Motueka is set apart, not so much by its rivermouth setting and the reflections in the smooth tidal reaches of Tasman Bay, but by the patchwork of tobacco and wire-hung hopfields beside big boarded kilns, and by the large tobacco factories that fringe the town.
For Motueka, as well as harvesting much of the country’s pip fruit, is the centre of New Zealand’s only commercial plantations of hops and tobacco. An extraordinarily wide range of crops are grown successfully in the region. In addition to the traditional hops and tobacco, kiwifruit, berryfruits, stone and pip fruits, sub-tropicals and a variety of vegetables have come into their own. The prolific produce manifests the town’s equitable climate and draws to it each summer large numbers of seasonal workers to harvest fruit, tobacco and hops. The area is also rich in arts and crafts.
Motueka (more correctly Motuweka) has been translated as the crippled woodhen – one used as a lure to trap weka. The name (literally, motu=clump of trees; weka=woodhen) comes from Hawaiki, where it may have had a different connotation.
Land of plenty: When Europeans arrived, there was a Maori kainga at Motueka which had already been visited by Octavius Hadfield, who had sailed across from Waikanae to bring Christianity to the area. Soon the plains were dotted with huts as the settlers, many of them retired army and naval officers, set about clearing dense bush to win today’s fertile farmland. Well could Dr Greenwood’s wife enthuse in 1843: „The climate is delightful. It has neither the rains of Auckland nor the winds of Port Nicholson [Wellington]. The waters abound in fish of excellent quality, and the land with birds, pigeons, quails, wild duck and parrots.“
Potatoes were exported to the Australian goldfields, but communications closer to hand were also by ship. Small trading vessels plied around the coast to overcome the lack of roads and river crossings, and to provide the region with its solitary lifeline.