Lake Horowhenua and Hokio Stream – a hapu’s story

Of all the essays in the recently published Maori and the Environment: Kaitiaki, reviewed in a previous post, the essay that left me with one of the strongest lasting impressions was the second chapter. This essay tells the story of a hapu’s attempts to exercise kaitiakitanga (environmental stewardship) over Hokio Stream and Lake Horowhenua, west of the Horowhenua township of Levin [click here to view map].

This essay is written from the perspective of Ngati Pareraukawa hapu (clans or descent groups), but the neighbouring Muaupoko Iwi – the largest iwi in Horowhenua – also has similar stories to tell. The ancestors of Ngati Pareraukawa settled at Hokio in the early 1800s, following migrations south from Waikato. In the subsequent century or so, they lived off the land around Hokio by farming and horticulture, and fishing from the area’s streams and rivers, as well as Horowhenua Lake. Hokio Stream, which runs westwards from Lake Horowhenua, 4 kms to the Tasman Sea [click here to view map], was particularly important to the hapu.

The stream was the source of abundant fish-life including kokopu and koaro (native trout), kakahi (freshwater mussel), koura (crawlies and freshwater crayfish), inanga (whitebait) and patiki (flounder). Most importantly, it was a source of tuna (eel) – a staple part of the diet for the hapu – which were caught using eel weirs and eel boxes.

However, the ability of the hapu (and the neighbouring Muaupoko people) to sustain themselves from the land and the water was significantly threatened in the 1950s, and from this point onwards, the struggle to exercise environmental stewardship (kaitiakitanga) over the environment over which they had manawhenua* began  – and continues to this day.

In 1953, the Levin Borough Council developed a sewage system, which piped sewage directly into Lake Horowhenua, to support the burgeoning township. A transition from septic tanks to a sewage system had become urgent in the 1950s as a result of the town’s growth and the establishment of a number of institutions including two hospitals and a horticultural research centre. This infrastructure was seen as both urgent and necessary, but little thought appears to have been given to either the environmental or social impacts of piping the sewage into the lake.

This development affected Ngati Pareraukawa more than any other group of residents, owing to the proximity of their marae, homes and land to the lake and stream. Over the next decade there was a steady exodus of the community away from the marae and its surrounds as it was no longer possible to sustain themselves from the land or enjoy the environment as they once had. For instance, it was no longer safe to swim or bathe in the stream or to collect drinking water. While the hapu could still catch eel – this became an unpleasant task. When members of the hapu waded into the stream to set hinaki (eel traps) in the autumn in anticipation of the eel migration out to sea, toilet paper and human faeces floated around them.

Over the subsequent two decades, the exodus continued unchecked and the marae became deserted of permanent residents. Instead, it became primarily a place to mark death – a place where the lives of the dead were celebrated before they were carried away to be interred.

But in the early 1970s, a resurgence of identity and pride in the marae and the surrounding ancestral lands began. This resurgence was perhaps in part generational, but also reflected wider environmental and social developments – in particular, a growing environmental consciousness, the establishment of the Values Party, and the impetus to protect and preserve Maori values and knowledge. As a result, younger members of the hapu met and decided to build a new carved and decorated meeting house for the marae. With this resurgence of identity, a determination to exercise kaitiakitanga also took hold – in spite of the detrimental and significant effects of development around the marae.

From the late 1970s the hapu began to actively engage with the local authorities, beginning with its lodging of objections to the Manawatu Catchment Board about the sewage discharge. As a result of the subsequent hearings, it was decided that the Council was to cease discharge of sewage to the Lake. Instead, it was to move the outlet to the Hokio Stream, under certain terms and conditions. Clearly, this was an outcome that was totally unacceptable to the hapu, and was in any case not to eventuate due to the Council’s inability to meet the terms and conditions of the consent. Instead the Council began to investigate a discharge to land solution, an option that the hapu itself had earlier suggested.

This new land-based system became operational in 1987, and while it is a marked improvement for Ngati Pareraukawa, it is still their strong sense that their ancestral land is seen as a convenient waste-disposal location for the township (reinforced by the fact that it is also the location of the town’s landfill, which has also been the object of much controversy). Overflows from the sewage treatment ponds periodically seep into the Lake, meaning that the sewage issue is far from resolved.

However, on a positive note, the authors do conclude that kaitiakitanga has finally come to be recognised as a valid way of challenging detrimental environmental decisions while posing sound alternatives. And perhaps more than anything else, what comes through strongly in this essay is the overwhelming sense of responsibility felt by hapu leaders in respect to future generations – an obligation which underpins the concept of kaitiaki.

* Customary authority exercised by an iwi or hapu in an identified area.

See also: Kaitiaki – Maori and the environment

Photo top: Kikopiri Pa at the side of Lake Horowhenua, with several whare, fishing poles in the lake, two canoes and the hills beyond (1877). Lithograph by Barraud, Charles Decimus (1822-1897). Not to be reproduced without permission from Alexander Turnbull Library, ref. PUBL-0016-02-4. Above: Hokio Stream and the outlet of Lake Horowhenua. Photograph taken circa 1910s by G L Adkin. Not to be reproduced without permission from Alexander Turnbull Library, ref. PA1-q-002-007. Bottom: Lake Horowhenua today, taken from the park area at the bottom of Queen St, looking north-west. Photo by Paul Knight.

Source: Maori and the environment: kaitiaki (2010), co-edited by Rachael Selby, Pātaka Moore and Malcolm Mulholland. Published by Huia Press.

6 thoughts on “Lake Horowhenua and Hokio Stream – a hapu’s story

  1. Les Meek November 10, 2014 / 7:29 pm

    An interesting article. My name is Les Meek and I and my family have had a beach house at Hokio for about 30 years. More recently, since the stream at the beach has been allowed to form its own course, I have watched intrigued as new sand dunes to the seaward of the stream have formed, and the stream itself has formed into small pools and ponds as it meanders more sedately to the sea. Ducks and other sea birds seem to prefer this new environment; I certainly do.
    Les Meek and family.

    • envirohistorynz November 10, 2014 / 7:46 pm

      Thank you for your comment Les, and for your first-hand observations of how this landscape is “recreating” itself, with beneficial effects for both its avian and human inhabitants.

  2. Carroll cumming February 15, 2018 / 1:46 pm

    My parents had a Bach at Hokitika in the 50’s, we often went eeling and caught plenty, can still see them hanging in the morning. Dad would skin them while they would wriggle after many hours out of the water. There was a great swimming hole up stream a bit around the corner from the then shop. We would swing on the vines and drop into the water, a great meeting place for all the local young ones, would spend most of the day there. Got our water from a lady’s well. Great memories. Thank you for the insight. Carroll.

  3. Katarina February 16, 2019 / 12:13 am

    Nga mihi nui ki a koe whaea Rachel for providing us informative and factual info in this day and age, its a blessing to come across writings on our hapu, I treasure these moments i stumble upon your mahi x

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