IntroductionExplore the nooks and crannies of this biologically and geologically fascinating headland. Discover its long cultural history of Maori settlement and historic coalmining.
Shag Point/Matakaea has a rich history, from early Ngai Tahu settlement to historic coalmining. The area has diverse marine life. It has interesting flora, is great for wildlife viewing, and is geologically fascinating.
Matakaea is jointly managed by DOC and Te Runanga o Ngai Tahu. Matakaea has Topuni status. The mana (authority) and rangatiratanga (chieftainship) of Ngai Tahu over the area is recognised publicly by this status. Ngai Tahu takes an active role in managing the natural and cultural values of the area.
Marine mammal viewing
Flat rock platforms provide an easy haul-out site for New Zealand fur seals, and cliff-top viewing areas allow you to observe seal behaviour without disturbing their rest. Keep an eye out for whale or dolphin activity offshore - you may be lucky!
An unusual feature of this site is snow tussock and other alpine species, such as the large alpine daisy (Celmisia hookerii), growing at low altitude and so close to the coast. The rare lily Iphigenia novae-zelandiae also grows here.
The rocky shore is lined with rimurapa (bull kelp). Just offshore are dense forests of giant bladder kelp, which are among the best examples of macrocystis in New Zealand.
This area was used by the early moa hunters. Nearby, Shag/Waihemo River Mouth yielded important archaeological evidence of Ngai Tahu lifestyles dating back to the 12th century. Moa skeletons and many artefacts found here are displayed at the Otago Museum.
The Matakaea area has been occupied for many centuries and is the site of numerous urupa (burial grounds) and wahi tapu (sacred sites).
Matakaea is the name of the pa (fortified village) that overlooked Waihemo/Shag River Mouth. The name is linked with Arai Te Uru canoe, which capsized off Moeraki. The crew managed to swim, leaving the cargo to wash ashore. The crew members fled inland, and were transformed into mountains.
The Arai Te Uru canoe is said to have carried kumara from Hawaiiki, along with the karakia (incantations) and tikanga (customs) connected with planting it successfully.
Large round boulders (of Arai Te Uru legend) can be found embedded in the soft sandstone of the rock shelf along the shoreline. The smooth wave-worn mudstones of this headland also contain well-preserved fossils.
A seven-metre marine reptile, a plesiosaur, was found here and is now part of the University of Otago fossil collection.
Whalers discovered the first bituminous coal in New Zealand here in the 1830s. By 1862 the exposed coal seams were found to be commercially viable and were successfully mined until 1972, when flooding eventually closed shafts that extended under the coast. Evidence of coal mining is still obvious throughout the reserve.
A small natural boat harbour was once a traditional tauraka waka (canoe landing place). Early miners shipped coal from here in sailing and steam colliers. Today the harbour is used by recreational anglers and divers to launch their boats.
Visitors are requested to eat and drink only in designated areas, away from burial grounds and other sacred sites.
There is no onsite accomodation, and camping is not permitted. Trotters Gorge campsite is nearby, and there are places to stay at Palmerston, Moeraki and Hampden.
Dogs are not permitted in the reserve.
Shag Point is signposted 9 km north of Palmerston on SH1. Turn at the sign onto Shag Point Road, and follow until you reach the reserve carpark.
Know before you go
Mine shafts and tunnels are present in this area. Stay on the marked track to avoid any shafts or tunnels.