On 11-12 October, rūnanga members were involved in the excavation of a waka hull from the beach at Ōkia. They were under the guidance of Shar Briden, technical officer heritage, Department of Conservation (DoC) and Dilys Johns,archaeologist/conservator, University of Auckland.

The excavation was a true community effort with rūnanga members working alongside volunteers from University of Otago, Otago Museum, Ministry of Culture and Heritage, the Yellow-Eyed Penguin Trust and locals from the wider Portobello community.

Local builder Mac MacDonald was engaged to build a temporary tank for the waka to be immersed in once excavated. He had no idea how big the tank needed to be and was getting regular phone updates from the beach with each foot of waka that was uncovered.

One of the trickiest aspects of the excavation was figuring out how to get the waka from the beach to the road, where it would be lifted on to the back of a truck, bearing in mind its fragile state and the fact that the road was a good few kilometres away.
Thanks to the creative thinking of Jim Fyfe from DoC and Russell Thomlinson, a Portobello local, the waka was lifted onto a ladder fitted with a foam mattress for support and then had floats used to rescue stranded whales attached. A few hardy volunteers donned wetsuits and then floated the waka across the inlet to the waiting truck.

The weekend was absolutely incredible. One highlight was the enthusiasm and interest shown by some of our tamariki and rakatahi.

So much so, two of them were responsible for some really neat finds. Tumai Tamati-Cassidy found part of a moa femur and Koreana Wesley-Evans found a couple of obsidian flakes and a piece of hand-drilled and adzed wood presumed to have also come from a waka. These two budding young archaeologists also assisted in floating the waka across the inlet. I think they may actually have been the first two of the group to have their wetsuits on and ready to go.

Dilys has since confirmed that the waka is made from tōtara and the plaited fibre found within the hull is tī kouka. The rūnanga is looking forward to working with Dilys over the next couple of years, on what will no doubt be a massive project, to conserve the waka.

From left, Moana Wesley, Kiri Fraser and Marion Sutton wait for the excavation to begin.

From left, Moana Wesley, Kiri Fraser and Marion Sutton wait for the excavation to begin.

From left, Kate Dempsey, Brian Allingham, Rachel Wesley, Kuini Scott, Jim Fyfe and Nyssa Mildwaters.

From left, Kate Dempsey, Brian Allingham, Rachel Wesley, Kuini Scott, Jim Fyfe and Nyssa Mildwaters.

Tumai Tamati-Cassidy and Edward Ellison check out the waka tank.

Tumai Tamati-Cassidy and Edward Ellison check out the waka tank.

From left, Kuini Scott, Huia Pacey, Shar Briden and Edward Ellison.

From left, Kuini Scott, Huia Pacey, Shar Briden and Edward Ellison.

Koreana Wesley-Evans with a piece from the site.

Koreana Wesley-Evans with a piece from the site.

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