Volume 1

The Fish Trap

Geraldine Dunwoodie

From ‘In the Shadows of Moehau’ (in The Treasury Collection)

On the sea strand at Colville is a permanent structure making use of the tides, which appears to be of considerable antiquity. This type of fish trap is more commonly found in the tropical Pacific Islands, and is rare in New Zealand. More usual were temporary barriers on quickly piled loose stones, which would be cleared away again by their makers as they released dammed up waters in a stream. Archaeologists also recorded one smaller such trap in the Port Charles area.

On the land, the shell banks speak of a long-standing area of human settlement. It is interesting that a tapu has been handed down, possibly from what remote times. The Coromandel has early links with Tahiti, going back over a thousand years, and in accordance with the traditions of Kupe leaving people on this Peninsula. This is considered to be one of the first two areas of Polynesian coastal-fishing-based settlements in New Zealand.

Stone construction in walls and paving were a feature of the heritage of the first Polynesian voyagers who stepped ashore. Kupe came from the Pacific centre of learning known as Tapu Tapu Atea (Holy Holy White), on the Tahitian Island of Raiatea or White Ridge, where much solidly built stone construction still remains.

After Kupe came such incursions as that of the Toi people, who grew to be Te Tini-o-Toi, ‘The Myriads of Toi’, said to form the basic stock of the Coromandel Peninsula people, who merged in later conquests or infiltrations and with intermarriages.

After 1830 when the Maratuahu tribes returned to Hauraki after being forced to retreat some years earlier, the Ngati-Tamatera were concentrated in various assignments of land in the northern part of the Coromandel Peninsula. During the 1830s a meeting house was built near Colville. Later, with the outbreak of the Waikato War in July 1863 and gunboats in the Firth of Thames, the main body of the Ngati-Tamatera, with the warrior chief Taraia and the meeting house, shifted southward to the Ohinemuri. The meeting house, which became known as Te Pai-O-Hauraki, is being preserved at Paeroa as a precious relic, with the help of the Historic Places Trust.

The stone built fish trap naturally could not be shifted, and remained.

The choice of site of the fish trap is consistent with a population long accustomed to a region, before European contacts, with learned priests able to select on a basis of extensive and deep knowledge and insight. It is known to the holders of the immediate area, as a place where plentiful runs of fish came, to be trapped in the well built stone enclosure.

Two factors made this location successful. The first is that the Firth is an underwater continuation of the Hauraki Plains, with at first only a thin skin of water, deepening very slowly. Opposite Coromandel the depth in the centre of the Firth increases to around 20 metres. But opposite Colville, the depth is greater, and rocks are exposed for some distance out, and the influence of the Pacific Ocean begins to be felt, giving a varied and favourable habitat for fish.

The second factor is that the bay is shaped so as to compress and increase the effects of the tides, with active currents in and out, bringing runs of fish and their foods.

In this way, the cleverly constructed stone fish trap harvested a valuable resource, for what was in former times a well populated settlement, as evidenced by the massive middens of shells. It was built to last, and has required little attention, on a particularly favourable location in all Hauraki.

This stone built fish trap would seem to be part of the ancient heritage of the different elements which over time have combined to make the people of Hauraki.

One of John Evans’ daughters wrote in her notes of a day on the sandy beach near the fish trap:

Many the flounder we caught and trapped in that pond.
Built long before the white man came.
Happy the days we picnicked there.
Those grand old friends. Matuku and Neh,
(With their mokoed faces.
Neh wore a green stone earring,
Matuku smoked a pipe;)
were up very early before daylight,
preparing a great hangi;
and as we gathered in the pohutukawa’s shade,
the steaming food was served in the neat flax baskets
those nimble fingers had made.
Matuku also our school kit supplied,
finely woven in flax, expertly bleached and dyed.

From: In the Shadows of Moehau, Colville Historical Committee 1990.

Neha Honana & Mere Matuku


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