A Canterbury hapū says a series of upgrades to reflect Kura Tawhiti’s cultural significance has been in the works for decades.
Three large pou whenua were unveiled at the site of the striking limestone formations, also known as Castle Hill, in a ceremony on Tuesday.
The site on the highway between Christchurch and Arthur’s Pass attracts more than 100,000 visitors a year, according to the Department of Conservation.
The upgrade includes new plantings, a walkway, shelter, and interpretation panels that tell the story of the local hapū, Ngāi Tūāhuriri.
Kura Tawhiti has great cultural significance to Ngāi Tūāhuriri, and was one of the 14 important tōpuni sites recognized in the Ngāi Tahu treaty settlement.
Rūnanga spokesman Joseph Hullen said, “from the original designation of tōpuni status due to the Ngāi Tahu settlement to today – more than 20 years, it’s been a while”.
The pou whenua represented ancestors with a connection to Kura Tawhiti, meaning “treasure from a distant land,” Tawhitinui and his sons Tūrākautahi and Tāne Tiki, Hullen said.
The three marched along the peaks in the Torlesse Range, creating a mahinga kai for the nearby kākāpō.
“They wanted to decorate or clothe their daughters with the skins and their feathers,” Hullen said.
Department of Conservation operations manager for the eastern South Island Jo Macpherson said the upgrades underscored that importance.
“The site itself is very fragile, the ecosystem, and we’ve reformed some of the tracks and plantings, and then there’s the work around the pou whenua,” Macpherson said.
“All of these combinations will help protect the site’s ecosystem and values.”
Hullen said he hoped it would help showcase the site’s significance and encourage visitors to take care of it.
“We hope the presence of the pou and the interpretations point out to people that this is a problem site.
“Previously there were problems with toileting in inappropriate places and graffiti, because limestone is very soft.”
But Hullen said he also hoped it would throw a korowai of rangatiratanga and protection over Kura Tawhiti.
“An opportunity for our tamariki mokopuna to recognize that they are present in the landscape. An opportunity for our place-based stories to learn our purakau, our history and whakapapa so that they understand where they come from.
“To know where to go, you must first know where you’ve been.”