Story: Hinerangi, Sophia

Page 1 - Hinerangi, Sophia

Hinerangi, Sophia

1830–1834?–1911

Ngati Ruanui; tourist guide

This biography was written by Jenifer Curnow and was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand BiographyVolume 2, 1993

Sophia Hinerangi, sometimes known as Te Paea (Tepaea), was the principal tourist guide of the Pink and White Terraces at Lake Rotomahana before the eruption of Mt Tarawera in 1886, and later guided at Whakarewarewa. As Guide Sophia she was the most famous woman of her time in Rotorua.

She was born in Kororareka (Russell), probably sometime between 1830 and 1834, the daughter of Kotiro Hinerangi, who was probably of Ngati Ruanui from Taranaki, and Alexander Grey (Gray), a blacksmith from Aberdeen, Scotland, who had arrived in the Bay of Islands in 1827. She was baptised Mary Sophia Gray by William Williams at Kororareka on 4 August 1839. It is said that she was brought up by Charlotte Kemp at the Kerikeri mission station, and later may have attended the Wesleyan Native Institution at Three Kings in Auckland.

Little is known of Sophia's first marriage in the north to a man whose name is recorded as Koroneho (Colenso) Tehakiroe. It is thought to have taken place in 1851, and they are said to have had 14 children. Her second marriage, said to be in 1870, was to Hori Taiawhio, with whom she came to Te Wairoa, Lake Tarawera. There were three children of the second marriage.

Sophia had been guide to the Pink and White Terraces for some 16 years before the eruption. Well-educated and bilingual, she arranged the tour parties, supplied visitors with information, settled accounts, organised the other workers and was 'guide, philosopher, and friend' to thousands of tourists who were fortunate enough to obtain her services. A contemporary description noted that she was 'comely of form, with well modelled features, a nose slightly aquiline, lips slightly tattooed, a pair of big dark eyes, and a thick cluster of raven hair', and had a melodious voice. Many photographs and a portrait by C. F. Goldie testify to her beauty.

According to her own description, 11 days before the eruption Sophia first noticed an unusual rising of the lake's waters, and then sighted a phantom canoe. The canoe first appeared small, with one paddler, then became bigger as its occupants, now with dogs' heads, increased to 13, and finally it shrank and disappeared. These omens led her to foretell the end of her guiding at Rotomahana. On 10 June 1886, the night of the eruption, Sophia sheltered 62 people in her whare at Te Wairoa, its high-pitched roof and strong walls reinforced with extra wood enabling it, unlike other buildings there, to withstand the enormous destruction.

After the eruption Sophia moved to Whakarewarewa, where she continued her guiding career. In 1895 she joined George Leitch's Land of the Moa Dramatic Company, playing herself during the melodrama's Australian tour. She became president of the Whakarewarewa branch of the New Zealand Women's Christian Temperance Union in 1896, and the same year was appointed caretaker to the thermal reserve, on a small salary. Sophia guided a number of royal parties through Whakarewarewa.

Sophia died at Whakarewarewa on 4 December 1911. In her later years she had encouraged a number of younger women, and tourist guiding became an enjoyable and lucrative employment for many of the local Tuhourangi women. Some of her many descendants still live at Whakarewarewa, and Sophia Street in Rotorua bears her name.