For the Maori, the two rivers that weave throughout the city of Christchurch were not only a food source and a way to travel but the river was a passageway for spirits to move, bringing healing and blessings.
The Maori name for the Heathcote River is ‘Opawaho’ and was also the name of the little settlement that sat on its banks for quite a few centuries. Opawaho means Outpost and that was exactly what it was; the main Pa sitting on the outskirts of today’s Kaiapoi (Kaikai-a-waro).
Even before the Ngai Tahu, the area of Opawaho was used as a place to gather food by the Ngati Mamoe. Things did not change much when the Ngai Tahu took over; Opawaho became a place of food storage and rest. Rest was needed as the Maori would walk from place to place, covering many miles on the plains.
The main resting spots in Canterbury between the Pa of Kaiapoi and the Pa of Rapaki were as follows:
The Main North Road we use today from Christchurch to Kaiapoi used to be a Maori track. The Ti Kouka (Cabbage Trees) of Burnside High was a well known resting spot and landmark. The next stop would be Putaringamotu, known today as the trees of Deans Bush. Then Opawaho and up on the hills, by the Cashmere Hills Presbyterian Church sits the last resting of Matuku-takotako before reaching Rapaki, one of the bays of Lyttelton Harbour.
A well known story about Opawaho concerns the last chief who was known as Turakipo, and he fell in love with Hineao whose father – Te Ake – was a chief over in Akaroa. He wanted her as his wife but she rejected him. In revenge, Turakipo makutued her – cast a spell of death – and she fell into a deep death like slumber. Te Ake, Hineao’s father, obviously upset, stood on the hill overlooking Ohikaparuparu (Sumner) and cast a Makutu of his own over Turakipo and his people.
A great whale swam up into the shallows of Sumner and beached itself. The Maori of Opawaho rejoiced and feasted on it. Turakipo, who was weary of the find, did not eat of the whale and watched as those who did, fall into a death-like sleep.
He and a few others escaped Te Ake’s Makutu but were later slain by Te Ake’s men anyway.
Cave Rock is believed to be the carcass of the great whale, brought to the Maori of Opawa by the black magic of Te Ake.
The term of Opawa first appeared in The Star newspaper in 1868.
*Photo taken by Annette Bulovic*