Story: Ngā waewae tapu – Māori exploration

Page 9. The East Coast

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Pāoa, Kiwa, Awapaka and Hinekau-i-rangi

The Horouta canoe, captained by Kiwa and Pāoa, landed at Ahuahu (Great Mercury Island) and Ōhiwa Harbour, where it needed repairs to its haumi (bow-piece). Pāoa walked inland and climbed Maunga Haumi to find a suitable tree. Unable to carry it back, he urinated the Waipāoa, Waioeka and Mōtū rivers into being and floated the timber down to the coast. Some of the crew went into the forests to catch birds to eat.

After the canoe was repaired, Kiwa sailed it around the East Cape to Tūranganui (Gisborne), which he named Te Tūranganui-a-Kiwa (the great standing place of Kiwa). Cliffs west of Gisborne (Young Nick’s Head) were named Te Kurī-a-Pāoa (the dog of Pāoa). Pāoa went on to Gisborne through the Waioeka Valley, which he called Te Whai-a-Pāoa (the going of Pāoa).

Another crew member, a woman named Hinekau-i-rangi, made an even longer overland journey. She led a large party to Tōrere, across the Mōtū River, through the Raukūmara Range, down the Tapuwaeroa Stream to the Waiapu River, and then south to Tūranganui.

The Ngāti Ruapani, Rongowhakaata, Te Aitanga-a-Māhaki and Te Aitanga a Hauiti tribes all trace descent from the people of the Horouta.


Tamatea is one of the greatest explorers in New Zealand’s history. He was known as Tamatea-pōkaiwhenua (land explorer), and Tamatea-pōkaimoana (sea explorer).

North Island travel

Northland traditions say that Tamatea explored the Kaipara and Hokianga harbours before settling at Awanui and Kaitāia on Rangaunu Harbour.

According to Tauranga traditions, Tamatea explored their region. On Maunga Tawa he built a , planted flax and left his son Ranginui, who became the ancestor of Ngāti Ranginui.

Tamatea rounded East Cape and headed south to Hawke Bay, landing at Tūranganui (Gisborne), Māhia, Wairoa, Ahuriri (Napier), Heretaunga (near Hastings) and Pōrangahau. He went up the Mangakopikopiko River and over the Tītī-o-kura saddle via Pohokura to Lake Taupō. The Ōtamatea River and swamp, on the eastern side of the main pre-European route through the Ahimanawa and Huiarau ranges, are named after him.

The traditions of Ngāti Whitikaupeka, Ngāti Hauiti and Ngāti Apa tell how Tamatea went up the Ngaruroro River and across the upper Rangitīkei River into the Waiōuru and Taihape districts, where he stocked the Moawhango River with freshwater kōura (crayfish). Tamatea is also the name of a place in Ahuriri (Napier).

From this point, there are several different versions of Tamatea’s travels. One says that he continued across land to the Whanganui River, paddled up the river and across Lake Taupō, and was wrecked at the Huka Falls. Some say he died there. Another account says that he travelled back to Tauranga. A third is that he returned from Moawhango to Ahuriri, and went to Wellington and then the Whanganui River.

South Island travel

Early South Island accounts say that Tamatea sailed down the east coast. His canoe was wrecked at the southernmost end of the South Island, and became the Tākitimu mountain range. Tamatea walked northward to Kaiapohia, near Christchurch (now Kaiapoi), where he called on the North Island mountain, Tongariro, to help him. The mountain sent fire, which burned out the channel of the Whanganui River and Cook Strait before arriving at Kaiapohia. Tamatea took the fire and, heading northward on foot, left fire at several places along the coast before walking across Cook Strait and up the Whanganui River.

How to cite this page:

Rāwiri Taonui, 'Ngā waewae tapu – Māori exploration - The East Coast', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 29 May 2024)

Story by Rāwiri Taonui, published 24 Sep 2007