During the late 1820’s, not many European ships sailed into Ōhinehou (Lyttelton Harbour) and those that did carried the rough characters that were the whalers, sealers and merchants. One of these merchant ships was from the Australian firm of Cooper and Levey and its Captain was William B. Rhodes.
At the time, the most populated area on Te Pataka O Rakaihoutu (Banks Peninsula) was Kaukourata (Port Levy) and this was where the Europeans would land and make camp. William, in particular liked what he saw. He walked up the hills and viewed the Ngā Pākihi whakatekateka a Waitaha (Canterbury Plains) which he named the Port Cooper Plains and the land where they camped as Port Levey – now spelt Levy – in honour of his employers.
William would finally settle in Akaroa a few years later, bringing a herd of sheep with him. He and his brothers – George & Robert – would go on to be well known, successful farmers and land owners in colonial New Zealand.
While the Europeans came and went, the Maori community at Port Levy continued on as they could while the world around them changed. The attacks of Te Rauparaha – a great North Island Chief – and the diseases of white man (measles and STD’s) had thinned out the number of Ngai Tahu by the hundreds.
With their beliefs and traditions that seemed to be part of the very ground they lived on, the Ngai Tahu struggled on. During the 1700’s, the ground had been stained by the blood of the prisoners kept there by Chiefs. Even as the Europeans began to arrive, the Kai Huanaga (to eat a relative) Feud was still raging amongst the natives. Unbelievably this was all started when a Maori woman wore the dog-skin coat belonging to a chief. The fighting and the cannibalism that followed left its invisible scars on the land I’m sure.
With all this history and spiritual depth of the natives, Port Levy became known as a place that demanded respect. About 350 yards up the valley of Port Levy are the (Reptiles). A sacred place of rituals and burials, even the children knew not to go there. Passed the rocks was a tuahu (shrine) where offerings are made to the atua’s (spirits). Even as late at the 1880’s, stories were told of those who trespassed by these the rocks; the curse of the wahi tapu would catch up with them in many different numerous deadly ways.
This may not sound much different from any other Maori village but Port Levy has a twist like no other.
In 1954, Christchurch teenagers, Pauline Parker and Juliet Hulme murdered Pauline’s mother in Victoria Park up on the Port Hills.
The two girls had been friends since 1952 and on Easter weekend 1953, Pauline joined the Hulme family at their Bach in Port Levy.
The girls – who had been slipping further and further into their own imaginary world – claimed it was on the hills behind the Bach – where the rocks of Te Ngarara are – that they received the key to the fourth world. Pauline writes in her diary how a “queer formation of clouds” was the gateway into another dimension. They told the police in later interviews that this gateway would only open twice a year.
After the murder of Pauline’s mother, Honorah, the detectives’ found themselves asking questions about the girls time at Port Levy.
They were startled beyond words as they began to talk with an unnamed Tohunga – a priestly expert – who seemed to do nothing but back up the girls’ claim. He shared the history of the bay and of the red rocks, saying it was an area where waiata tawhito (ancient songs) could stir up the mauri (the physical life force) which is under the control the kaitiaki (guardians).
Twice a year, when the planets align, this life force could be stirred up by songs and chanting. The outcome is that person – who had protection from the tapu due to gifts brought to the site – would be taken into another dimension. One of these yearly alignments happens every Easter, just when the girls were exploring the hills of Port Levy in 1953.
Surely these girls couldn’t stir up these so called spirits the police argued. The Tohunga calmly continued that because of the girls’ young age and the fact that they had bathed – water is a spirit channel – a lot in the Bay, they were more vulnerable to this spirit world. The punishment for this violation of the wahi tapu, Pauline had unconsciously been programmed to make a blood sacrifice to settle the spirits – her mother.
*image courtesy of the http://christchurchcitylibraries.com/ *