Brief History of Okura and Environs

The Beginnings of Human Habitation

Maori are believed to have inhabited the isthmus of Tamaki Makaurau since the arrival of the first canoes in the 1400’s. The canoes were: Tainui, Aotea, Tokomaru, Kahuitara and Kuahaupo.

The first inhabitants were the Turehu and their chieftain, Tiriwa, is an ancestor of Te Kawerau a Maki. Tiriwa lived throughout the extensive forest which once covered West Auckland and the North Shore.

The remnant of this forest is now the Waitakere Ranges and the name comes from Te Wao nui a Tiriwa (the great forest of Tiriwa). Later and up until prior to 1600, the Ngati Awa, Ngaoho and Ngaiwi people occupied the wider area of Tamaki Makaurau.

Pertaining to the history of Okura, the record goes back to the 1600’s, and the epynomous ancestor Maki who brought 300 of his hapu through the lands of his Tainui relatives from the northern Taranaki-Kawhia area.

The Confederation of Te Kawerau o Maki was gradually established and by the 1800’s there was a considerable economic base of established presence, food gathering sites on land and sea, pa, wahi tapu, and ties through marriage for keeping the peace; so that the people were able to flourish in their partly nomadic fashion.

The rohe of Te Kawerau a Maki runs along the west coast from Te Henga (Bethells Beach) to Karekare and up from those beaches into the Waitakere Ranges. .

The rohe of Ngati Whatua o Kaipara includes Riverhead, Coatesville, Whenuapai, Hobsonville, Greenhithe and Albany. Moving to the north-east the rohe extends to the coast just south of Long Bay.

The rohe of Ngati Manuhiri includes the area around Warkworth, Tawharanui, Matakana (on the mainland) and Tiritiri Matangi, Little Barrier and Great Barrier Islands.

Much of this land is also shared interest with Ngati Whatua Orakei.

It is interesting to note that some of the great kauri of the Okura Forest would have been around at the time of Maki.

The Coming of European Influence

European settlement and influence began in the Auckland area in the early 1800’s.

Te Kawerau Maki were pushed out of Tamaki Makaurau by Nga Puhi in the early 1800’s. Ten years later, they returned and stayed until the early 1900’s.

Iwi interests in the area were threatened by relentless purchasing of land for timber and settlement, using tactics that impoverished the multiple Maori owners of the land. The situation was unjust and meant to be mitigated by the signing by many tribes of the Treaty of Waitangi on and around February 6 1840. A Treaty bringing all people of New Zealand under Victoria, the Queen of England.

Interestingly, Te Kawerau a Maki were not included in the Treaty signing, although it is thought that some of the meetings prior to the signing, were attended by the iwi in Mangere and Awhitu in March 1840. Therefore the tribe would have been aware of the intentions of the Treaty.

Only a year after the Treaty was signed, the thinly veiled confiscation process was once again happening. Today historic iwi interests are marginalised and fragmented, despite the Treaty Settlement processes that began in the late 1970’s. However each of the iwi do have Treaty Settlements which are binding in law regarding Iwi interests in respect of cultural values, spiritual values, tikanga maori and the preservation of various taonga. On the other hand, regarding financial compensation for loss of land and the means to flourish economically – they are full and final settlements and they certainly do not bring back the economic base that sustained the tribes before settler governments started eroding it.

Recent History

The North Shore was a beach settlement with baches and wide green areas in the 1950s and 60s. The population has become more and more European dominated.

Urbanisation and the growth of commercial centres began in the 1970’s. The local community groups of the time fought and won two court battles in the Environment Court to have 5 acre blocks the minimum size for rural development. By 2013, high density housing was prevalent in the Albany area and the Okura and Redvale areas were being threatened with a high possibility of rapidly changing from rural to relatively high density urban communities. Stillwater, due to its isolation, was still a sleepy village.

The combination of all Auckland Councils into one Supercity (process enforced by Acts of Parliament from 2010), and the controversial Auckland Unitary Plan of 2016 saw development accelerated, with high density housing and large business parks and mega-centres being built in Albany and later Silverdale. The Unitary Plan dumped specific heritage restrictions, minimum apartment sizes and cultural impact assessments. It also allowed for more urban sprawl and greater intensification. The rural urban boundary (RUB) was expanded by 30% so the council or developers could apply for private plan changes to shift the boundary and rezone the land.

In 2016, Developers from the Weiti Block and the Todd Block, with the Warman Block anticipated to follow; put pressure on the Council to allow increasingly large developments, almost on the doorstep of the Okura Bush and close to the beaches of the estuary. A third court battle ensued in 2016 with local residents using all the resources they could muster to fight the developers and their seasoned legal representation.

The East Coast Bays Coastal Protection Society was formed in 1992/3. ECBCPS was responsible for the establishment of the Long Bay Okura Marine Reserve – a battle they fought and won in 1995. Eventually, in 2013, ECBCPS reformed as Friends of Okura Bush (FOOB). This Society formalised as an Incorporated Society in 2014.

The biggest losers with accelerated urbanisation, are fragile ecological fragments, of which the Okura Bush is a prime example. The Okura Estuary as a fishing reserve and its contributory streams (home for fresh water species) are others. This is why groups such as East Coast Bays Coastal Protection Society / Friends of Okura Bush are formed: to fight for the same taonga that iwi consider precious. It is a David and Goliath situation.

Read more about treaty settlements on page two.

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