An ancient painted landscape
A large number of New Zealand’s remaining ancient Maori rock art sites (approximately 250 sites) lie within half an hour’s drive of Timaru, South Canterbury. Drawings in red and black decorate the pale surfaces of the limestone outcrops and boulders which line the region’s braided river valleys. Mythical beings, such as the fearsome taniwha, are pictured alongside stylized human figures, fish, dogs and long extinct birds such as the flightless moa and pouakai the giant eagle. Dating back to the arrival of Maori in the South Island between 700 to 1000 years ago, the drawings provide a rare glimpse into the lives and culture of our regions’ first inhabitants.
Treasured Maori heritage
The local Maori tribe, Ngai Tahu, consider these sites to be taonga, or treasures – places that their ancestors once stood and which connect current generations to the land and to their culture. As kaitiaki, or guardians of the sites, the tribe takes an active role in their management and protection, and has established a long-term rock art survey and recording programme which spans the South Island. A tribal conservation initiative based in Timaru, Te Ana Ngai Tahu Rock Art Centre, is focused on sharing the story of rock art with locals and visitors to the region. This innovative not-for-profit venture has conservation at its heart with 100% of the profit returned to the protection of the precious rock art sites.