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Ngā waewae tapu – Māori exploration

by  Rāwiri Taonui

Māori traditions tell of many great journeys of exploration around New Zealand. The earliest arrivals from Polynesia sailed around the coast by canoe. Later, people headed inland on foot, discovering and naming rivers, mountains and other features.

Exploration traditions

When the Polynesian ancestors of Māori first arrived in New Zealand, they explored the coastline in ancestral canoes. Later they travelled by foot around coastal and inland areas.

Tribal traditions

Māori oral traditions record many great feats of exploration. These traditions often combine symbolic and historical aspects – including tapatapa whenua (naming landscapes after deeds and events) and taunaha whenua (naming landscapes to establish ownership).

Some traditions attribute several ancestors’ journeys to just one person. Others may transpose current land boundaries into the past. These accounts validate a tribe’s claim to land by giving mana (power) to ancestors and longevity to land ownership. Different tribes may have their own explanations for place names, justifying their claim over an area. For instance, there are two explanations for the naming of Te Aroha peak in the Kaimai Range – in one tradition, it was named Te Aroha-o-Kahu by the Tainui ancestress Kahupekapeka, who climbed the mountain after the death of her husband. In another tradition, the peak was named by Te Arawa ancestor Kahumatamomoe.

Tribes that migrated from one area to another usually took their traditions with them. Traditions about certain canoes, for instance, are found in several areas – but this may be because the story moved with a tribe, and not because the canoe explored the whole country.

Natural phenomena

Some exploration traditions explain natural phenomena. For example, geothermal activity in the North Island is explained as fire sent from Hawaiki by Ngātoroirangi’s sisters as he climbed Mt Tongariro.

In other traditions, explorers created natural features, or stocked them with resources. For instance, Pāoa, the captain of the Horouta canoe, made rivers by urinating, and the explorer Tamatea put freshwater crayfish into the Moawhango River. Such accounts use symbolism to reinforce a tribe’s claim to an area through an ancestor.

Supernatural travel

Some explorers were said to travel by supernatural means – for example, the sisters Reitū and Reipae flew from their homeland, the Waikato, to Northland on a bird. These accounts occur where the explorers passed over areas of no interest to their descendants, or where they have limited importance.

People and land

In some traditions, landscapes merge with people. For instance, Matiu (Somes Island) and Mākaro (Ward Island) in Wellington Harbour were said to be the daughters of the legendary explorer Kupe.

Coastal explorers


In tribal tradition, Kupe was an important early explorer.

The northern tribes have many stories about Kupe. Ngāti Kurī believe Kupe first saw New Zealand when he mistook Houhora mountain for a whale. Ngāti Kahu say that Te Aukānapanapa (the flashing current) guided Kupe to land below Whakarārā mountain in Matauri Bay. Te Aupōuri and Te Rarawa hold that Kupe landed in the Hokianga Harbour.

The Ngāpuhi tribe say that light reflecting from Te Ramaroa mountain guided Kupe into the Hokianga Harbour, where his people settled at Kohukohu, Te Pouahi, Whānui, Koutu, Pākanae and Whirinaki. All the northern tribes say that Kupe returned to the Polynesian homeland of Hawaiki from the Hokianga – hence the name Te Hokianga-a-Kupe (the place of Kupe’s return).

Hauraki traditions say that Kupe visited the Coromandel Peninsula, and the place names Taputapu-ātea and Te Whitianganui-o-Kupe commemorate his time there. Ngāti Ruanui believe that Kupe arrived at the Pātea River mouth, while Te Āti Haunui-a-Pāpārangi say that he landed at the mouth of the Whanganui River, at a place called Te Kaihau-o-Kupe (where Kupe ate wind).

Canoe explorations

Several of the voyaging canoes from Polynesia extensively explored the New Zealand coastline.

Tainui and Te Arawa

The Tainui and Te Arawa travelled together from Whangaparāoa in the eastern Bay of Plenty to the Whangaparāoa Peninsula, just north of Auckland. The Tainui crossed the Tāmaki portage in Auckland and explored the west coast between Manukau and Mōkau harbours, while Te Arawa returned to the Bay of Plenty and landed at Maketū.

Horouta and Aotea

The Horouta canoe also travelled along the Bay of Plenty before rounding East Cape and sailing to Gisborne. The Aotea explored Kaipara Harbour and the Auckland isthmus before landing in Aotea Harbour. Her crew then walked southwards around the coast to the Pātea River.


The Mataatua explored between Whakatāne in the Bay of Plenty and Tākou Bay in Northland. Northland tribes say that the captain was Puhi and the canoe landed in the north first. Whakatāne tribes believe that Toroa was the captain, and the boat made landfall in their region first. In a less well-known tradition, Mirupōkai was the captain and the Mataatua circumnavigated the North and South islands.


The Kurahaupō canoe is known in Northland, Taranaki, and the coasts of the lower North Island. Some have suggested that there were three different canoes with the same name. Others think that the same canoe visited all three areas. It may be that the Kurahaupō landed in one place, and its descendants took the story of its arrival to different regions.

Northern explorers


Tōhē, a chief of the Ngāti Kahu people, lived at Maunga Piko in Kapowairua Bay. When he was very old he announced his intention to travel south and see his only daughter, Rāninikura, who had married a man from the Kaipara near Dargaville. His people, concerned about his health, asked him not to go. Tōhē replied that although one could shelter from the wind, one could not shelter from the longing to see a daughter one last time.

He made his way south, naming over 100 places along the western coast, but died at Whāngaiariki near Maunganui Bluff before reaching his daughter’s home. Tōhē’s place names stand as a memorial to this journey. The most well-known are Te Oneroa-a-Tōhē (the long beach of Tōhē), also called Ninety Mile Beach, and Kapowairua (catch my spirit), named in memory of his last words to his people.

Nukutawhiti and Ruanui

When Kupe went back to the homeland of Hawaiki, his canoe, Matawhaorua, was re-adzed. Its new captain, Nukutawhiti, renamed it Ngātokimatawhaorua (‘ngā toki’ means the adzes). He took the canoe back to the Hokianga along with the Māmari, captained by Ruanui. The Māmari landed at Ōmāmari and Whāngāpē Harbour.

The two canoes are important to the Ngāpuhi, Te Rarawa and Te Aupōuri tribes.


Hineāmaru, the ancestor of the Ngāti Hine tribe, is famous for her trip from Waimamaku, near the Hokianga, to Waiōmio in the Bay of Islands. With her people, she travelled inland to Waimā, Te Hāwera (present-day Mataraua), Awarua, Tautoro and Pouerua before going on to Ngāwhā Springs, Mōtatau and Waiōmio, where the group settled. Hineāmaru later married Koperu, and the descendants of their disabled son, Whē, spread through the hills toward Whatitiri and Whangārei. Because of this, the tribe is also called Ngāti Hine-pukerau (Ngāti Hine of a hundred hills).


There are several traditions about the explorer Rāhiri. In a journey that took several years, he first went from the far north to Auckland (naming Mt Eden Maungawhau after the whau trees that grew there). Further south, he crossed the summit of the Kaimai Range, naming it Te Aroha (loving remembrance) in memory of his relations in the far north and Bay of Plenty. Rāhiri continued around the coast to Tauranga, Whakatāne and the East Coast, visiting Wharekāhika (Hicks Bay), Horoera, Waiapu, Tūpāroa, Tawhitiroa, Tokomaru and Tūranganui (Gisborne) before heading south through Te Wairoa and Ahuriri (Napier) to Te Whanganui-a-Tara (Wellington). From there he went north, up the west coast through Taranaki and Kāwhia.

From this extensive trip, Rāhiri is known as an ancestor of Ngāpuhi in Northland, Ngāti Rāhiri-tumutumuwhenua in Hauraki, and Ngāti Ruanui and Ngāti Rāhiri in Taranaki (where he is called Rāhiri-pakaraka).

Tainui and the Waikato

Rakataura and Kahurere

Rakataura, the tohunga (priest) of the Tainui canoe, appears in several traditions. In one, the Tainui left him behind at Māhia Peninsula. Rakataura dived under the ground and came up again at Kāwhia, on the opposite coast, before the canoe arrived.

In another account, he left the canoe in Auckland after his request to marry Kahurere, daughter of the Tainui’s captain, Hoturoa, was refused. Rakataura went down the west coast of the North Island, lighting fires at the entrances of the Waikato River, Whāingaroa (Raglan), Aotea and Kāwhia harbours to stop the canoe from entering.

Eventually, Hoturoa and Rakataura made peace. The Tainui landed at Kāwhia Harbour, and Kahurere and Rakataura married. They travelled throughout the Waikato, climbing the mountains Pirongia, Kakepuku, Hākarimata, Pureora, Puke-o-Kahu (where Kahurere died), and Te Aroha in the Kaimai Range – where Rakataura also married Hinemarino.


After the Tainui ancestor Uenga died, his wife Kahupekapeka and their son Rakamaomao explored much of the Waikato. Leaving her home at Kāwhia, Kahupekapeka headed north-east and climbed Mt Pirongia, naming it Te Pirongia-o-Te Aroaro-o-Kahu (the scented pathway of Kahu). Further on, she climbed another mountain and named it Te Kakepuku-o-Kahu (the hill over which Kahu climbed). She continued on into the Hauraki district, where she scaled the highest peak and named it Te Aroha-o-Kahu (the yearning of Kahu) in memory of her husband and home. Kahupekapeka then turned south, naming three ranges, Te Whakamaru-o-Kahu, near the Waikato River, Te Hurakia-o-Kahu, west of Lake Taupō, and Te Rangitoto-o-Kahu, near Te Kūiti. She died at Te Puke-o-Kahu, a hill between the Rangitoto and Pureora forests.

Te Arawa explorers

Ngātoroirangi and Tia

Ngātoroirangi and Tia arrived in New Zealand on the Te Arawa canoe, which landed at Maketū in Bay of Plenty. They went inland, towards the centre of the North Island. Tia took a westerly route along the Kaituna River and Mamaku Plains, reaching Ātiamuri (Tia who arrived after earlier peoples) and Te Aratiatia (the stairway of Tia) on the Waikato River. Further south, he saw some cliffs that resembled his cloak, and named them Te Taupō-nui-a-Tia (the rain cloak of Tia). The name later came to refer to the lake.

Tia explored both sides of the lake before settling at Tītīraupenga in Pureora Forest.

Ngātoroirangi continues

Ngātoroirangi headed east from Maketū. He then followed the Tarawera River, which he named Te Awa-a-te-atua (the river of the gods), inland to Ruawāhia, the northern peak of Mt Tarawera. From there he crossed the Kāingaroa Plains and Waikato River before climbing the summit of Tauhara mountain and surveying Lake Taupō southward to Mt Tongariro.

Geothermal creations

Ngātoroirangi climbed Tongariro. Freezing, he called to his sisters in Hawaiki for help, ‘Kua riro ahau i te hau tonga’ (I am seized by the cold from the south) – hence the name Tongariro. Assisted by the fire gods, the sisters sent fire that burst out at Whakaari (White Island), Moutohorā (Whale Island), the Rotorua lakes, Mt Tarawera, the Paeroa Range, Ōrākei Kōrako, Tokaanu, and finally at Tongariro, saving their brother.

Kahumatamomoe and Īhenga

Kahumatamomoe was the son of Tamatekapua, captain of the Te Arawa canoe. He arrived on the canoe at Maketū, with his nephew Īhenga. Heading inland to Rotorua, they named Te Rotoiti-kite-a-Īhenga (Lake Rotoiti) and Te Rotoruanui-a-Kahumatamomoe (Lake Rotorua) before changing direction to explore and visit Īhenga’s older brothers, Taramainuku, Warenga and Huarere, who lived in the far north.

Waikato and northward

The pair first went south to the Waikato River, crossing it at a place they named Te Whakamaru-o-Kahumatamomoe (the shelter of Kahumatamomoe). They turned west to Whāingaroa (Raglan) and then went northwards up the coast. They named Manukau Harbour Te Mānuka, after Kahumatamomoe planted a stake to claim ownership. Arriving at Poutū on the lower northern Wairoa River, the home of Īhenga’s brother Taramainuku, Kahumatamomoe named the adjacent harbour Te Kaiparapara-a-Kahumatamomoe after the king fern (kaipara) that Taramainuku fed them.

Kahumatamomoe alone

Kahumatamomoe left Īhenga there, and went south by canoe along the Kaipara and Kumeu rivers, crossing Auckland Harbour to the Coromandel Peninsula, where he stayed with Īhenga’s other brother, Huarere. Before returning to Rotorua, he climbed the highest point on the Kaimai Range, naming it Te Muri-aroha-o-Kahu, te aroha-tai, te aroha-uta (the love of Kahu for those on the coasts and those on the land) for his relatives living inland at Rotorua and Taupō, and those near the sea in the far north and the Coromandel.

Īhenga continues

Īhenga left the Kaipara Harbour. He travelled northward up the Wairoa River, then crossed the Mangakāhia River valley and the Waimate Plains to Kawakawa in the Bay of Islands, where his third brother, Warenga, lived. Īhenga named several places, including Te Ruapekapeka (the place of bats) and Motatau (to speak to oneself), before turning south to Whangārei, where he climbed a mountain in a thunderstorm and named it Whaitiri (thunder). From Whangārei he travelled by canoe to Moehau and then back to Maketū.

Western North Island


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.

The Bay of Plenty


Tāneatua was a tohunga on the Mataatua canoe, and the half-brother of Toroa, the captain. He explored the Urewera forest after the Mataatua landed at Whakatāne in the Bay of Plenty. Tāneatua began each of his journeys at the hill called Ōtarahioi or Te Kurī-a-Tāneatua (after one of his pet dogs), still a distinctive mound in the settlement of Tāneatua.

The first journey

On Tāneatua’s first journey, he explored the Ōwhakatoro stream to its source, which he named Te Wai-pōtiki-a-Tāneatua. He then travelled up the longer Whakatāne River, naming it Hinemataroa after his wife. He named many other places along this river, including Ngā Māhanga-a-Tāneatua (the twins), at the junction of the Kānihi and Ōhora streams. He placed the feathered plumes of the Mataatua canoe at Pūrākau, where the settlers built a village on the banks of the Tāneatua Stream. He went inland as far as the summit of Whakataka in the Huiarau Range, before visiting and climbing Maungapōhatu and returning to Ōtarahioi.

The second journey

On Tāneatua’s next trip he went up what is now the Waimana River, which he named Tauranga when he stood at its starting point. He branched eastward along the Te Waiiti River and reached a large plain, which he burned to clear the land for growing aruhe (fern root). He named the area Te Wera-a-Tāneatua (the burning of Tāneatua). Tāneatua placed many guardians and tipua (supernatural creatures) in the rivers, streams and waterfalls he discovered.

Wairarapa and Wellington


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.

The East Coast

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.

The South Island

Rākaihautū and Rokohouia

In traditions of the Waitaha tribe, their founding ancestor, Rākaihautū, landed the Uruao canoe at Whakatū (Nelson). He is credited with carving out the string of lakes in the centre of the South Island with a giant kō (digging stick). Rākaihautū eventually settled on Banks Peninsula, where his digging stick forms Tuhiraki, a prominent peak above Akaroa Harbour.

Several South Island names derive from the explorations of Rākaihautū and his son Rokohouia. Cliffs near Kaikōura, where Rokohouia gathered seagulls’ eggs, are named Kā Whatakai-a-Rokohouia (the food stores of Rokohouia). The two explorers took hao, a type of eel, from the river where they met up, which is still called Waihao. The southern lakes are known as Kā Puna-karikari-a-Rākaihautū (the springs of water dug by Rākaihautū).

Ngāhue and stone trading

Ngāhue is an important ancestor of the Te Arawa tribe. Te Arawa say he landed at Tūhua (Mayor Island in the Bay of Plenty). Ngāhue explored inland in the South Island, and found pounamu (greenstone) in the Arahura River. This was made into the adzes that fashioned the Te Arawa and Tainui canoes. Pounamu was sometimes called Te Ika-o-Ngāhue (Ngāhue’s fish) because of his exploits in retrieving it.

Tūhua was a major source of obsidian for tools, and Ngāhue may have been involved in networks trading South Island greenstone and North Island obsidian and basalt.

Poutini and Tamaāhua

The legend of Poutini and Tamaāhua is an oral map of the places where valuable stone resources could be found. Poutini was a taniwha and guardian for Ngāhue in the coastal seas. One day while sheltering at Tūhua (a source of obsidian) in the Bay of Plenty, he saw a beautiful woman, Waitaiki, bathing. Smitten, he grabbed her and headed for the mainland, pursued by her husband Tamaāhua.

Tamaāhua chased Poutini through a number of places in the North Island and on the West Coast of the South Island – each the site of an important stone resource. They include:

  • Tahanga in the Coromandel (basalt for adzes)
  • Whangamatā near Taupō (obsidian)
  • Rangitoto ki te Tonga (D'Urville Island) in the Marlborough Sounds (argillite for adzes)
  • Whangamoa, above Nelson, and Farewell Spit (argillite)
  • Pāhua, on the West Coast of the South Island (flint)
  • Takiwai at Milford Sound (bowenite)
  • the Arahura River (pounamu for adzes).

Finally, trapped in the Arahura River, Poutini cast Waitaiki into the river to form pounamu (greenstone). He fled to the coast, where he cruises back and forth as a guardian of the precious stone. Tamaāhua and Tūhua are the names of hills above the Arahura River.

The tradition matches archaeological evidence for stone trade networks centuries ago. Poutini and Tamaāhua represent two great centres of stone trade: North Island obsidian and basalt, and South Island pounamu. The struggle between the taniwha and the man may symbolise the tension between the two trading centres and those who used the stone.

Ara pounamu (greenstone trails)

Before Europeans arrived in New Zealand, Māori had extensively explored the South Island. They developed the ‘greenstone trails’ across the Southern Alps, tracks for moving raw materials from west to east for trade with North Island tribes. Routes included the present-day Heaphy and Wangapeka tracks, the Kawatiri (Buller) River, the Māwhera and Īnangahua rivers, the Maruia River (Lewis Pass), Noti Taramakau (Harper Pass), Ōtira–Waimakariri (Arthur’s Pass), and the Amuri, Hope, Harman, Whitcombe and Tiori-pātea (Haast) passes. They also include the many Whakatipu trails in and around Queenstown – among them the famous Milford and Routeburn tracks.

There are stories about the discovery of two of the more difficult passes. Noti Raureka (Browning Pass) was said to have been discovered by a woman named Raureka from the Ngāti Wairangi tribe. Tū-te-kawa, a notorious figure, discovered Ō-Tū-te-kawa (Mathias Pass).

External links and sources

More suggestions and sources

How to cite this page: Rāwiri Taonui, 'Ngā waewae tapu – Māori exploration', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 6 December 2023)

Story by Rāwiri Taonui, published 24 Sep 2007