Story: Canoe traditions

Page 8. Canoes of the South Island

All images & media in this story

Mānuka and Ārai-te-uru

The Mānuka canoe set out for Hawaiki, the Polynesian homeland, and successfully returned with a cargo of kūmara (sweet potato). Unfortunately, the tubers failed to germinate because of the cold in the South Island.

It is said that Roko, or Rongo-i-tua, aware of the frailties of the kūmara, then set forth from Hawaiki on the Ārai-te-uru with new varieties of the vegetable. However, this canoe was caught in a fierce storm during which several of the crew were washed overboard. The canoe was hit by four large waves which now stand as hills in the Pakihiwitahi Range in North Otago. These waves pushed some of the kūmara overboard at Kaihīnaki and Te Whatapāraerae, where they became petrified on the beach as the huge rounded rocks now known as the Moeraki Boulders. Ārai-te-uru was wrecked a little further south at Matakaea (Shag Point), where it stands as a reef.


Uruaokapuarangi (Uruao), captained by Rākaihautū, who was accompanied by his wife Waiariki-o-āio and their son Rakihouia, landed at Whakatū (Nelson). Rākaihautū and several of the crew left the canoe and journeyed south through the interior of the South Island. As he proceeded, Rākaihautū created the major South Island lakes (including Rotoiti and Rotoroa) with a kō (digging stick) named Tūwhakarōria. Other lakes he dug out were Pūkaki, Ōhau and Tekapo in South Canterbury, Wānaka and Hāwea in Otago, and Wakatipu and Te Anāu further south. After reaching the ocean at Te Ara-a-Kiwa (Foveaux Strait), Rākaihautū travelled northward along the eastern coastline, exploring the coastal plains.

Meanwhile his son Rakihouia had taken Uruao and sailed south along the east coast of the South Island, naming several places along the way. Te Whatakai-o-Rakihouia (the food storehouse of Rakihouia) was the name given to the cliffs at Kaikōura. The long stretch of the Canterbury coastline was called Kā Poupou-o-Rakihouia (the posts of Rakihouia), after the posts he put up at several river mouths, signifying ownership of the eel fisheries there. Rakihouia was then reunited with Rākaihautū and the group made its way to Horomaka (Banks Peninsula), where Rākaihautū thrust his digging stick into a hill (Pūhai), renaming it Tuhirangi. The Canterbury plains became the homeland of their descendants, the Waitaha people. The plains were named Kā Pākihiwhakatekateka-a-Waitaha (the seedbed of Waitaha).

Tākitimu and Kāraerae

The Tākitimu canoe is also known in the South Island, where Tamatea is said to have explored the West Coast. It was wrecked at Te Waewae Bay on the southernmost shores of the South Island, and today it is said to be transfixed as the Tākitimu mountain range. One account is that after Tākitimu was wrecked, Tamatea built another canoe, Kāraerae, in which he sailed back to the North Island.

How to cite this page:

Rāwiri Taonui, 'Canoe traditions - Canoes of the South Island', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 22 June 2024)

Story by Rāwiri Taonui, published 8 Feb 2005