Discover ancient Ngāi Tahu Māori rock art on a tour in and around the southern city of Tīmaru.
Tucked away on a farm 30 minutes’ drive from Tīmaru town centre is a secret valley of dreams where you can explore ancient cave paintings.
Here, in limestone caves and granite overhangs, shapes in deep red and faded black dance along walls and ceilings. When you think of indigenous rock art, you usually think of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island cultures across the Tasman in Australia. Most New Zealanders aren’t aware it exists within their own country!
Ngāi Tahu, the Māori tribal group whose lands are in the South Island, have identified 761 Māori rock art sites within their boundaries and you can experience them first hand with guides from the area.
The people of the land
Ngāi Tahu Māori Rock Art team leader Rachel Solomon is a descendent of those who once walked these valleys. Rachel and other Ngāi Tahu guides will walk you through the caves, as well as the beautiful valley where they reside. Her team have been working hard on a restoration project to reintroduce native plant species such as tarata, koromiko and makomako that will make the area look as it did when the paintings were made many centuries ago.
The replanting of these trees has seen the return of the kahukura, a beautiful, native red-winged moth. Native birds such as riroriro and korimako have also returned to the valley, their melody welcoming as you descend the green paths.
Great mythical creatures live here
Discover the famous Ōpihi Taniwha, a four-metre long, one-metre wide drawing depicting three taniwha with interlocking tails. Taniwha are supernatural beings, often associated with waterways, whose forms vary according to different tribal groups.
You may even spot the now-extinct pouākai, also known as the Haast’s eagle. With a wingspan of up to three metres, it would have been a
Protecting these treasures
Much remains unknown about the age and origins of the South Island’s extraordinary Māori rock art.
Ngāi Tahu Māori Rock Art Trust says this is the biggest challenge in protecting and maintaining their taoka tuku iho, treasures passed down from the ancestors. Te Ana Māori Rock Art was created to share this knowledge with the world.
You’ll learn all about the paintings at the multi-sensory, multi-cultural Te Ana Māori Rock Art Centre in central Tīmaru, as well as the landscape, the painting materials, and wider narratives and beliefs of the Ngāi Tahu people. You might even get to hold real moa bones in your hand, a large flightless bird that once roamed the lands and according to many accounts that have been passed down from generation to generation, was absolutely delicious.
Ngāi Tahu are proud to share this rich heritage with you, so you too can walk in the footsteps of the ancestors.