Fossickers destroying historic North Otago site

Recent damage at Awamoa Creek is “on another level entirely”, Heritage New Zealand Pouhere...
Recent damage at Awamoa Creek is “on another level entirely”, Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taongasays. Photo: Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga
Fossickers are illegally disturbing and destroying an archaeological site of great significance to Māori in the Waitaki district, Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga (HNZPT) says.

Awamoa Creek, south of Oamaru, told “important stories for Aotearoa'' and it was disheartening to discover such blatant fossicking and damage to the site continuing, HNZPT Otago/Southland area manager Jane Macknight said.

In the past, there had been reports of casual fossicking, as erosion of the creek following storms has washed out archaeology from the site.

But Ms Macknight inspected new damage on Friday night, after being alerted by the Waitaki District Council, and discovered up to a metre and a-half of digging along the creek banks.

The site has been previously investigated under an archaeological authority granted by HNZPT to Te Rūnanga o Moeraki. This research revealed the site to be a very early mahinga kai (food and resource gathering) site for Māori.

“The site forms part of important travelling routes for early Māori up and down the South Island, linking to coastal and inland networks,” Upoko Te Rūnanga o Moeraki David Higgins said.

Government Commissioner Walter Mantell renamed the site Awamoa Creek in 1852, while  travelling south with Māori along traditional routes, and took away moa bones for research.

The first archaeological excavation in the South Island occurred at the Awamoa Creek site.

“There is clear signage warning the public that this site is an archaeological reserve and not to remove items from the site,” Ms Macknight said.

“Under New Zealand law archaeological sites are protected and it is a criminal offence to modify or destroy the site without an authority.”

HNZPT, Waitaki District Council staff and Te Rūnanga o Moeraki are working together to assess the ongoing protection required for the site.

Anyone with information on the recent damage is asked to contact HNZPT on 03 477-9871 or at

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