Story: Whenua – how the land was shaped

Page 5. The thermal wonders

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The volcanic plateau in the central North Island is full of mystery: mud pools, hot pools, geysers and volcanoes give vent to unfathomable powers lying deep in the earth. It did not escape Māori that there seemed to be a pattern or design in the way that ‘fire’ from underground could be seen at Whakaari (White Island) in the Bay of Plenty all the way to Tongariro, just south of Tūrangi township.

Ngātoroirangi and his sisters

In particular, the people of Ngāti Tūwharetoa, whose tribal lands are in the central North Island, have long maintained stories about this phenomenon. They say that the high priest Ngātoroirangi and his sisters Te Hoata and Te Pupu were responsible for bringing fire to New Zealand from the ancestral homeland, Hawaiki. Having arrived in New Zealand on the Te Arawa canoe, Ngātoroirangi travelled inland and discovered the lake that became known as Taupōnui-a-Tia (Taupō). He continued to Onetapu, south of present-day Tūrangi, where he encountered extremely cold weather. He called out to his sisters, who came to him from Hawaiki in the form of fire under the earth, appearing above the ground at intervals and creating the geysers, hot pools and volcanoes.

The arrival of fire from Hawaiki is commemorated in this song by the renowned composer Rihi Puhiwahine of Ngāti Tūwharetoa for her lover Mahutu Te Toko, of Ngāti Maniapoto:

Kāti au ka hoki ki taku whenua tupu
Ki te wai koropupū i heri mai nei
I Hawaiki rā anō e Ngātoro-i-rangi
E ōna tuāhine, Te Hoata, Te Pupu
E hū rā Tongariro, ka mahana i taku kiri.
I return to my homeland
To the bubbling waters that were brought
From Hawaiki by Ngātoro-i-rangi
And his sisters, Te Hoata and Te Pupu
Tongariro erupts and my body is warmed. 1

The fiery regions

Te Hoata and Te Pupu first came to Whakaari, then made their way inland. When they arrived at Taupō, they travelled southwards along the western edge of the lake before meeting their brother on Mt Tongariro. They returned northwards via the eastern side of Lake Taupō. These are some of the places the sisters left their fire:

  • Whakaari (White Island)
  • Tarawera
  • Whakarewarewa
  • Tikitere
  • Waimangu
  • Ōrākei Kōrako
  • Tokaanu
  • Tongariro
  1. From Rihi Puhiwahine, ‘Ka eke ki Wairaka’, In Ngā mōteatea, vol. 1, edited by Āpirana T. Ngata. Auckland: Polynesian Society, 1928, pp. 150–151. › Back
How to cite this page:

Te Ahukaramū Charles Royal, 'Whenua – how the land was shaped - The thermal wonders', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 20 June 2024)

Story by Te Ahukaramū Charles Royal, published 12 Jun 2006