No one today could begin to imagine what went through the mind of the Ngati Mamoe’s Chief Mawete as he scrambled up the side of Whakaraupō (Lyttleton Harbour) with the rest of his fishing party beside him. Behind them were warriors of the North Island Ngai Tahu and their ambush at Maori Valley (Gebbies Pass) made it clear that this was not a peace seeking or trading visit.
As the Ngai Tahu began to gain on the Ngati Mamoe, Chief Mawete reached a peak in the Port Hills that would not only run with his blood but would carry his name to this day. On the peak of O Mawete – the highest peak on the Port Hills – Mawete met his fate with a blow of a Mere (Maori Club). O Mawete means ‘the place of Mawete’ but we know this peak as Cooper’s Knob.
The Ngai Tahu’s main Chief on this massacre was Te Rakiwhakaputa and after his triumph, he confronted the rest of the Ngati Mamoe village by laying his rapaki (waist mat) down on the beach, claiming the land for the Ngai Tahu, a process that was continued on by his son. The bay of Rapaki in Lyttelton Harbour is named after the object used in such a simple gesture by the Ngai Tahu Chief before the crumbling Pa of the Ngati Mamoe. This was around the year of 1720.
Cooper’s Knob reaches the height of 573 metres. It sits proudly with Tai Tapu on the western side and Governor’s Bay on the eastern side. It is also one of the seven brothers, the named most southern seven peaks along the Port Hills.
Before the first four ships, Cooper’s Knob sat on the land owned by the Rhodes Brothers. It was named Ahuriri and swept down from Cooper’s Knob into the flats we know as Tai Tapu. It was just used a pastoral run for their main farm at Purau on Banks Peninsula.
William Barnard Rhodes (1807 – 1878) was the eldest of his 13 siblings and the first to arrive in New Zealand out of his 5 brothers! As Captain and co-owner of the ship ‘Harriet’, William saw a lot of the world.
In 1836, while employed by the firm of Cooper and Levy, William sailed into Port Victoria (Lyttelton) on the whaling ship, the ‘Australian’. From this visit, the Port would be renamed Port Cooper (Lyttelton) and a nearby bay was named Levy – and still keeps that name today. Young William climbed the Port Hills and wrote the first ever description of the Port Cooper (Canterbury) Plains. The naming of Cooper’s Knob also happened during this time.
The brothers sold Ahuriri in 1875 but in what must have been a sweet moment for Sir Heaton Rhodes – the son of Robert Rhodes and nephew of William Barnard Rhodes – in 1893 purchased back 1860 hectares of the original Ahuriri run. He built a beautiful estate that still graces Tai Tapu today – Otahuna. As he had been born at Purau, he felt he had finally come home.
Through Sir Heaton Rhodes, Harry Ell was able to continue his Summit Road right under Cooper’s Knob. In fact he had planned to build one of his rest houses on the peak, just like the Sign of the Kiwi but of course, this never came to fruition. The Sign of the Bellbird in Kennedy’s Bush is just down the road from Cooper’s Knob.
In 1948, the 39 acres of Cooper’s Knob became an official reserve by the Christchurch City Council.