History of the Upper Clutha

The first Maori to visit the Upper Clutha area were hapu of the Waitaha/ Rapuwai iwi.

Later Ngati Mamoe, followed by Ngai Tahu hapu migrated from the North Island leading to skirmishes with Waitaha/ Rapuwai. A Ngai Tahu chief at Lake Ellesmere wanted a Waitaha wife so sent his son Te Weka to the Waitaha settlement Parekarehu, near Wanaka. The visit ended in a fight and the chief Potikitautahi was killed. His people then abandoned the district.

Another settlement, Takekarara was in Roy’s Bay where Waitaha had a wharekura for teaching traditional knowledge. This was continued by Ngati Mamoe but later lapsed.

In 1836 the Ngati Tama chief, Te Puoho led a raid down the West Coast and over Haast Pass. Families at Makarora and Takekarara were captured but others escaped over the Lindis Pass. The war party were eventually overpowered at Tuturau, Southland. Te Puoho’s raid discouraged permanent settlement of these inland areas although summer visits were made to collect traditional foods such as eels and weka.

The first European to visit the area was Nathaniel Chalmers who in 1853 was guided here by Reko and Kaikoura. Four years later J. T. Thomson’s survey opened up the area for sheep stations. The first runholder was John McLean at Morven Hills.

In March, 1861 gold was discovered in the Lindis River leading to the first gold rush in Otago. The Cardrona Goldfield was discovered in November, 1862.

In April, 1863 John Connell surveyed townships to serve the goldfields including Newcastle (Albert Town) at the Clutha Ferry crossing and Pembroke at Lake Wanaka. Other settlements developed at Hawea Flat, Luggate and Cardrona. Timber came from sawmills at Kidds Bush, Makarora and the Matukituki Valley.

In 1868 Alfred Pinn and George Hassing built the 40 ton sailing ship “Eureka” on Pigeon Island (Mou Wahu). In the same year Theodore Russell and Charles Hedditch sold their share in the in the Cardrona Gin and Raspberry claim and built the Wanaka Hotel and Store. Also in that year a 100 acre Maori Reserve was set aside at the Neck Lagoon, Lake Hawea.

Schools opened in the main settlements at Albert Town 1868/69, Cardrona 1870, Pembroke 1880, Hawea Flat 1882, Luggate 1884 and Makarora 1894.

The demand for farm land led the Government in 1871 to subdivide land at Hawea Flat and Mount Barker into 50 acre sections. Crops of wheat, barley and oats were grown and a flour mill was set up at Luggate.

Punts on the Clutha River were replaced by the “Red Bridge” at Luggate in 1915 and the Albert Town bridge in1930.

In 1940 Pembroke was renamed Wanaka and more recent developments have been based around holiday homes, recreation and tourism. These include the damming of Lake Hawea (1958), gazetting of Mount Aspiring National Park (1964), the Haast/ West Coast road (1965), Skifields at Treble Cone and Cardrona (1970s), Wanaka Airport (1983) and the first Wanaka Air Show (1988).

Rapidly increasing population has seen the need for the upgrading of community facilities including the Lake Wanaka Centre, 2001 a new Wanaka Library, 2013 and the Wanaka Recreation Centre, 2016.