The story of Kahungunu and Rongomaiwahine’s romance has been told many times.
Kahungunu had heard reports of Rongomaiwahine’s beauty and high birth, but when he arrived at Nukutaurua, on the Māhia Peninsula, he found that she was already married to Tamatakutai. In an attempt to impress her people, he gathered enormous quantities of fern root, tied them into bundles with vines, and rolled them down a hill. Such were the quantities that it became like a landslide, blocking the doors of the house.
Kahungunu then went up onto a hill and watched the karoro (shags) diving. He practised holding his breath, counting ‘pepe tahi, pepe rua, pepe toru …’ (count one, count two, count three . . .) until the birds reappeared. Then Kahungunu went diving, holding his breath for as long as the shags had done. He filled several baskets with enough pāua (a type of shellfish) for all the occupants of the village. When he surfaced from his final dive, he had covered his chest with pāua, and everyone was very impressed. The hill has since been named Puke Karoro.
Having gained the approval of Rongomaiwahine’s people, Kahungunu set out to create discord between Rongomaiwahine and her husband Tamatakutai. One night he surreptitiously broke wind near the sleeping couple, causing an argument between them. In the morning Kahungunu joined Tamatakutai in the sport of surfing in a canoe. After several trips Kahungunu took over the steering, and capsized it on a particularly large wave. Tamatakutai fell out and, unable to swim, was drowned.
Kahungunu and Rongomaiwahine marry
One day Kahungunu asked Rongomaiwahine to dress his hair for him. As she was fastening his topknot, the tie broke. Kahungunu took from his plaited belt some flax that had been grown at Kawhainui, near Tauranga. After softening the flax in water, Rongomaiwahine used it to tie his topknot. Kahungunu then stood up, and facing north said:
E te pūtiki wharanui o Tamatea i mahue atu rā i runga o Tauranga.
Here is the binding broad-leaved flax of Tamatea that was left at Tauranga.
It was from this remark that Rongomaiwahine and her people finally knew the true identity of Kahungunu, and he became her permanent husband. They settled at Maungakāhia, their pā at Māhia, where Kahungunu eventually died.
Many of Rongomaiwahine’s descendants on the Māhia Peninsula identify themselves as Ngāti Rongomaiwahine rather than as Ngāti Kahungunu: they believe her to be of superior lineage.