Above: Opouahi Scenic Reserve with the Wharewaka, carved by Kaumātua Bevan Taylor. The snowy ridgeline of Maungaharuru is visible in the background with Ahu-o-te-Atua to the left and Tarapōnui-a-Kawhea to the right.

On 18 January 2017, our Hapū of Maungaharuru – Tangitū will gift the balance of Opouahi Scenic Reserve to the people of Aotearoa, New Zealand. Our Hapū retain ownership of part of the Reserve including three campsites, the lake bed and stratum (air space) above it.

For Ngāti Kurumōkihi, the Opouahi Scenic Reserve and environs are integral to the distinct identity and mana of our Hapū.

Lake Opouahi is regarded as a particularly spiritual place of Ngāti Kurumōkihi. The tuna (eels) were renowned as being unique to Lake Opouahi. Oral traditions tell of tuna known as the kēhua tuna (ghost eels). The tuna would often challenge whānau (families) in defiance of being harvested. They were famed as the kaitiaki (guardian) of Ngāti Kurumōkihi and the area. Also in this area appeared a tipua (a supernatural being) in a form similar to a white pig. This tipua was revered as a tohu (sign) and would appear at a time of misfortune, either after the event, or as a warning. Patupaiarehe (fairies) are also known to dwell in the area.

Nearby the Reserve are several pā (fortified villages) that are associated with Ngāti Kurumōkihi and are still identifiable today. They are Kokopuru and Matarangi. Kokopuru pā was built on the hill of the same name. Kokopuru pā was heavily fortified and surrounded by extensive cultivations, wāhi tapu (sacred places), midden, ovens and cave shelters.

Close by is Matarangi pā, on a peak near Lake Opouahi. The pā was formerly surrounded by cultivations where kūmara (sweet potatoes) and taewa (potatoes) were grown and the water supply came from two lakelets – Ngā Ipu-o-Te-Amohia. Another prominent feature was a carved meeting house which was unfortunately destroyed during a skirmish with a warparty. Over the generations, a number of Ngāti Kurumōkihi chiefs, including Waiatara, based themselves at Kokopuru and Matarangi.

In the vicinity of Lake Opouahi are a number of caves that are also known to have been occupied from time to time, and some are the ancestral resting place for tīpuna (ancestors).

The Opouahi Reserve is one of the few areas of remnant and regenerating native ngahere (forest) on Maungaharuru. It is located at an altitude of 500 to 700 metres above sea level.

In this area, plentiful flora and fauna were available for harvesting. In particular, rongoā (medicinal plants) were abundant. The ngahere provided the ideal habitat for a large number of native birds, many of which were harvested for kai (food) and their feathers used for decorating garments and personal adornments. Some of these taonga (treasures) are still harvested day.

Lake Opouahi and its associated waterways were also significant sources of kai for our Hapū. The lake and waterways supplied uniquely tasting tuna, kākahi (freshwater mussels), kōura (freshwater crayfish) and kōkopu (freshwater fish), as well as the daily water supply for our Hapū, as Lake Opouahi is a deep, spring-fed lake.

Our Hapū have cultural, spiritual, traditional and historic associations with Opouahi and its environs, its waters, associated land and flora and fauna. Our Hapū have a responsibility as kaitiaki in accordance with our kawa (rules) and tikanga (customs) to restore, protect and manage all those natural and historic resources and sites. This relationship is as important to present day whānau (families) as it was to our tīpuna (ancestors). The continued recognition of our Hapū, our identity, traditions and status as kaitiaki is entwined with Maungaharuru, including Opouahi and associated resources.