The narrow channel between the mainland of the South Island and D’Urville Island is known as French Pass or Te Aumiti. In oral tradition it is the resting place of Kupe’s pet cormorant or shag, which explored the area on Kupe’s behalf. Its name was Te Kawau-a-Toru (which means ‘the shag kept by Toru’; Toru is the short name for Pōtoru, captain of the Te Rino canoe). While testing the channel waters to see if they were safe for Kupe’s canoe, Te Kawau-a-Toru got caught in the violent tidal rips, broke a wing, and was drowned. The reef over which the waters of French Pass boil and seethe is Kupe’s loyal bird turned to stone – Te Aumiti a te Kawau-a-Toru (the currents that swallowed Toru’s shag). The rocky point where a lighthouse now stands is said to be the bird’s petrified bones.
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Private collection, Jock Phillips
Photograph by Jock Phillips
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