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The Upper Taiari was a crucially important food-gathering area for coastal iwi, who would make seasonal trips inland to harvest birds including weka, ducks and swans. They also fished the river for tuna, or native eel and lamprey (kanakana). Another important food source was kouka, or cabbage tree, which was planted in the region and harvested in the summer. Birds, fish and kouka would be loaded onto rafts called mōkihi and transported down river to sustain the people through the long, cold months of winter 

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