Library Names: the Stories of the Bilingual Names for Christchurch City Libraries
Papanui is the Māori word for 'a platform in a tree from which birds are snared'. This forest once boasted an abundance of forest birds that were regularly snared for kai.
An alternative meaning of Papanui is 'big or large flat land', where in 1856, there was a native bush of about 200 acres still standing. It seems this suburb sits on top of a large rock that pushes water out towards to some of the surrounding suburbs such as St Albans and Merivale.
Papanui Bush once boasted an abundance of forest birds that were regularly snared for kai in this region. This was at a time when the area was covered by a large stand of forest, dominated by tōtara, mataī, kahikatea and kānuka, similar to the smaller stand of bush that now remains in Riccarton, traditionally known as Pūtaringamotu or more commonly today known as Dean's Bush.
Papanui Bush generated a thriving business for the timber industry in the early years of European settlement. Sadly, the milling of this area, and proximity to the planned Christchurch city location, in the 1850s it was rapidly demolished and the entire 30 hectares of bush that was left standing at the time was cut down and went towards building some the first homes, shops, government headquarters, schools churches and other structures around the city.
The site of Papanui Bush is the present day Papanui Domain, located off Sawyers Arms Road. A small native garden and a mural painted on the nearby community hall today commemorate the great forest trees that once dominated the area.
Other Māori names associated with this area include Te Waro Kuri or Waro Muri - 'the end of the pit', which are both in the northern part of the suburb.