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Te Waimea (Waimea River)

Ngāti Apa valued Te Waimea as an important mahinga kai. Its pure water was abundant with fish such as mako and pātiki in the estuarine waters at the mouth of the river, as well as kōkopu, inanga, kahawai, kekewai and kōura, and a rich source of birds such as kākā, kererū and kōkō (tūī). The river environs were also a good source of flax, and clay used in the process of drying the flax came from the river near the inland foothills of the ranges.

Te Waimea also formed a water source for the renowned Waimea gardens, located at the mouth of the Waimea River adjacent to a pā and kāinga complex. Smaller “satellite” pā were located elsewhere on the banks of the river and at the junction of the Wairoa and Wai-iti rivers. This was a site of great significance to Ngāti Apa and the other Kurahaupō iwi.

Around 1000 acres of cultivation located near the river mouth represent generations of sustained effort by the tīpuna. The cultivation land was built up with ash (to provide potash and lime), gravel and fine sand and silt to raise soil temperatures and was highly suitable for kūmara production. The modified soil remains darker and more productive than surrounding soil to this day. Huge pits nearby reveal the source of gravel. The extent of these gardens and the effort involved in creating them indicates that the area was once occupied by a substantial population.

Early chiefs of this place were Te Hāpuku and Te Pipiha. The latter was killed here during the northern invasions. Other tīpuna associated with Waimea were Titiko and Whakatapihi. After the northern invasions many tīpuna from the pā moved to another pā in what later became known as Budges Bush, in the Wairoa River Valley on the north slope of Mount Heslington.

Ngāti Apa were among those who continued to cultivate and occupy the land until at least the mid-1840s, when produce grown in the extensive gardens was traded with the Nelson settlers at a market in the town at Matangi Āwhio (Auckland Point). Waimea was a residence of the tipuna Meihana Kereopa at this time.