Story: Canoe traditions

Page 2. Canoes of the northern tide

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The Ngāti Kurī tribe of Muriwhenua say that Pōhurihanga was the captain of the Kurahaupō, and that it landed at Takapaukura (Tom Bowling Bay) near North Cape. Pōhurihanga married Maieke and their children settled Kapowairua, Pārengarenga Harbour, and Murimotu.

Ngātokimatawhaorua and Māmari

After the Polynesian explorer Kupe returned to Hawaiki his canoe, Matawhaorua, was re-adzed and renamed Ngātokimatawhaorua (ngā toki – the adzes) by its new captain, Nukutawhiti. The Ngātokimatawhaorua, accompanied by the Māmari under Ruanui, returned to the Hokianga, where the two captains built whare wānanga (houses of learning). Ruanui began consecrating his building first, without waiting for Nukutawhiti. A metaphysical battle followed, and Ruanui’s tohunga (priests) chanted incantations, compelling a huge whale to beach itself as a sacrifice. Nukutawhiti’s tohunga performed opposing incantations, attempting to push the whale back out to sea. Ruanui’s prayers were finally exhausted and the crew of the Māmari were forced to leave the Hokianga area. The Māmari made landings at Ōmāmari and the Whāngāpē Harbour, where Ruanui’s descendants live today. The battle of the priests is remembered in the name Hokianga-whakapau-karakia (Hokianga where incantations were exhausted). Ngātokimatawhaorua and Māmari are important canoes for the tribes of Ngāpuhi, Te Rarawa and Te Aupōuri.

Tinana and Te Māmaru

The Tinana canoe, later renamed Te Māmaru, is particularly important for the Muriwhenua tribes of Te Rarawa and Ngāti Kahu. The Tinana, captained by Tūmoana, landed at Tauroa Point near present-day Ahipara. The canoe later returned to Hawaiki where Tūmoana’s nephew, Te Parata, renamed it Te Māmaru. It was then brought back to Muriwhenua, its crew first sighting land at Pūwheke Mountain on the Karikari Peninsula, before sailing around Rangiāwhiao and Whatuwhiwhi to make landfall at Te Ikateretere, near the mouth of the Taipā River. Te Parata married Kahutianui-a-te-rangi, who is the founding ancestor of Ngāti Kahu.


Māhuhu-ki-te-rangi (Māhuhu) is the most important canoe for the Ngāti Whātua tribes occupying the Kaipara region between the Hokianga Harbour and Tāmaki (Auckland). According to tradition the Māhuhu-ki-te-rangi came from Waerota, Waeroti and Mata-te-rā, after a feud over food resources. The canoe's cargo included several new types of food, including uwhi (yam), kūmara (sweet potato) and taro, another starchy tuber. The Māhuhu first reached land along the eastern seaboard of Northland, where it explored the coast between Whangaroa, Tākou and Whangaruru. Some accounts say it then explored the Bay of Plenty and East Coast before returning northward to Pārengarenga. From here it rounded North Cape and sailed down the west coast of Northland.

Te Roroa people of the Waipoua forest say the Māhuhu canoe was captained by Whakatau and landed at Kawerua on the west coast. Here Whakatau's son, Rongomai, married a local woman called Takarita. Their , Te Pukenui-o-Rongo, overlooked the landing place of the Māhuhu.

Another account according to Te Uri-o-Hau and Te Taoū (from the Ngāti Whātua tribe of Helensville and Auckland) is that Rongomai was the captain of the Māhuhu, and the canoe landed on Tāporapora, an island that once stood inside the Kaipara Heads. Some time after his arrival at Tāporapora, Rongomai was drowned in a fishing accident. His remains were partly eaten by araara (trevally) and tāmure (snapper) before being pounded by the waves onto the rocks near Waikāretu. To this day the area is remembered as Te Ākitanga-o-Rongomai (the beating of Rongomai). Some accounts say that the Māhuhu returned to the north and settled at Rangaunu Harbour where it was interred in a creek, Te Waipopo-o-Māhuhu.


The Mataatua canoe of the north has a strong association with the traditions of the Bay of Plenty. Descendants from these two regions held a reunion in 1986. Some northern accounts say the Mataatua first landed in the Bay of Plenty before sailing north. One account says that after leaving the Bay of Plenty it rounded Cape Rēinga and then sailed southward along the west coast and into the Hokianga Harbour. From there it was hauled overland to Kerikeri before sailing to Tākou Bay. Others claim the canoe was carried across the Auckland isthmus before sailing northward along the coast to the Hokianga. The earliest Ngāpuhi account says that the Mataatua actually landed in the north first and went to the Bay of Plenty some time later. Northern accounts name Puhi, Te Wahineiti and Miru as the leaders on the Mataatua. Miru is also credited with circumnavigating the North Island in the canoe.

How to cite this page:

Rāwiri Taonui, 'Canoe traditions - Canoes of the northern tide', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 10 December 2022)

Story by Rāwiri Taonui, published 8 Feb 2005