Central Otago Tours & Wildflower Walks

What's in a name?
This is a short history about the naming of the Old Man Range in Central Otago, South Island, New Zealand. By John Douglas.

Old Man rock, Kopuwai
Old Man Rock - Kopuwai
There are many versions, Maori and European of why the large tor on the top of the Old Man Range can be known as either Kopuwai, Obelisk or The Old Man as well as the naming of the mountain. 

Like the rock, the mountain range to the south of Alexandra has also been called many names. The Maoris had it named as Kopuwai - a wet place? (Reference - Government Survey Map of Maori place names of the South Island) although the Maori interpretation comes from an ancient tradition belonging to the people of Waitaha, and preceding that of the Ngai Tahu and Ngati Mameo. The 26.6 metre tall rock is Kopuwai, a giant able to step from one mountain to another but in petrified form. Accompanying the giant is his pack of ten two-headed dogs.  It was said they lived in a lair down by the Mataau (Clutha) river.  As retribution for capturing a young girl that he had kept in his lair but later escaped, a party set out and clubbed both Kopuwai and his two-headed monsters to death. 

Another version of a well known legend of Kopuwai comes from the Queenstown district which refers particularly to the Kawarau River.  (Reference - The Story of lake Wakatipu by D. A. Knudson, 1968.)  Near the outlet of Lake Wakatipu there lived a monster named Kopuwai and he, liked Matau, captured beautiful Maori maidens. (Maori legend had Matau, when burnt to his death, scoured a great hole in the earth and so shaped Lake Wakatipu.) One of Kopuwai's Maori maiden captives was Kaiamio, whom he tied to her a rope so she could not escape while he slept. When Kaiamio struggled, the tugs on the rope assured the monster that all was well. Kaiamio eventually freed herself and tied the rope to a log in the river. The tugging continued to satisfy the monster. Meanwhile Kaiamio escaped down the Kawarau on a raft. When Kopuwai awoke in the morning and discovered that she had escaped he became so furious that he swallowed a great quantity of the Kawarau River, (hoping her raft would be stranded) leaving the riverbed dry for some time. (The name of Kopuwai - Belly of Water, must relate to his attempt to drink the river dry.)

The great early Otago/Southland Province chief surveyor, John Turnbull Thompson on his November 1857 Maniototo Expedition, travelling as far south as Tiger Hill, Raggedy Range, would have seen the large tor on the skyline to the south but was not likely named then. Likely it was named the Obelisk after Alexander Garvie's 1858 survey of the Clutha Valley. Obelisk is the Greek name for pillar and the mountain range as the Obelisk Range. Soon after, during the mining period of the early 1860's, the range was referred to by the miners as Snowy Mountain, because of the large amount of snow covering the mountain in winter. As for the Rock, when close up, it assumes the features of a an old man and the rock was subsequently renamed by the miners as Old Man Rock. 

Over the years the miners and finally the officials, came to refer to the mountain range south of the Old Man Rock to the Waikaia Bush Road as the Old Man Range, while that to the north still retained the name of the Obelisk Range.  Today the big tor on the highest point of the Old Man Range still gets known locally as the Old Man Rock although on the survey map it is still called Obelisk.  Another large tor between the Obelisk and the TV Tower is officially called Obelisk Two. 

As a result of the latest 1997/98 settlement with the Ngai Tahu over the Treaty Of Waitangi claims the Rock is now called Kopuwai.  Also the high altitude land, Fraser Basin territory, has now been returned to the Crown from the agreement over the freehold tenure review of Earnscleugh Station. The land is now administrated by the Department of Conservation - the Kopuwai Conservation Area, though half of the Fraser Basin still has summer grazing rights on an agreed renewal agreement.

Finally another local version "that the one range was at one side of the gorge, (Cromwell Gorge) the other range was at the opposite side, with the gorge likened to a fire place with the elderly lady sitting on one side and the elderly gentleman on the other - the old man and the old woman (Old Woman Rock - Leaning Rock, Dunstan Mountains) on either side of the fireplace". 

Tours of Old Man Range, other mountain ranges, historical goldfields, general tours, and wild flower walks can be arranged with John Douglas of Safari Excursions  Ph /fax 64(int) 3 (area)  448 7474 or freephone (within New Zealand) 0800 208 930. Email jdouglas.alx@xtra.co.nz  

Visit our home page on http://www.wildflowerwalks.co.nz 


Kopuwai - Maori carvingThis caving is now on display at Central Stories (Alexandra Museum), Centennial Avenue, Alexandra. This carved taoka (treasure) is a representative interpretation of an ancient tradition belonging to the people of Kai Tahu, Kati Mamoe and Waitaha. The carved taoka depicts a giant named Kopuwai and his pack of two-headed dogs who were said to have lived above the Mataau (Clutha river) on the Old Man range behind AlexandThis caving is now on display at Central Stories (Alexandra Museum), Centennial Avenue, Alexandrara. This range is known to Maori as "Kopuwai". A large rock tor (the Obelisk) also bears the name Kopuwai and is said to be the natural manifestation of the giant.

Waitaha:  For centuries Te Wai Pounamu (South Island of New Zealand) is said to have been occupied by the Waitaha tribe, and others known as Rapuwai and Hawea had reputedly preceded them. 

Kati Mamoe: (Ngati Mamoe) In the sixteenth century the island's riches attracted warlike tribes from the North Island. The tribe Ngati Mamoe settled in the east, south of Te Parinuiowhiti ( White Bluffs, Cook Strait.) Kai Tahu: (Ngai Tahu)  Because Ngai was pronounced 'Gai' or 'Kai' in the southern Maori dialect, some writers spell ' Ngai Tahu' as 'Kai Tahu'. Feuding among quarrelsome northern chiefs, and the universal desire for pounama, (New Zealand jade or 'greenstone') caused more invaders to come south. The Ngati Kurihapu of Ngai Tahu overran the Kaikoura Ngati Mamoe and by 1700AD another Ngai Tahu became dominate from the Hurunui River to Waihora. 

By the time of Captain Cook's visits -1770's, the successive southward movements of Waitaha, Ngai Mamoe and Ngai Tahu had blurred the distinctions of hapu (clan, subtribe) and iwi (tribe) south of Kaiapoi. Around the year 1780, the leaders of Ngai Tahu and Ngati Mamoe formed a marriage alliance to end their constant feuds with the result that the Ngai Tahu became the dominate tribal identity in southern New Zealand. 

Extracts from the book "The Long Dispute" - Maori Land Rights and European Colonisation in Southern New Zealand by Harry C. Evison.

For more information email: jdouglas.alx@xtra.co.nz

John Douglas, Safari Excursions, 41 Glencarron Street 
Alexandra, Central Otago, New Zealand 
Phone 64 (int) 3 (area) 448 7474
email: jdouglas.alx@xtra.co.nz