Ngāti Rongomaiwahine have extensive traditional fishing grounds. The reefs are abundant in seafood – including karengo (a seaweed) in season – and there are numerous beds of shellfish such as pipi, tuangi and tuatua. Whale flesh was also part of their traditional diet. Whitebait was taken from the rivers, and eels were caught in the creeks. Much of the peninsula was covered with bush, which was rich in food, fibre and timber resources. Fern root was an important part of the diet, and the climate and soils were very conducive to the cultivation of kūmara (sweet potato).
It is said that the karaka (Corynocarpus laevigatus) was brought to New Zealand by the people of the Kurahaupō canoe, which landed at Tawapata on Māhia Peninsula. The berry of the karaka tree was greatly valued as a food by Māori. However, its seed is poisonous and could not be safely eaten without a great deal of preparation to remove the poison.
Some of New Zealand’s earliest whaling stations were at Māhia. In 1837 the Ward brothers established a station at Waikōkopu. Whales were especially plentiful around the peninsula – Captain Ellis’s station at Kinikini caught 26 sperm whales in 1845.
The Māhia whaling stations were almost as infamous as those at Kororāreka, in the Bay of Islands, for the lawlessness of their inhabitants.
Māori at Māhia had their own boats and continued to hunt whales long after they had become too scarce for European stations to continue operating.
Ngāti Rongomaiwahine today
In more recent times fishing either for fish or crayfish continues to be a source of livelihood for members of Ngāti Rongomaiwahine. The large sheep and cattle station at the southern end of the peninsula, ‘Onenui’, is owned by the descendants of Rongomaiwahine’s children.
Māhia is well known for its warm climate, beaches, fishing and surfing spots. Many members of Ngāti Rongomaiwahine are now engaged in businesses associated with these attractions. The tribal authority for Ngāti Rongomaiwahine is Te Whānau o Rongomaiwahine Trust, who organise health services and advocacy.