How the mountains were placed
The mountains in the central North Island once fought a great battle for the hand of Pīhanga, a mountain to the south of Tūrangi. Tribes have different versions of the story; the following is drawn from Ngāti Tūwharetoa tradition.
The story goes that in the days when the earth was young there were four mountain warriors: Tongariro, Taranaki (Mt Egmont), Tauhara and Pūtauaki (Mt Edgecumbe). There was also the beautiful maiden mountain, Pīhanga. The warrior mountains fought for her affections, and after a long battle Tongariro emerged the winner.
The defeated mountains decided that they should leave Tongariro’s domain. They were to travel as far as they could before dawn, when the rising sun would fix them to the spot. Pūtauaki headed east and by daybreak reached his present position at Kawerau. Tauhara travelled slowly, all the time looking back longingly at Pīhanga; he only reached the other end of the lake. Taranaki went west and still looks back, hoping for the day when he might return to avenge his defeat. Meanwhile, Pīhanga became the wife of Tongariro, and they had a child named Pukeronaki.
The following account, given by Pei Te Hurinui Jones of the Ngāti Maniapoto tribe, illustrates how the same story can vary between tribal traditions:
Tongariro was betrothed by Rangi-e-tū iho nei (Rangi who stands above, the sky) to his own wife, Pīhanga, a mountain near Taupō. Their descendants are the snow, the winds and the rain. According to Ngāti Awa, Tongariro had two wives, Pīhanga and Ngāuruhoe. Both are mountains. Taranaki wanted these women for himself and others too pursued the women as well. And so a battle took place which resulted in the mountains being separated out. Taranaki went out to the west where it now stands. Whakaari (White Island), Paepae-o-aotea and Moutohorā went northwards off Whakatāne. Pūtauaki went northwards too and now stands south of Whakatāne. 1