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Return of the longfin eel

The arrival of the longfin eel to Wairarapa will be celebrated this year. PHOTO/GETTY IMAGES


Every spring, eels arrive in Wairarapa waters from their spawning grounds in the deep sea.

On October 28, this journey will be celebrated with a storytelling trip down the western side of Wairarapa Moana.

The event, TUNA!, will conclude with a mihi to the longfin eel at Lake Onoke near Palliser Bay and will involve all types of Wairarapa people: people from Rangitane o Wairarapa, Ngati Kahungunu, storytellers, authors, poets, and artists.

It is the second time the event will be held in Wairarapa.

The longfin eel is endemic to Aotearoa/New Zealand but is classified as threatened by the Commissioner for the Environment.

TUNA! is a significant symbolic act: to welcome the eel back at a time when it is threatened.

The event aims to increase appreciation for the eel, to acknowledge its importance in the health of our rivers, and to celebrate the ancient fish by telling historical and mythical stories.

TUNA! expresses sorrow for the plight of the eel and hopes for a healthier future.

Wairarapa has long been a significant region for the longfin eel: the fish live in the 130km long Ruamahanga River; most Wairarapa streams, the National Wildlife Centre at Pukaha Mount Bruce maintains an eel sanctuary; Papawai Marae in South Wairarapa operates an eel-watching platform; and Lake Wairarapa is the country’s second largest eel habitat.

Joe Potangaroa, author of Tuna kuwharuwharu and storyteller, said, “There are hundreds of rich stories about tuna and their relationship with the tangata whenua and early pakeha settlers in the Wairarapa that are not known in the wider community, and we feel it is important to share some of them”.

A highlight of TUNA! is the round-trip bus ride down the western side of the lake on October 28 from 8.30am-4pm.

The trip will stop at the region’s traditional eel returning point at Lake Onoke and Lake Ferry on the South Wairarapa coast where a short ceremony will take place.

Kai Karanga will call them, and Rangitane O Wairarapa Cultural Adviser Mike Kawana will mihi to the elvers – young eels.

The event includes stops for stories at Featherston Domain, the Department of Conservation stopping site, Alsops Bay, Pounui Lagoon, Kiriwai, Ocean Beach Barrage Gates and Lake Onoke.

Gaye Sutton, initiator of the first TUNA! event and former convenor of Glistening Waters Storytelling Festival said, “I am inspired by the still mysterious lifecycle of the eel, and the many old and new stories surrounding them and fearful for the future of them if we don’t care for our waterways”.

“In 2013, I approached Mike Kawana and Joe Potangaroa about creating a performance piece in Kokomai,” she said.

“It was their suggestion to greet or mihi the eels – TUNA! was born.

“Now, five years on, a small group, including Mike Kawana, Rawiri Smith, Madeleine Slavick, Jade Waters, Gareth Winter and I are still wanting to honour the tuna and remind ourselves that the rivers and streams still need our help”.

  • ‘TUNA! – The return of the eel’ will be held on Saturday October 28 at 8.30am until 4pm.
  • For tickets and further information, contact [email protected]



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Emily Ireland
Emily Ireland
Emily Ireland is Wairarapa’s Local Democracy Reporter, a Public Interest Journalism role funded through NZ On Air. Emily has worked at the Wairarapa Times-Age for seven years and has a keen interest in council decision-making and transparency.

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