Kākāpō Bay is named after the rare, flightless kākāpō parrot. The bird possibly lived in the bay at one time but is now found only on islands off Stewart Island.1
The wider Te Whanganui / Port Underwood area has a long history of occupation by Māori. The iwi or tribe, Rangitāne o Wairau had settlements in the harbour until 1829, when by right of conquest, Ngati Toa Rangatira became dominant.2 Māori used the area for collecting kaimoana or seafood and for trade with whalers and settlers.3
The bay is also referred to as Guards Bay, named after John (Jacky) Guard, (1792 - 1857), an English ex-convict from Australia who established a whaling station at Te Awaiti Bay on Arapaoa Island in 1827. In the early 1830s he bought Kākāpō Bay from the chiefs Te Rauparaha and Te Rangihaeata and began Te Whanganui / Port Underwood’s first shore based whaling station.4
Jacky’s wife, Elizabeth (Betty) Parker, (1814-70), was the first female Pākehā, person of European decent, to live in the South Island and their children, John and Louisa, the first Pākehā children to be born there.5
In 1834, the Guard family visited Sydney. On the way home, their ship, the Harriet, was driven ashore in Taranaki. They were attacked by local Māori and the ensuing battles, kidnappings, and rescues became known as the Harriet affair.6
By the late 1830s the bay was home to approximately 65 people, including early Blenheim businessman James Wynen and his partner, Rangiawa Kuika, a high-born woman, of Ngati Toa. Rangiawa Kuika and her infant child were murdered in the bay in December 1842. Her murderer, Richard (Dick) Cook, went to trial but was freed due to a lack of credible witnesses. This failure to prosecute Cook lowered Māori respect for Pākehā justice, the legacy of which, formed part of the background to the Wairau Affray of 1843.
Rangiawa Kuika, along with Jacky and Betty Parker and some of their children, are buried in a small cemetery overlooking the bay.7
Watercolour of Guards Bay, Port Underwood, January 1848 by William Fox (Rt Hon Sir), 1812?-1893.
The grave of Rangiawa (Kuika) wife of Mr Wynen, in the foreground, in bush, looking down into the cleared area of a small bay (Kakapo Bay, where whaler Jacky Guard lived) with several houses, hills opposite, in Port Underwood.
Reference: B-113-015. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/23206133.
View of Kakapo Bay, Port Underwood in 1848. Watercolour by William Fox.
From 1830 to 1837, Te Whanganui / Port Underwood, along with the entrance of the Kura te Au /Tory Channel, was recognised internationally as a major whaling hub. Whalers established stations in bays near to the entrance of the harbour, such as Ocean Bay, Tom Canes Bay, Coles Bay and Cutters Bay, which gave them easy sight of whales spouting.
During the whaling season, May to October, shore-based whaling stations were joined by vessels from America, Australia, France, Denmark and Great Britain, bringing with them crews of tradesmen, ex-convicts and traders. During the season as many as forty whale boats might be seen out in Te Whanganui / Port Underwood.8
The whaling industry in the Marlborough Sounds initially targeted the southern right whale as the Te Moana-o-Raukawa/Cook Strait is on its winter migratory path. The whale received its name due to the fact it is predictable and slow moving and floats when dead so can be relatively easily towed back to shore.9
Whaling continued in the Marlborough Sounds until 1964. It was not until 1978 that whales became fully protected by New Zealand law.10
From an estimated population of 15,000 animals in the late 1790s, whaling led to the near-extinction of southern right whales in New Zealand waters. It is estimated that the current surviving New Zealand population numbers around 1000 individuals.11
Whalers made money by selling oil and baleen, the fine filtering tissue in the whale’s mouth, usually known as whalebone. Whale oil was clean burning and used for household and industrial lighting and lubrication. Baleen was used for corsets, combs and household ornaments.
There were two types of whaling operations in the Marlborough Sounds. Shore whalers lived on land and did their processing ashore, using big shear legs to haul the whales up the beach. Any ships belonging to their stations were supply ships to take processed oil to market in Sydney, Australia and bring back supplies and hardware.
The whaling station at Kākāpō Bay was a shore based station.
Bay whalers, were operations based in large whaling ships. Smaller oared pulling boats were sent out to capture whales and bring them back to the mother-ship which operated as a processing factory. These types of operations were also based in Te Whanganui / Port Underwood, alongside shore based whaling stations.12
1. James R. Eyles, Place Names of Port Underwood- a post European History (Picton: October Enterprises, 2002) 17.
2. Loreen Brehaut, the Bays of Port Underwood, (Picton: Picton Historical Society, 2012) 5.
3. Marlborough District Council, Nelson City Council and Tasman District Council, “Te Tau Ihu Statutory Acknowledgements 2014”, accessed July 18, 2018, http://www.nelson.govt.nz/assets/Environment/Downloads/TeTauIhu-StatutoryAcknowledgements.pdf .
4. John Guard, “The Guard Family of Kakapo Bay”, Port Underwood Association, accessed, 4 December 2018, http://www.portunderwoodassoc.org/history-snippets-from-the-past/the-guard-family-of-kakapo-bay/ .
5. “Kakapo Bay Cemetery Heritage”, Destination Marlborough, accessed, December 4, 2018, https://marlboroughnz.com/guides/heritage/kakapo-bay-cemetary .
6. “The Harriet affair”, Ministry for Culture and Heritage, accessed December 12, https://nzhistory.govt.nz/culture/maori-european-contact-pre-1840/the-harriet-affair
7. Joy Stephens, “James Wynen”, the Prow, accessed, December 11, 2018, http://www.theprow.org.nz/people/james-wynen/#.XA7mfWgzbIW .
8. Wesley A. Chambers, Samuel Ironside in New Zealand, 1839-1858 (Auckland: Ray Richards, 1982), accessed, July 31, 2018, http://www.methodist.org.nz/files/docs/wesley%20historical/samuel%20ironside%20in%20nz.pdf .
9. “New Zealand's participation in commercial whaling”, Department of Conservation, accessed, October 30, 2018, https://www.doc.govt.nz/about-us/science-publications/conservation-publications/native-animals/marine-mammals/conservation-of-whales-in-the-21st-century/whaling-and-new-zealand/new-zealands-participation-in-commercial-whaling/ .
10. Jock Phillips, “Whaling”, Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, accessed October 30,018, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/whaling .
11. “New Zealand's participation in commercial whaling”, Department of Conservation.
12. Carol Dawber, The Jacksons of Te Awaiti (Picton, River Press, 2001) 19-20.