Story: Ngā waewae tapu – Māori exploration

Page 6. Western North Island

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The Aotea canoe landed in a small bay named Hawaiki-iti, inside Aotea Harbour. From there, Turi, the captain, led an overland expedition along the coast around Mt Taranaki. Going over the hill from Aotea, Turi named a larger harbour Kāwhia, Te awhinga o Turi (the embracing of Turi). He called the next harbour Marokopa (lame) because he sprained his ankle climbing a steep hill. Turi also named several rivers, including Moekau (place where he rested), Urenui (big penis), Waitara (wading) and Mangatī (stream lined with cabbage trees). He called the last river Te Pāteanui-a-Turi (Turi’s large cloak).

Turi’s children, Tūranga-i-mua, Pōtiki-roa and Tāneroroa, settled the lands north and south of this river with their descendants, becoming the tribes Ngāti Ruanui, Ngā Ruahine and Ngā Rauru.


Haunui was an ancestor of tribes descended from both the Aotea and Kurahaupō canoes. Haunui’s journey began in pursuit of his wife, Wairaka, who had eloped with another man. He named several rivers on the lower west coast: the Whanganui (wide river mouth) for its size; the Whangaehu (cloudy river) after the ash in its waters from Mt Ruapehu; the Rangitīkei (striding) because it could be waded when the water was low; the Manawatū (startled breath) for its fast, deep waters; Ōhau after himself; and Waikanae because it was a good mullet (kanae) fishery.

Haunui caught up with Wairaka, her lover and their entourage at Pukerua Bay, where he turned them into a group of rocks off shore. He then climbed the Tararua Range, which he named Te Pae-a-Whaitiri (threshold of thunder). From the top he saw a shining lake, which he named Wairarapa (glistening water). He then returned north on a comet.


Matanginui, an ancestor of the people in the Rangitīkei River area, explored much of the land between Wairarapa and Taihape following a flock of birds – one of the more mystical traditions in Māori oral lore. Matanginui followed the birds northwards from the Ruamāhanga River in Wairarapa, along the eastern flank of the Tararua Range to Pahīatua. He crossed what is now called the Pahiatua track to Aokautere (near Massey University), then went to Tāhuna-a-rua (near Palmerston North). From there he headed to Te Aorangi (Feilding) and the Pūrākau and Te Rākauhou forests on the sides of Mt Stewart.

Matanginui followed the flock northwards along the eastern side of the Rangitīkei River. He spent a night in the open at Te Whakamoetakapū (by the present-day railway bridge at Kākāriki), and implanted a stake at Tokorangi, a hill just south of where the Waituna Stream intersects the Rangitīkei River. Heading through a deep gorge, he heard the birds on the high ridge to the west, which he called Parorotangi. Blowing his pūtōrino (horn) in response he named the ridge to the west (between Hunterville and the Rangitīkei) Pūtōrino.

By the time he reached Rangitoea peak (south-east of Taihape), Matanginui was exhausted and ready to give up the chase. However the birds were also tired and could not fly any further, so Matanginui and his children caught and killed them. The family settled in the area, intermarrying with the Ngāti Apa and Ngāti Hauiti tribes.

Many years later Matanginui made a return journey to his people in the Wairarapa, crossing the Ruahine Range at Hikurangi peak and heading through the Rangi and Waipawa saddles. Reaching the Waipawa Plains to the east he named the Whakaara Range (now called the Whakarara Range) before heading south towards home.

How to cite this page:

Rāwiri Taonui, 'Ngā waewae tapu – Māori exploration - Western North Island', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 16 April 2024)

Story by Rāwiri Taonui, published 24 Sep 2007