Story: Ngā waewae tapu – Māori exploration

Page 8. Wairarapa and Wellington

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According to the Te Āti Awa tribe, Kupe explored the entire west coast of the North Island, from Auckland to Cook Strait. Tribal traditions in the lower North Island say that he arrived off the northern Wairarapa coast and travelled southward through the Wellington region and to the top of the South Island. He named rocks near Cape Palliser Mātakitaki (gazing out), because he could see Tapuae-o-Uenuku (the highest mountain in the Kaikōura ranges).

Kupe eventually moved to Wellington Harbour, naming Matiu (Somes) and Mākaro (Ward) islands after his daughters. Steeple Rock, near the harbour’s entrance, was named Te Ure-o-Kupe (the penis of Kupe).


Whātonga was the captain of the Kurahaupō canoe, which landed at Māhia Peninsula. He explored the Wairarapa coast and the upper South Island by sea, returning via the west coast of the North Island. He disembarked and went up the Manawatū River, crossing the Tararua Range to the Tāmakinui-a-Rua area (Dannevirke to Pūkaha Mt Bruce), reaching a great forest which he named Te Taperenui-o-Whātonga.

Tara and Tautoki

Whātonga married Hotuwaipara. Their son was Tara-ika or Tara-nohu (named when his mother cut her finger on the barbs of a fish). Tara was the ancestor of the tribe Ngāi Tara, which occupied the lands around Wellington and the northern South Island.

Tautoki was Whātonga’s son by his second wife, Reretua. Tautoki’s son Rangitāne was the ancestor of the Rangitāne tribes.

Tara and Tautoki made a sweeping journey around the lower North Island, from Māhia Peninsula to Rangiwhakaoma (Castlepoint), Ōkoriwa (Palliser Bay) and Parangārehu (Fitzroy Bay). They explored Wellington Harbour and the Hutt Valley, before heading up the west coast to Porirua Harbour and the Rangitīkei River. They followed the river and the Hautapu tributary to Waiōuru and Moawhango before proceeding to Tongariro and Lake Taupō, and across the Tītī-o-kura saddle on the Maunga Haruru Range, then back to Nukutaurua at Māhia.

How to cite this page:

Rāwiri Taonui, 'Ngā waewae tapu – Māori exploration - Wairarapa and Wellington', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 19 June 2024)

Story by Rāwiri Taonui, published 24 Sep 2007