of connection and peace was felt by the manuwhiri/guests. As we walked the whenua/land, Dr Tom Roa shared the history of this extraordinary wāhi/place and its connection to the mana whenua being, Ngāti Apakura, Ngāti Hikairo and others.

Maungatautari to Pirongia Ecological Corridor Project

Finally, we travelled to the confluence of the Mangapiko and the Waipā, here rests the historical site Mātakitaki pā known for the first major armed conflict in Waikato almost 200 years ago, when Hongi Hika with Ngāpuhi decimated the tangata whenua with the use of muskets. Today the whenua is managed by Council and is leased as a sheep farm. Restoration of the banks has begun, and a sense of community is felt here. Pirongia Te Aroaro o Kahu Restoration Society and Pūrekireki Marae have worked together to revitalise this wāhi tapu. The original name for this site is Mātakitaki o te Patupaiarehe (an ode to the ancient beings who occupy the peaks of Pirongia).

Our last stop was Pūrekireki Marae, where we were welcomed onto the marae to conclude the blessing of the corridor. We shared kai and kōrero. Dr. Tom Roa, Haupai Puke and kaumātua of Pūrekireki Marae gifted a Te Reo Māori name for the ecological corridor.

This name is:
‘Taiea te Taiao Mā Mangapiko, mai i Maungatautari ki Pirongia ahu ake’
Translated, it means to cherish the environment following the Mangapiko, from Maungatautari to Pirongia, and beyond. The short name is ‘Taiea Te Taiao’.