Tuesday, September 13, 2011
Exploring Maori Rock Art
I travelled down to Timaru and South Canterbury in February, to visit the new Te Ana Ngai Tahu Rock Art Centre. I've written about the centre itself previously (click on Te Ana Rock Art Centre in the label line below), so this time I'm focussing on one of the many South Canterbury rock art sites, that you can now tour through the Rock Art Centre.
This is a well known site on Craigmore Station at Maungati - that can only be accessed via the Te Ana tours.
The landscape is impressive - rolling green hills and craggy limestone outcrops as far as the eye can see.
We were taken to the location by Ngai Tahu Rock Art Trust curator, Amanda Symon, who spoke of the enigmas of rock art discovered so far, in over 500 South Island locations - 95% of them on private land. She led us down steep paths and into a large overhang, where rock drawings completed hundreds of years ago are still clearly visible.
On this particular site, some of the ancient drawings were 'enhanced' during the 1940s by well known artist, Theo Schoon. Schoon, born in Java to Dutch parents, emigrated to New Zealand with his family in 1939. During the late 1940s he began observing and cataloguing many of the South Island rock art sites and, in some cases, he drew over them to enhance them. Wherever he did this, he also left his signature. On Craigmore, that signature (above), is tucked around the corner from the main cavern - as hidden as the drawings themselves would once have been.
As well known as some of these sites now are, visiting them is still a special experience. Sitting there, in the deep and all-pervasive silence, it's hard not to wonder about the lives and times of the original Maori travellers who created these enigmatic marks and symbols on the limestone cave walls.
If you're in Timaru, the Te Ana Rock Art Centre is definitely worth visiting - and, if you have the time, take one of the tours for a first-hand look at these precious taonga.