Rock art gets top heritage status

MATTHEW LITTLEWOOD
Last updated 05:00 22/05/2014

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South Canterbury's most publicly accessible Maori rock art site has been granted the country's highest heritage status.

The Te Manunui (the great bird) site, at Frenchman's Gully near the Pareora Gorge, has been accorded category one status under the Historic Places Act. There are more than 250 Maori rock art sites in South Canterbury.

Te Manunui features a distinctive and rare bird figure, which local iwi believe represents New Zealand's now extinct pouakai, or the Haast eagle that was associated with the Canterbury area.

Other identifiable figures which appear at the site include fish and possibly moa.

Te Ana Maori Rock Art centre manager Amanda Symon said she was delighted with the announcement. "All of the sites are significant to us, but a classification such as this grants us more legal protection," she said.

The site was upgraded in 2007 in collaboration with the Waimate and Timaru district councils, the Ngai Tahu Maori Rock Art Trust and New Zealand Historic Places Trust. It is managed by the Historic Places Trust.

Heritage NZ's Maori heritage advisor Huia Pacey said the site's accessibility made it particularly important.

"It's a very tangible reminder of our history. New Zealand didn't suddenly sprout up in 1840, sites such as this are evidence of people living here more than 500 to 700 years ago. They all had their stories," she said.

"The fact it's so well preserved, and so easy to access, makes it all the more special. This is an opportunity to celebrate our rich cultural heritage. It's a site that exists in its natural environment, and the landowners are very sensitive to its importance."

Heritage NZ's summary assessment of Te Manunui said it was a "physical example of the activities and places associated with their ancestors that still exists in the landscape today".

"Rock art sites relate to traditional stories associated with settlement and travelling pathways and provide tangible evidence of traditions and practices of their ancestors," the assessment said.

"The art is visually bold, well executed, in good condition and contains complete figures."

Maerewhenua and Takiroa rock art sites (near Duntroon) are registered as category two under the Historic Places Act, but Symons said it was hoped more sites within the region could be categorised.

Category one status is given to places of "special or outstanding historical or cultural significance or value".

Waimate District Council planning manager Kevin Tiffen said the Te Manunui site did not have any heritage status under the council's district plan. "It's something we will definitely have to look into. It might take some time to come into effect."

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- The Timaru Herald

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