Story: Ngāpuhi

Page 2. Canoes

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The arrival of the Polynesian navigator Kupe in the Matawhaorua canoe is legendary in the history of Ngāpuhi.

Guided by light reflected from the mountain Te Ramaroa, Kupe entered Hokianga Harbour. The traditions say that Kupe was so awestruck by the strength of the light that he named the harbour Te Puna-o-te-ao-mārama (spring of the world of light). The light struck the northern shore of the Hokianga, which he named Te Pouahi (the post of fire).

Kohukohu, Te Pouahi and Whānui were Kupe’s first settlements on the northern shores of the harbour. Koutu, Pākanae and Whirinaki were his settlements on the southern side. When he returned to Hawaiki he said, 'Ka hoki ahau? E kore ahau e hokianga mai!' (Shall I return? I shall never return!), hence the name Te Hokianga-a-Kupe (the great returning place of Kupe).

Ngātokimatawhaorua and Māmari

In Hawaiki, Kupe’s canoe was re-adzed and named Ngātokimatawhaorua (‘ngā toki’ means ‘the adzes’). Captained by Nukutawhiti, the refurbished canoe returned to Hokianga, accompanied by Ruanui and his canoe Māmari.

The captains landed and established their settlements. Nukutawhiti completed his first, but waited for Ruanui so that they could conduct their dedication rites together. However, when Ruanui finished building his houses of learning he ordered his priests to begin consecrating them without waiting for Nukutawhiti. The priests chanted incantations to compel a huge whale to enter the harbour and beach itself as a sacrifice.

When he realised this, Nukutawhiti ordered his priests to perform chants to send the whale back toward the open sea. Ruanui’s prayers finally ran out and the crew of the Māmari had to leave the Hokianga. This is remembered in the name Hokianga-whakapau-karakia (Hokianga where incantations were exhausted).


Several accounts tell how the Mataatua canoe arrived in the north. Traditions from the Bay of Plenty say that the ancestor Puhi sailed the Mataatua northward from Whakatāne to Tākou Bay after a dispute with his brother, Toroa. Some northern accounts say that the Mataatua actually rounded Cape Rēinga before sailing south along the west coast and landing in the Hokianga Harbour. From here it was said to be dragged overland to Kerikeri before sailing to Tākou Bay.

Others claim the canoe was carried across the Auckland isthmus before sailing northward along the coast to Hokianga. The earliest Ngāpuhi account says that the Mataatua actually landed in the north first and went to the Bay of Plenty some time later.

Puhi, Te Wahineiti and Miru are also said to have been leaders of the Mataatua. Miru is believed to have circumnavigated the North Island in this canoe. Both Ngāpuhi and the Bay of Plenty tribes agree that the Mataatua rests at Tākou Bay. A reunion was held by both groups at the Bay of Islands in 1986.

How to cite this page:

Rāwiri Taonui, 'Ngāpuhi - Canoes', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 19 July 2024)

Story by Rāwiri Taonui, published 8 Feb 2005, updated 1 Mar 2017