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Our Earliest Explorers

Ōtautahi Christchurch

Ōtautahi holds special cultural and historical significance to Ngāi Tahu — the Māori tribe that occupies the greater portion of Te Waipounamu and whose ancestors knew the land in this area intimately and treasured its generous natural resources.

Christchurch He Tangata Maori Marae Inside Blue

Ngāi Tahu made the Canterbury region home in the early 1700s and, by custom, its members intermarried with two tribes whose members had previously occupied the area – Waitaha and Ngāti Māmoe. Prior to European settlement, the iwi maintained numerous permanent and temporary kainga, pa and mahinga kai in the greater Christchurch area.

These included Puāri, a large area on the banks of the Ōtākaro/Avon River that later became the central city, and Ōtautahi – near what is now Kilmore Street. Despite this extensive history, our city’s Māori heritage went largely unrecognised following European colonisation in the 1850s, when settler culture and values dominated the landscape.

Screen Canterbury Urban Turanga Library

From the devastation of the 2010 and 2011 earthquakes, opportunities for embracing a shared history and future emerged. Māori culture, values and design elements continue to be woven into the rebuild of Ōtautahi Christchurch.

Simply put, the earthquakes gave Ngāi Tahu a chance to “put their history back into the city” – from contributing to building designs that incorporate our bicultural heritage, such as the 36-metre long aluminium kākahu façade on the Christchurch Justice and Emergency Services Precinct, to the naming of new civic centres like Te Pae and Tūranga.

Learn more about Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu.