Rangitāne iwi are preparing for a major celebration next month, when the Crown is due to give back the Pūkaha reserve as part of their settlement redress.
Pūkaha is a 942 hectare unfenced reserve in the Wairarapa. It has a huge conservation importance for the Rangitāne and the Aotearoa as a whole.
It was a key piece of redress for Rangitāne for its significance to their tribal and cultural identity. The reserve is home to the Pūkaha National Wildlife Centre where visitors can see kōkako, kākā, tuatara and Manukura, the only kiwitea (white kiwi) in captivity.
As part of a celebration on February 8, the iwi will unveil a carving at the Pūkaha National Wildlife Centre, attended by the governor-general Rt Hon Dame Patsy Reddy, the chairman of the Rangitāne Tū Mai Rā Trust Jason Kerehi, kaumatua Mike Kawana and Manahi Paewai, and the Minister of Conservation Hon Eugenie Sage.
Kerehi says a korowai has also been made for the governor-general to wear into the powhiri.
"The carving will be unveiled and she will leave that there, but that korowai will represent the gift from the Crown back to us, he says.
"We've invited our iwi, hapu, whānau to be there to receive it and its in my opinion really appropriate. They're the ones receiving the land back."
Photo source: Pūkaha National Wildlife Centre
“This settlement was intended to enhance the ongoing relationship between Rangitāne and the Crown. As part of the Cultural Redress, the area on which Pūkaha stands (Rongokaha/ Mākirikiri Gravel Reserve) was returned to the tāngata whenua Rangitāne.”
Rangitāne then gifted the Pūkaha land, including the reserve and visitor centre, back to the Crown for the people of Aotearoa in 2016.
Pūkaha is often translated to mean “windy mountain”. The large hills of Pūkaha were especially important to the Rangitāne people who used it for hunting, fishing and berry gathering. It was also strategically significant as a navigation point.
"A great forest - the great domain of Whatonga - once stood where Pūkaha is today. It stretched from Opaki-Kopuaranga to Rakautatahi Tamaki nui-ā-Rua and was an important site for not only wildlife but for the tāngata whenua of Aotearoa, the Māori."
Māori lived in small areas of the forest or they’d sleep in the trunk of enormous trees - one rātā was said to measure 66 feet in diameter. They saw the forest as a living pantry, its waterways and plants providing for all their needs.
When Europeans arrived in the mid-1800s, they were amazed at the sheer scale of the forest.
“So dense was the forest, that even in it’s clearest patches, the sky was seldom visible - with the result that travelers through it would often carry lanterns by which to see their way,” said A. McCallum in 1985 [spelling modernised].