Kaikoura Island – Archaeological Background

Archaeological Recording

Archaeological site recording on Kaikoura has been limited. Don Fasher consulted with local Maori when constructing the airstrip. He was informed that there were three sensitive areas located on Mitre Peak, Mount Overlook, and on the high point to the west of Bradshaw Cove (Fasher pers. com. as cited by Harlow 2001:3).

In 1996 Brenda Sewell recorded two additional WWII sites on Kaikoura on the basis of hearsay. Sites information in this instance was provided by Garth Cooper.

Dianne Harlow conducted an archaeological assessment for a proposed Telecom cell tower in 2001 (in the immediate vicinity of the already existing Vodafone tower) although this was never erected.

Archaeological Survey

There has been no systematic survey undertaken for Kaikoura Island prior to the present survey.

Recorded Archaeological Sites

Archaeological Excavation

There has been no report of archaeological excavation on Kaikoura Island to date.


Maori Settlement

As with any archaeological landscape sites on Kaikoura Island are a product both of past settlement distribution and land use as well as recent factors which have influenced their survival. Much of the topography of the island has been affected by large scale erosion occurring especially on the steeper and more exposed areas along the northern coast and exacerbated by deforestation and fallow deer grazing. The relatively more sheltered southern and eastern parts of the island appear to have experienced less erosion. In addition much of the flatter land around the central ridge has been used extensively for farm activities and this is likely to have had an adverse impact on the preservation of archaeological features. While allowing for this preservation bias it is still possible to make some interpretation of the settlement pattern as indicated by archaeological site distribution.

Much of the island comprises steep slopes and settlement appears to have been concentrated on available flat land. The central ridge and promontories such as headlands and knolls appear to have been settled along with the mouths of stream gullies nearer the coast. Settlement on exposed areas such as the central ridgeline inclined towards the more sheltered southern and eastern sides. Sites have been recorded towards the north-western and north-eastern ends of the main ridgeline and there are likely to have been further settlement features towards the central part of this ridge, now destroyed by farming activity and more recently by the construction of the main airstrip. The ridgelines tend to be characterised by rocky outcrops and stone debris, and sites were often identified as areas where stone had been cleared to create usable land. These sites tended to be characterised by either stone mounds to the sides of the cleared area or considerable amounts of strewn stone debris below. In some instances the stone appears to have been utilised to form terrace reveting or walls and alignments, but in most cases it seems the intention was to remove rather than use the naturally occurring debris.

Additional features are concentrated in closer proximity to the coast and, as might be expected, appear to cluster around stream mouths and on coastal promontories at knolls or on the heads of spurs. Factors such as proximity to streams and coast, steepness of topography and soil type may assist in identifying areas where subsurface archaeological deposits are more likely to be encountered (see Tatton 1994:123-5). Stone debris was less common in many of these areas and as such has been incorporated less into the site and features.

Coastal middens contain rocky shore species available from the island and local environs, and tend to suggest limited exploitation. Acidic soils are likely to have resulted in less than ideal conditions for the preservation of fish bone and other organic remains and this may be a contributing factor in the sparseness of the midden deposits encountered. The name Kaikoura suggests also marine exploitation other than shellfish gathering.

Pa located on the northern side of the island on prominent high points are relatively large in scale, and it would have been feasible for people to live inside these areas, as well as seeking refuge in times of conflict. Names of the two pa are given as Motukaraka and Pahangahou (Murdoch pers. com.).

Early farm settlement

Sites and features relating to farm settlement, and European occupation were fairly limited. Continuing use in the same area is likely to have removed much of the evidence relating to early farming. Features encountered included dams in streams, and a former house site. Additional sites if they still exist might reasonably be expected in the central farm gully, and central ridge around the edges of the airstrips.

World War II sites

Military features from World War II relating to the controlled mine field are clustered in and around Bradshaw Cove. The observation post is sited for its views of Port Abercrombie, with the remainder of the outpost sheltered in the stream gully below the ridge line where there is better access to fresh water. The observation post and barracks appear to have been linked by a benched track, and the outpost in Bradshaw Cove was linked via cable link to the mine field and also to the radar station at Moors Peak above Nagle Cove on the opposite side of Port Abercrombie. An additional gun emplacement for Port Fitzroy was planned for the north-easternmost point of the island but was never actioned. It is not envisaged that additional sites relating to the World War II occupation will be encountered on the island.


Rather than assess the significance of sites individually it is more practical to assess the group in a landscape context. This has been done for both Maori and historic period sites. The assessment criteria adopted for this report follow those outlined in Walton 1999.


No early sites were identified during the course of the survey, but the island is said to have been occupied from the 14th century. While populations would have fluctuated over time Maori occupation of Kaikoura was continuous up until the time of its sale into European ownership in 1838. Without further archaeological investigation it is impossible to determine whether the individual sites identified thus far are contemporary or whether settlement pattern has shifted over time.

In additional to the Maori occupation the island has been farmed since 1863. It is not known specifically where any early farming was located but it is likely to have been in the vicinity of more recent farming on the more gently sloping southern side of the main ridge and around the broad gully to the south of Mitre Peak. The first permanent house on Kaikoura appears to have been built on the southern coast in 1888, and although the site was re-used numerous times since then a few of the remnants from the old house site in Man o war passage may relate to this. Other buildings of heritage significance on the island are the military structures which were constructed in 1942.


The archaeological landscape includes sites relating to a variety of activities. Common site types usually include those relating to subsistence such as coastal middens, and occupation and settlement such as terracing and pits. The archaeological landscape on Kaikoura also includes several less common feature types including stone reveting and walls usually restricted to sites in volcanic areas and on offshore islands. There are two pa sites recorded on the island and one of these includes a stone perimeter wall, and internal stone row partitions.

Historic remains present on Kaikoura are of fairly common types. The bunkers and observation post are, however, unusually well preserved still retaining their wood panelling and painted ceilings.


Archaeological sites on Kaikoura include coastal midden, terracing, pits, stone reveting, gardening sites, and defended sites including headland and hilltop pa. Notable absences include stone working sites. Sites on Kaikoura tend to be simple rather than complex in form and generally comprise a limited number of features. More complex sites include the pa and a small number of terrace sites.

Remnant historic sites on the island are relatively limited. With the exception of the former homestead site they relate to the military occupation during WWII. They include bunkers, barracks buildings, roads, tracks and an observation post.


Shell middens are relatively uncommon on Kaikoura in comparison to other islands and coastal areas, and may reflect the limited availability of soft shore shellfish species on Kaikoura. Where midden sites have been recorded on Kaikoura they are limited to a sparse scatter of surface shell from a few rocky shore species such as catseyes and rock oyster.

The military buildings are representative of later military architecture, being simply built. The single pitch roofs on the barracks buildings are less common, but other similar examples exist elsewhere.


The archaeological landscape on Kaikoura is considered largely degraded due to damage by erosion, farming activity, and large scale earthworks (e.g. the airstrip). The soils are acidic and are likely to have accelerated deterioration of organic deposits. Scarps on earthwork features such as pits and terracing have eroded and most of these sites are becoming vague in appearance. Overall both the landscape and individual sites are considered to be in relatively poor condition with some notable exceptions. Areas that appear to have suffered less modification include the western and northeastern portions of the central ridge, and some coastal areas.

Few sites associated with the early farming appear to have survived, with the exception of isolated features and structures such as dams and relict planting. The military structures however are extremely well preserved.

Group value

Group value is considered relatively low. Archaeological sites on Kaikoura represent a partial landscape which has suffered considerable modification over time. Where the landscape has been less modified sites appear to form a more continuous pattern of Maori land use on available flat land along the tops of ridges and at stream mouths. Extant sites appear to form a fairly representative group of site types.

Group value for the early farming is also considered relatively low. Archaeological sites on Kaikoura represent a partial landscape which has suffered considerable modification over time. Conversely the, military sites represent an intact set of sites, relatively little modified over time and have greater group value despite their later (20th century) origin.

Archaeological Potential

Archaeological potential is also considered relatively low for most sites. Many of the recorded sites have been modified by farming and forestry. There appears to be relatively little topsoil build-up in many areas and where present appears to be acidic. On the basis of surface evidence the sites appear to have relatively little material suitable for dating, although some of the larger middens (such as S08/429 and S08/444) may provide suitable material. Sites containing stone alignment features (such as S08/424) might benefit from limited investigation to attempt to determine the function and methods used in the construction of these features. A small sample of obsidian was recovered during field survey and this may be able to be traced to its location of origin to identify trade and social connections with other parts of the country.

Amenity value

The proposal to develop an outdoor education centre on the island will mean that there will be an excellent opportunity for some sites to be used as an education resource. Unfortunately few sites have sufficient surface presence to be considered suitable for this purpose.

Conservation value

With the island in public ownership the potential to manage sites in a landscape context is enhanced. In addition the archaeology is able to lend another facet in promoting Kaikoura as a unique place.

Summary of Significance

As a whole the archaeological landscape on Kaikoura Island is fairly degraded due to farming operations, earthworks, and extensive erosion. This also appears to have been exacerbated by poor preservation conditions. Kaikoura does however include examples of less common site types such as free standing stone walls, and reveted terracing. The island’s World War II heritage is also unusually well preserved, and comprises a complete outpost, with structures, tracks and roads. Public ownership and the Motu Kaikoura Trust’s intention to develop the island as an outdoor education centre present a unique opportunity to further develop the island’s heritage potential.


Sites associated with Maori settlement and historic sites predating 1900 fall within the scope of the archaeological provisions of the Historic Places Act 1993 and as such require an authority to be granted by the NZ Historic Places Trust before undertaking any activity which has the potential to destroy, damage or modify.

Intervention should be generally limited to threat management, and it is envisaged that most of the archaeological landscape on Kaikoura will be appropriately managed passively where no threats are specifically identified. Much of the island has already reverted to low scrubland species since grazing ceased including manuka/kanuka and gorse and with the exception of existing tracks and the airstrip few areas of cleared land have been maintained. The archaeological resource comprises mostly earthwork features (pits and terraces), stone mounds and alignments, cultivated areas and middens. The middens are characteristically areas of sparsely scattered shell that appear to have limited or no depth of stratigraphy. Accordingly a management regime that provides primarily for the retention of surface earthwork features is considered sufficient, as root growth from existing vegetation will have already impacted upon sites with relatively shallow stratigraphy.

Stone wall features

The archaeological landscape includes examples of stone walls and reveting that may require some active management to assist in their continued preservation. Vegetation growth can pose a significant threat to the preservation of these sites from trees and shrubs growing through features, displacing and destabilising rock as well as having their foundations undermined by tree root growth. The two best examples of stone walls are the stone walled pa (S08/433) and the stone alignments on the north-western ridgeline (S08/424). A programme of active management should be established and carried out for both of these sites involving regular visits to monitor condition and vegetation growth, and to remove any seedlings growing out of the stone features before they reach a size where they threaten the preservation of the features. Monitoring should seek to assess the stability and condition of the walls so that any weakness in the structures can be identified well before there is any threat of collapse. Suggested monitoring timeframes are annual monitoring visits by island staff, with 5 yearly visits by DOC historic staff. Any proposed monitoring or active management carried out at these sites should be discussed with Ngati Rehua before implementation.

Management of sites during restoration planting

The restoration of native vegetation on the island itself is also envisaged to be largely passive, allowing native species to self seed in the cover provided by the existing vegetation which in time will become shaded out. There is not envisaged to be any active planting on the island. Should additional planting be identified in the restoration plan it will be necessary to ensure that archaeological sites are excluded from any planting regime, and that staff and volunteers involved in the activity are appropriately briefed as to the location of any recorded archaeological sites in the vicinity of the planting area so that they can be avoided.

Tracks and marked routes

Additional tracks may be required for animal pest and weed eradication, but it is envisaged that these are likely to take the form of cleared routes rather than formed tracks. It is not necessary for these routes to avoid entire archaeological sites, but these should avoid leading people across fragile features such as stone walls, or alignments where these can be avoided. Over time foot traffic can dislodge stones, and cause previously well formed features to deflate or splay.

As the intended use for the island is to establish an outdoor education facility it is envisaged that additional formed tracks maybe created in future. Where there is any proposed modification of the ground surface, including drains or benching, routing should seek to avoid recorded archaeological sites. If this cannot be achieved, there is a legal requirement to seek authorisation to modify the site from the Historic Places Trust, and this will need to be undertaken well in advance of any proposed work. DOC historic staff should also be notified as they may be able to provide additional technical assistance in meeting any conditions as set by the Historic Places Trust.

New structures

As with formed tracks any proposed new structures should be located so as to avoid recorded archaeological sites. Should this be considered impractical or impossible authorisation will need to be sought from the Historic Places Trust, and DOC historic staff should be notified.

Tree felling

Large tree felling and forestry operations are also recognised as activities that have the potential to destroy damage and modify archaeological sites. Damage is often caused to archaeological earthwork features both on impact during felling, and when trees are dragged across features. If it is necessary to fell exotic trees in the vicinity of recorded archaeological sites it will also be necessary to obtain authorisation from the Historic Places Trust, and notify DOC historic staff.

Limited Investigation

Should funding permit it may be desirable to further investigate some of the archaeological features on Kaikoura. Possibilities may include both intrusive and non-intrusive investigation.

Time constraints during the survey made accurate mapping of complex sites difficult. More detailed mapping of sites such as the two pa and features on the north-western ridgeline would assist in their long term management as well as provide additional information on the use of these areas.

A small amount of obsidian was recovered during the survey and identification of this may assist in ascertaining the geography of the wider resource area and trade connections of the people living on the island.

Little is known about the relative dates of the sites that have been identified on the island. Selective sampling of sites may assist in further determining settlement pattern and land use over time. Little datable material was identified on the pa but sites located at stream mouths such as S08/429 and S08/444 have greater potential. Sampling of sites is intrusive investigation and should only be undertaken with the support of Ngati Rehua, and will also require an authority from the Historic Places Trust.

Little is also known about the function of the stone alignments at S08/424. Sampling for archaeological pollens, starches and phytoliths, and limited investigation to reveal the methods of construction may assist with the interpretation of why these alignments were constructed and provide insight into their function.

Wahi tapu sites

Wahi tapu have been identified on the island by Ngati Rehua. For any matters relating to wahi tapu on Motu Kaikoura Ngati Rehua should be contacted for advice on how to proceed as the sole authority in this matter.


The observation post (S08/398) is considered to be one of the best preserved examples of its type due to the preservation of the wood panelling. Registration increases the profile of heritage resources and provides external recognition which can assist in generating funding for remedial work and repair. It is therefore recommended that registration and scheduling of the observation post is sought with the Historic Places Trust and Auckland City Council.

Restoration of military structures

The buildings and bunkers in Bradshaw Cove, as well as the observation post overlooking Port Abercrombie currently require remedial work and ongoing maintenance to bring them up to a presentable and usable standard. Together these structures comprise an intact military outpost as part of the wider defences for the port of Auckland during the second world war, and a significant local heritage resource worthy of active management. Advice should be sought with regards to the repair and ongoing maintenance of these structures, and their appropriate re-use.

‘Kaikoura Island Archaeological Survey’ Andy Dodd and Vanessa TannerDepartment of Conservation 2006.

Recorded Archaeological Sites