Hamilton could have its own treasure island
A Hamilton East heritage group wants to revive interest in a forgotten piece of Waikato River history by recreating a Maori village on Graham Island, near the Wellington St beach.
The island, which was a popular tourist spot in the early 20th century, was previously the site of Te Moutere O Koipikau Pa.
The Hamilton East Community Trust and Ngati Wairere/Hamilton historian Wiremu Puke are behind the plan, which also has the support of Mayor Julie Hardaker.
Trust chair and Waikato Regional councillor Lois Livingston said the project was "on the books" for the group this year and would aim to restore and protect Hamilton's heritage.
"It would be a celebration of our past - people will love it," she said.
"We want once again for the island to be a place to visit."
Mr Puke, an iwi liaison to Hamilton City Council, says his vision is for a fully reconstructed pre-European pa, complete with colour-fade houses, fences, a pataka and pou.
Visitors would travel via Maori canoe or kayak from Hamilton Gardens to the island and then on to Grantham St, he said.
"When people step on to the island I want them to feel like its original habitants have just gone fishing or hunting for an hour or so, with everything as they left it.
"With the proper historical research, and done properly, this would be excellent for Hamilton tourism."
The island was home to a carved pataka, or foodhouse, in the late 17th or early 18th century, Mr Puke said.
Both the city council and Conservation Department will have to carry out archaeological digs on the island before any work can start.
"We think there may be remnants of the old ditches and pits on the island but it is so overgrown we can't see. We have to dig," Mr Puke said.
"If those remnants are found we will leave them in situ and then have a partial reconstruction of a pa on the site.
The Waikato River Explorer runs 90-minute river tours passing Graham Island and captain Darren Mills said the pa would be a welcome addition to the tour.
"Hamilton has in the past wasted lots of opportunities with the river a tourist venture and this could be the way to lure back visitors," he said.
"With the bypass going through in a couple years we need lots of hooks to get people to stop in our wonderful city and not just keep driving to Auckland."
Ms Hardaker said it was a "great idea".
"It sounds wonderful and it is something that celebrates our past. It sounds very much like something that speaks to the ideas encompassed in our river plan."
A BRIEF HISTORY
Te Moutere O Koipikau Pa held a carved pataka named koipikau, which is believed to have been constructed during the time of Hotumauea and Hanui.
A century or more after the time of Hotumauea and Hanui, Hongi Hika and his northern Nga Puhi warriors armed with muskets invaded this area.
A carved pataka, also called koipikau, which stood in the pa was dismantled and buried to protect it from Hongi Hika.
It is not clear whether this was the same pataka that existed during Hotumauea's time.
The precise burial place of this pataka is unknown.
The European name for Graham Island comes from former surveyor and mayor of Hamilton (1884-7), William Australia Graham. Graham surveyed the whole Hamilton area for the government of the time in 1864.
It is understood to have been was surveyed to have houses on it, but several floods in the first half of the 20th century inundated the island and put paid to idea of building anything there.