Opotiki in the Bay of Plenty
Opotiki is a town in the eastern Bay of Plenty in the North Island of New Zealand. It houses the headquarters of the Opotiki District Council and comes under the Bay of Plenty Regional Council.
Ethnicity (of the district)
Whakatohea - from Ohiwa Harbour to Opape, including Opotiki township.
The town of Opotiki is situated exactly on latitude 38° South. The climate is temperate. Summer temperatures reach the mid-20s (Celsius, mid-70s Fahrenheit) on the coast and encourage a continuation of the beach culture of the Bay of Plenty. Winter days are often cloudless, the daytime temperature never drops below freezing but there may be a mild frost at night. Winter snow falls along the crest of the ranges, and on the higher peaks (over 1000 m) may remain for a few weeks. Rain occurs at any season. Severe localised rainstorms ('cloudbursts') may occur in the high country and have caused flash flooding including past inundations of Opotiki township.
Coastal forest consists of pôhutukawa trees, nikau palms, and many small shrubs belonging to genera such as Pseudopanax, Coprosma etc. Of particular note are a daisy-flowered shrub Olearia pachyphylla endemic to the district, and the rare large-flowered broom Carmichaelia williamsii.
Further inland is temperate rainforest. The canopy is dominated by tall trees such as tawa, puriri and pukatea heavily populated by epiphytes (ferns, lily and orchid families) and lianas which include a pandanaceous climber (kiekie). The understory contains many ferns of various sizes including tree ferns up to 10 m high, the giant stinging nettle Urtica ferox and the extremely poisonous tutu shrub.
In mountainous areas the rainforest gives way to less dense Nothofagus beech forest. The understory is dominated by Gahnia sedges with sparse shrubs such as the foul-smelling Coprosma foetidissima. Above the treeline there is tough-leaved Olearia shrub and alpine herbfield. The diminutive alpine tutu shrub Coriaria pottsiana is endemic to the district.
The lower river valleys and adjacent tablelands provide productive farming areas whilst exotic plantings for commercial timber (mainly pinus radiata) occur on the fringes of the hill country.
In the forested areas the birdlife is mainly native species which in addition to the above include wood pigeon (kererű), blue duck (whio), bellbird, morepork (native owl). In the past the rare kokako (a blue-wattled bird) has been sighted.
Indigenous freshwater fish, apart from eels, are all small species and are caught as ‘whitebait’ in season. Introduced trout are found in some rivers. The district is rich in sea life such as molluscs (pipi, tuatua, kina, scallop), crayfish, edible fish such as snapper, kahawai and gurnard. Commercial aquaculture is beginning (mussel, oyster).
Early Maori history
Several more generations later, the Mataatua people arrived at Whakatane from a place called Parinuitera, which could be either Young Nick's Head or a place on Ahuahu (Great Mercury Island). The present-day Whakatohea and Whanau a Apanui tribes claim descent from the intermarriage of Mataatua with earlier migrants. The overland migration called Te Heke o Te Rangihouhiri, which eventually resulted in the Ngaiterangi tribe of Tauranga, also contributed to the population.
One of the earliest Whakatohea ancestors, Tarawa, deliberately concealed his origins and claimed to have swum to the district from across the sea, supported by supernatural fish he called his pets or children (‘pôtiki’). Coming ashore just west of Opotiki, he installed his pets into a spring, which thereby became imbued with his mana. The spring ‘o pôtiki mai tawhiti’ (‘of the children from faraway’) became famous, and the short form of the name later came to be applied to the district as a whole. Opôtiki therefore means (the place) of children.
The 1830s to 1840s were more peaceful and the tribes again returned to the coast to take advantage of trading opportunities with trading and whaling ships. Mâori Christian missionaries began to instruct in literacy and religion. In 1840 the Treaty of Waitangi was taken around to be signed, establishing British sovereignty in name at least. Soon, a few European (British and French) missionaries moved into the area. At this period, the village at Opotiki was known as Pâ Kowhai. There were other important villages at Tunapâhore and Te Kaha.
The 1850s and early 1860s saw continued development. The Mâori tribes took up European agricultural methods and crops, primarily wheat, pigs and peaches, which were traded with Auckland. There were still only a few Westerners living in the district, fewer still of whom were British by birth. Among these foreigners were Henry Agassiz, brother of the famous Swiss/American scientist Louis Agassiz, and Karl Völkner, a German missionary who had gone over to the Anglican Church.
So in accordance with ancient Mâori custom, utu (revenge) was taken by killing the missionary Karl Völkner, who had been recruited as an agent by the British Governor, Sir George Grey, and who had been transmitting secret reports. This incident resulted in the invasion of Opotiki by British forces in 1865, and is described in detail elsewhere. Within a few years the Opotiki district had been settled by military settlers, and the Maori tribes had been confined to villages with little land attached. A desultory guerilla war followed, led by Whakatohea chief Hira te Popo and Tuhoe chief Eru Tamaikowha, but they eventually surrendered and were given amnesty.
Warfare again erupted in 1870 when the guerilla chief Te Kooti shifted his operations to the area. For a few years he and his followers lived in the rugged Te Wera area in the extreme southwest of the Opotiki district. After an amnesty was granted he eventually moved to Ohiwa Harbour on the coast between Opotiki and Whakatane where he later died.
Because of the relatively small area of cultivable hinterland and a treacherous harbour entrance, early hopes of Opotiki town becoming a major centre for the Bay of Plenty were dashed. During the twentieth century the town suffered from repeated shifts of businesses and local government to Whakatane, a situation which has only begun to reverse very recently with increasing population. Major floods in the 1950s and 1960s led to the protection of the town by levees (‘stopbanks’) which have successfully prevented any further inundations. A major boost to prosperity occurred with the kiwifruit boom of the late twentieth century.
Regions of the Bay of Pleny