The settlement of Kāwhia is located on the northern coast of the inlet, and was an important port in early colonial New Zealand.The area of Kāwhia comprises 16 to 20 hectares (40 to 50 acres) and is the town block that was owned by the New Zealand Government. The government bought it from the Europeans in 1880 “not from the original Māori owners, but from the a European who claimed ownership in payment of money owed by another European”.
The harbour area was the birthplace of prominent Māori warrior chief Te Rauparaha of the Ngāti Toa tribe, who lived in the area until the 1820s.
Kāwhia is known in Māori lore as the final resting-place of the ancestral waka (canoe) Tainui. Soon after arrival, captain Hoturoa made it first priority to establish a whare wananga (sacred school of learning) which was named Ahurei. Ahurei is situated at the summit of the sacred hill behind Kāwhia’s seaside marae – Maketu Marae.
“Welcome to Kāwhia”
Tainui was buried at the base of Ahurei by Hoturoa himself, and other members of the iwi. Hoturoa marked out the waka with two limestone pillars which he blessed. Firstly, there is “Hani (Hani-a-te-waewae-i-kimi-atu) which is on the higher ground and marked the prow of the canoe”. Marking the stern of the canoe, Hoturoa placed the symbol of Puna, the spirit-goddess of that creation story. “In full it is named Puna-whakatupu-tangata, and represents female fertility, the spring or source of humanity”. It is said that a pure woman who touches this stone will be given the gift of a child, and become pregnant. There have been cases of women using Puna when they have had difficulty conceiving a child.
Ahurei overlooks Kāwhia Harbour and Maketu Marae. The main meeting house, Auaukiterangi, is named after Hoturoa’s father who was a high chief (ariki) and was built and opened in 1962. The eldest and most prestigious meeting house that was first built on Maketu Marae is Te Ruruhi (the Old Lady) which was used as the dining hall until the erection of Te Tini O Tainui. This two-storied dining hall was built in 1986 in order to cater for the numerous numbers that visit for occasions such as annual poukai, tangi and hui.