News | 12 October 2023
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New bike route highlights hidden awa

As you bike down the new lanes between Newtown and the waterfront – or walk by – spare a thought for the hidden awa (stream) below you.

Two people riding a bike over blue markings on the ground.

You are travelling above the Waitangi Awa, which flows through pipes below Adelaide Road, and Kent and Cambridge Terraces, then through the recreated wetland in Waitangi Park to the harbour. 

Waitangi Awa and its many tributaries fed the original Waitangi Pūroto (lagoon). The pūroto at the harbour edge was used for centuries by Māori for food-gathering, as a source of fresh water, and as a place to launch waka.  

Working closely with local iwi Taranaki Whānui, under the expert guidance of Len Hetet and Pokau Te Ahuru, key places are now highlighted with blue niho taniwha markings.   

Map of the Awa in the city.

The niho taniwha (teeth of the taniwha) designs show the route of the awa and mark special places along the way – the awa, its tributaries and wetlands that were part of the natural landscape and significant places for the people who lived here in earlier times. 

The designs are being painted and, later, more permanently etched into bike paths and lanes all over the city as part of rolling out a citywide network of safe routes.  

On this route, starting in Riddiford Street near Wellington Hospital and heading towards the waterfront, these mark the areas below.

Ngā Puna Waiora 

A freshwater spring, which connects with Waitangi Awa, is in this vicinity and behind Wellington Regional Hospital Ngā Puna Waiora. The name Ngā Puna Waiora is also said to refer to the many streams that flow from the Te Ranga a Hiwi ridgeline of Matairangi Mt Victoria down the hills towards Huriwhenua Newtown. 

The ridge runs from Te Kopahou, the south coast to the harbour and includes Matairangi Mount Victoria and the site of the former Te Akatārewa Pā.  

The pā, one of four on the ridge, overlooked what is now Huriwhenua Newtown on the city side and Te Ākau Tangi Evans Bay on the harbour side. 

Blue Awa markings on the ground.

Hauwai Mahinga Kai  

Today’s Basin Reserve cricket ground was once the swamp or wetland of Hauwai. It was a mahinga kai, or food-gathering area where tuna eels, kokopū and other fish from the swamp and streams were gathered by the Ngāti Hinewai hapu of Ngāi Tara, who lived at Te Akatārewa Pā.   

The hapu also used the cultivation areas at Hauwai and Ngā Kumikumi on the western side of Pukeahu that bordered the Hauwai swamp. These covered the area from the foot of Puke Ahu maunga to the foot of Te Ranga ā Hiwi ridgeline, close to Te Kāreti Tamatāne o Te Whānganui-a-Tara Wellington College today.  

Early gardens of edible bracken fern root were cultivated after the forest was cleared. Later the hills were terraced for growing kūmara, and centuries later, Te Āti Awa and Taranaki Whānui of Te Aro Pā used the gardens, planting planted potatoes, melons and corn.  

These gardens extended into the base of Aro Valley and Huriwhenua Newtown and were in active use when the New Zealand Company surveyors arrived from England in 1839.  

The new settlers talked of making the Waitangi awa a canal, and the shallow lagoon area an inland anchorage for boats.  

Plans changed after the powerful 1855 Wairarapa earthquake caused the land to rise more than a metre. The lagoon, which became shallower and swampier, was drained and levelled in the 1860s by prisoners from the nearby gaol for use as a cricket ground. 

Two people riding a bike over blue markings on the ground.

Ngā Whenu o te Whāriki  

The two blue designs on the city side of the Basin Reserve acknowledge the many small side streams that flowed downhill and into the bigger Waitangi Awa from Te Ranga ā Hiwi, the ridge above.   

The name Ngā Whenu o te Whāriki describes the relationship between the land and waterways. 

Whāriki can be seen as a woven mat laid across the landscape to represent catchment areas with whenu as strands of the awa, streams or water tributaries that flow into, interweave across, and join the land catchments together. These connections or seams are known as hiki.  

Waitangi Pūroto 

Waitangi (crying waters) Pūroto or lagoon was used for centuries by Māori and most recently, by Ngāti Ruanui and Ngāti Haumia hapu, for food-gathering, as a source of fresh water, and as a place to launch waka. 

The pūroto was formed by the Waitangi Awa ponding behind a wave-formed shingle beach. The awa would sometimes break through this shingle beach and empty into the harbour, and occasionally, small peat islets with harakeke flax plants growing on them floated out into the harbour.  

Traditional Māori kōrero tells of a taniwha kaitiaki or guardian that inhabited this pūroto, and foreseeing the coming of colonial settlers, left before their arrival. 

During the building of the city, this natural lagoon and surrounding landscape was built over, as infrastructure replaced nature. Since 2006 much of this area has become a park and recreated wetland that the awa is diverted to flow through. 

Find out more information about the bike route awa markings here.