Tamatea-Pokai-Whenua was born in Hawaiki in the period before the Great Migration. He was the son of Rongokako and a descendant of the legendary Maui. He came to New Zealand in the Takitimu canoe but left it at Turanga (Gisborne) and travelled overland, keeping close to the coast, until he reached Ahuriri. There, according to the legend, his pet crocodile, Tapu-Te-Ranga, escaped. From Ahuriri he continued towards the Ruahines, but his son, Kahungunu, was unwilling to cross them and returned to settle on the Heretaunga Plains. Tamatea continued his journey until he reached a high mountain, where another of his pets, the serpent, Pohokura (or Pukeokahu), escaped. When he reached the Moawhango River Tamatea plunged the brands from his fire into the waters, where they became taniwhas (spirits) and may be seen to this day. As he walked along the beach towards Wanganui, his dog ran into the sea and became a taniwha. Shortly before he reached the pa at Wanganui, Tamatea paused to dress his hair. From this circumstance, the place became known as Putiki-waranui-a-Tamatea or Tamatea's top-knot. He paddled up the Wanganui River until he reached Omaka, where there proved to be no anchorage. Tamatea therefore bent one of the rocks in the river and tied his canoe's anchor cable about it. He reached Lake Taupo and paddled his canoe across it to the Waikato River, but lost his life shortly afterwards when he tried to shoot the Huka Falls. In the course of his travels Tamatea-Pokai-Whenua left his name upon many geographical features: the most famous of these is a little hill, near Porangahau, Hawke's Bay, called Taumatawhakatangihangakoauauo-tamateapokaiwhenuakitanatahu or “the hill where Tamatea-Pokai-Whenua played his flute….”
Tamatea had two wives. His principal wife, Iwirau, was the mother of Kahungunu, the eponymous ancestor of the Ngati Kahungunu; his other wife, Mahakiroa, was the mother of four sons, including Apa, the eponymous ancestor of the Ngati Apa.
Tamatea-Pokai-Whenua, or Tamatea-who-encircled-the-land, is the great land traveller of Maori tradition. He is not to be confused with Tamatea-Ariki-Nui, the captain of Takitimu canoe.
by Bernard John Foster, M.A., Research Officer, Department of Internal Affairs, Wellington.
- Te-Ika-a-Maui, Taylor, R. (1870).