Story: Taniwha

Page 2. Taniwha of the sea

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Many taniwha were associated with the sea. A large number were said to have come with the voyaging canoes that brought the Polynesian ancestors of the Māori people to Aotearoa (New Zealand).


Kupe was the great navigator who is reputed to have discovered New Zealand while travelling in the Matawhaorua canoe. He placed one of his guardian taniwha, Tuhirangi, in Cook Strait. Tuhirangi guided and protected canoes, and was later believed to have reappeared in the form of a well-known dolphin named Pelorus Jack, which accompanied ships in this stretch of water.

Āraiteuru and her sons

Āraiteuru was a female taniwha, believed to have escorted the Māmari canoe to New Zealand from Hawaiki. In other traditions Āraiteuru and another taniwha named Ruamano guided the Tākitimu canoe.

When she arrived, Āraiteuru gave birth to 11 sons. All went exploring, and on the way they dug trenches – creating the branches of the Hokianga Harbour. One son, Waihou, burrowed inland and lashed his tail about to form Lake Ōmāpere. Another, Ōhopa, was angered by the large number of rocks he encountered, and came to hate all living things. He terrorised the people near the Panguru mountains.

Āraiteuru was a guardian of the Hokianga Harbour, and had her lair in a cave there. She lived at the south head of the harbour, and her companion, known by some as Niua, lived in the north head.

Whātaitai and Ngake

Whātaitai and Ngake were also sea taniwha who created Wellington Harbour. In tradition, the harbour was once a lake in which these taniwha lived. But Ngake was restless and smashed his way through to nearby Cook Strait. Whātaitai tried to get out a different way and became stranded on dry ground. It is said that his spirit took the form of a bird named Te Keo, which flew to the top of Wellington’s Mt Victoria and mourned (tangi), hence the name of the mountain, Tangi te keo.

How to cite this page:

Basil Keane, 'Taniwha - Taniwha of the sea', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 25 April 2024)

Story by Basil Keane, published 24 Sep 2007