Story: Whangārei tribes

Page 1. Ancestors

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The Whangārei coast

Before Europeans arrived in New Zealand, Māori tribes of the Whangārei coast operated seafaring and trading networks that reached from the territory of the Muriwhenua tribes in the far north, through Motu Kōkako (Hole in the Rock) and Rākaumangamanga (Cape Brett), to Tāmaki (Auckland) in the south and eastwards to Hauturu (Little Barrier Island) and Aotea (Great Barrier Island). With these overlapping networks, related groups often lived in satellite communities spread along the coast.


Several ancestral canoes landed along the Whangārei coast. The ancestor Manaia, captain of the Māhuhu-ki-te-rangi, landed at Motu Kōkako. Another account says he captained the Ruakaramea and landed at Whangārei. Manaia’s people settled much of the coast, as well as the Poor Knights Islands and the Hen and Chickens Islands.

The Tūnui-a-rangi and Te Arawa landed at Whangārei. The Moekākara, captained by Tāhuhunui-o-te-rangi, landed at Te Kawau Island and Cape Rodney. Te Wakatūwhenua landed in a small bay to the north of Cape Rodney.

Puhi, a captain of the Mataatua canoe, named several places to mark his voyage along this coast: Taiharuru (thundering tides) and Ngunguru (rumbling tides); Tutukākā (snaring parrots), where birds were caught; Matapōuri (darkness), where the canoe made a night landing; Whananaki (kicking), so named because mosquitoes caused a restless night’s sleep; Te Purupurutanga-a-Mataatua (the plug of Mataatua) – leaks in the canoe were repaired there; Whangaruru (sheltered harbour), where the canoe found safety from bad weather; Te Tīheru-a-Mataatua (the bailer of Mataatua), an islet next to Hole in the Rock where a canoe bailer was washed ashore. Puhi also named the Poor Knights Islands (Tawhitirahi and Aorangi).

Manaia – the mountain and the ancestor

Traditions say that the mountains Manaia, Maunga Raho and Tokatoka once stood together in Hawaiki. Urged by Manaia, they raced across the ocean to New Zealand, and as the sun rose they became frozen in their present positions. Manaia stands at Whangārei; Maunga Raho and Tokatoka are on the Northern Wairoa River.

Another tradition explains how Manaia, the ancestor, became part of a mountain summit. One day when out fishing Manaia hooked a fish by its anus. Taking this as a bad omen, he paddled home. As he drew towards the shore he called to his wife to come and meet him. When she lifted up her clothes to swim out Manaia saw from the appearance of her body that she had slept with his servant Paeko. Manaia and Paeko challenged each other with incantations until Manaia and his wife, along with Paeko and several of Manaia's children, were turned into the distinctive jagged peaks atop the mountain.

How to cite this page:

Rāwiri Taonui, 'Whangārei tribes - Ancestors', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 25 June 2024)

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