Settlement’s sands, sea hold stories

Moeraki’s Bottom Kaik was home to a Kai Tahu settlement until the 1950s. PHOTO: RUBY HEYWARD
Moeraki’s Bottom Kaik was home to a Kai Tahu settlement until the 1950s. PHOTO: RUBY HEYWARD
Nestled between Waitaki’s Moeraki Village and Katiki Point is a little village called Kaik 2, or the Bottom Kaik. More than just a holiday spot, the cheery village holds a rich, yet sad, part of New Zealand history, Ruby Heyward writes.

Kaik 2 may very well be one of New Zealand’s best kept secrets, and it probably should stay that way.

Flanked by jaffa sands sits a village of baches that look like a snapshot of the ’60s and ’70s - wallpapers, carpets, and all.

The cribs snuggle up together, in a small valley whipped by the wind and kissed by the sun.

Walking around, one would expect to see children chasing a ball with ice block remnants framing their mouths, a small loyal dog sleeping at a matriarch’s feet, and men with well-groomed sideburns donning Stubbies.

Max and Marilyn Eckhold are the only permanent residents of Moeraki’s Bottom Kaik. PHOTO: RUBY...
Max and Marilyn Eckhold are the only permanent residents of Moeraki’s Bottom Kaik. PHOTO: RUBY HEYWARD
Instead, it is absent of people and most baches have curtains pulled, remaining empty until people return for the holidays and scrape off built-up salt, spat from a persistent sea.

Not every bach lies dormant.

Max and Marilyn Eckhold live in theirs all year round, making them the only permanent residents.

They are a good type of people — the kind to invite a nosy stranger into their home for an interview, possibly another vestige of a bygone era.

Though the couple has only lived in Kaik 2 permanently for the past 10 years, Mr Eckhold has holidayed in the village since January 1, 1939, three weeks after he was born.

Back then, there were only two baches — which were washed away in 1973 by an angry storm — and no dividing fences or hedges.

Moeraki’s Bottom Kaik is home to 24 cribs. PHOTO: RUBY HEYWARD
Moeraki’s Bottom Kaik is home to 24 cribs. PHOTO: RUBY HEYWARD
Over the years, the couple brought their four children from the Waitaki Plains for holidays and watched as the village grew from two baches to 24.

Now fences and hedges claim small patches of land, and the village has gone from only a car or two passing through per week to dozens.

As the number of visitors rose, so did the sea — slowly claiming sections of the beach, Mr Eckhold said.

Its existence as a sunny, yet wind-battered, holiday spot sits in juxtaposition with its history, signposted by the cemeteries flanking it.

Kaik 2 goes by another, less impersonal name around Moeraki — the "Bottom Kaik".

That was what Te Runanga o Moeraki Upoko David Higgins remembered while growing up.

Kai Tahu settled in Moeraki’s Bottom Kaik in the early 1800s. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
Kai Tahu settled in Moeraki’s Bottom Kaik in the early 1800s. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
Long before Mr Higgins was born, the Bottom Kaik was referred to as Moeraki, and Port Moeraki was called Onekakara.

Before there were roads and fences dividing paddocks, Maori utilised the peninsula as a transitional place, picking and choosing where they stayed based on the weather and sea conditions, he said.

In the 1830s, Kai Tahu whanui (families) settled more permanently and established a home at the Bottom Kaik.

About this time, bay whalers arrived in Moeraki Village, where they remained for a couple of seasons until the whale population dropped off and they deserted the station.

Those married to Maori women were able to settle, and those who were not moved on — some taking their wives with them.

In the years that followed, mana whenua lived a "subsistence" life, travelling inland seasonally as part of their mahiki kai (gathering of food and resources).

The Moeraki area is home to one of New Zealand’s best kept secrets. PHOTO: RUBY HEYWARD
The Moeraki area is home to one of New Zealand’s best kept secrets. PHOTO: RUBY HEYWARD
Soon Europeans settled in the area as farmers and fisherman — some Kai Tahu became fishermen, while others moved away.

Mr Higgins and his brother were fifth-generation fishermen.

Those who remained were confronted by disease brought into the country by returning World War 1 soldiers.

"The tuberculosis epidemic and the flu epidemics that followed had a disastrous effect on our whanau — not unlike Covid-19," Mr Higgins said.

They either ended up in the sanatoriums that were set up regionally or the urupa (cemetery).

The community went through a "depopulation" for about 30 to 40 years as strong mana whenua families left.

By the 1950s, Moeraki’s Bottom Kaik had been abandoned as a permanent Kai Tahu settlement. PHOTO:...
By the 1950s, Moeraki’s Bottom Kaik had been abandoned as a permanent Kai Tahu settlement. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
Mr Higgins said his people were at their lowest ebb during the 1930s Depression as more moved away from Moeraki.

With no fresh water at the kaik and doctors unwilling to walk down the hill, the remaining Kai Tahu whanui moved closer to Moeraki Village and the amenities it offered.

By the 1950s, the older people had died off and the kaik was abandoned as a permanent settlement.

Despite broken promises from Crown agencies to establish hospitals, schools and other amenities in the area during land sales, Kai Tahu whanui retained ownership of the land — something cemented when squatters began building cribs at the kaik, and were taken to the Maori Land Court.

Now those who enjoy a home away from home in the kaik are tenants of Kai Tahu whanui.

And the Bottom Kaik, Kaik 2, and the original Moeraki, is a place of transience once again.

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