Waihou: A place of special significance

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Waikarere Gregory (left) reading the story told on the new sign at Waihou, which was unveiled by Terri Murray (left) and Kahutai Kingi.

Another small step was taken towards recognising, and preserving, Tangonge, west of Kaitaia, last week with the unveiling of a sign at Waihou, adjacent to the outfall that has drained the lake for almost 100 years.

Waikarere Gregory (Te Runanga o Te Rarawa) said Maori had camped at Waihou since time immemorial, catching tuna (eels) and harvesting karaka berries for the winter, while the area still known Lake Tangonge had been a hugely valuable food source.

A shooting party on Lake Tangonge, 1912.
A shooting party on Lake Tangonge, 1912.

Dixon Motu, who offered karakia at Thursday morning's small unveiling ceremony, emphasised the significance of the area as a " pantry" for Maori, providing tuna, kanae (freshwater mullet), taro, kumara, kahikatea and karaka, and many species of bird.

The water that would be used to serve tea after the unveiling of the sign had come from a stream that fed into the lake at Pukepoto, he added.

Tangonge, which once covered much of the flat land between Kaitaia's western edge (Pukepoto Road) and the dunes of 90 Mile Beach, in its natural state is almost beyond living memory. It was drained in the 1920s, and while it briefly reappears from time to time after heavy rain it bears no resemblance to what it once was.

The only tangible acknowledgement that it was ever there are the names Lake Road and Tangonge Crescent in Kaitaia.

Te Rarawa, in conjunction with Ngai Takoto, and with support from Pukepoto Primary School, Te Kura Kaupapa Maori o Pukemiro and Kaitaia College, took a major step towards rectifying that in 2015 with the mounting of a comprehensive display at Te Ahu.

The lake once covered some 700 acres, perhaps 1000 after heavy rain, is now mostly farm land, albeit with a wedge of some 125 hectares that is protected by the Department of Conservation. That island is still home to a number of native species, and Te Rarawa hopes there will be more, in numbers and variety, in years to come.

The new sign notes that Tangonge was once part of an extensive lake system that extended as far south as Mangamuka, flowing via the Awanui River into Rangaunu Harbour.

Almost a century of drainage had robbed it of its water, but endangered species, including the long-fin tuna, mudfish, the bittern, fern bird and wetland flora species, were still found there.

'Through the Treaty of Waitangi settlement process, and the return of surrounding Landcorp farms and reserves, local hapu, supported by their runanga, various agencies, local schools and community groups are working towards restoring areas of Tangonge to a semblance of its former glory,' the sign says.

'The success of this 100-year project lies in knowing the Tangonge environment and recreating a connection, a bond between local people and this place, a place of learning, of stories, of community restoration, eco tourism and recreational activity.'

Ms Gregory has said there would be no disruption to farming of the land, but fencing and riparian planting was planned to protect some areas, after which, to a great extent, habitat restoration would "take care of itself".

Last week she said that it was a long-term project, giving plenty of time for current generations to get their tamariki and mokopuna involved.

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