Story: Tāwhirimātea – the weather

Page 6. Cold weather, mist and rainbows

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Snow, hail and frost

Snow is known as huka or huka rere. Hail is either ua whatu (rain stones) or huka-ā-whatu (stone-like snow). Hukapapa is ice or frost, while hukapiri refers to hard frost. Upokomārō refers to both hard frost and frozen ground.

Mythological origins of snow

Ngāi Tahu people believed snow was the offspring of the deity Whēkoi. When it snowed they would say, ‘Kai te rere te tama a Whēkoi’ (the son of Whēkoi is falling). Others saw ice and snow as the children of Whaitiri (goddess of thunder), or described them as ‘the fish of Whaitiri’. In other traditions, sleet and drifting snow were the children of the mountains Tongariro and Pīhanga, which were often covered in snow.


Pūkohu is the word for mist. Mist uniformly covering the sky is papanui, a sign that the next day will be calm. In one tradition, mist is said to be the soft, warm sighs rising from the mountains and valleys – the earth mother Papatūānuku. This is a sign of her love for Ranginui (the sky father), who was separated from her.

To the Tūhoe people of the Urewera mountains, Hine-pūkohu-rangi is the personification of mist (kohu) and fog. According to tradition, Tūhoe are the descendants of the mist maiden and Te Maunga (the mountain). The tribe is often known as ‘Ngā tamariki a te Kohu’ – the children of the mist.


One word for dew is haukū. In the Māori story of the creation, dew is the tears of Ranginui, mourning his separation from Papatūānuku. The tears fall on her breast, as dew settles on the land. A saying among people of the moist, fertile lands of Hawke’s Bay is ‘Heretaunga haukū nui’ (Heretaunga the dew-covered land).


There are a number of names for the rainbow, the most common being āniwaniwa and āheahea. The phenomenon was sometimes described as atua piko, a curved deity.

The personified forms of the rainbow are Kahukura, Uenuku and Haere, and there are other names. In tradition, Kahukura appears in the heavens in the form of a double bow. The red lower bow is a female known as Pu-te-aniwaniwa, while the upper, which is darker-hued, is a male known as Kahukurapango.

How to cite this page:

Basil Keane, 'Tāwhirimātea – the weather - Cold weather, mist and rainbows', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 19 June 2024)

Story by Basil Keane, published 12 Jun 2006, updated 1 Mar 2022