There are many tribal stories about the relationship between a people and their land. These stories capture every corner of the New Zealand landscape in some way. The South Island’s lakes are referred to as Ngā puna karikari a Rākaihautū – the springs dug out by Rākaihautū (a founding ancestor of the Waitaha tribe). Each lake has a particular story, and these are woven into a larger narrative. Te Waihora (Lake Ellesmere), for example, is called Te Keteika-a-Rākaihautū (Rākaihautū’s fishing basket).
Volcanic Plateau traditions
There are many stories about the North Island’s Volcanic Plateau, which stretches from Whakaari (White Island) to Tongariro. The various geysers and ‘hot spots’ in between are said to have been created by Te Hoata and Te Pupu, the sisters of the priest Ngātoroirangi. The two sisters travelled from Hawaiki to bring fire to New Zealand.
Tamatekapua of the Te Arawa people also left his name at many locations. Rangitoto Island in the Waitematā Harbour is known as Te Rangi-i-totongia-ai-te-ihu-o-Tamatekapua (the day that Tamatekapua had a bloody nose). Moehau mountain on the Coromandel Peninsula is called Te Moengahau-o-Tamatekapua (Tamatekapua’s windy sleeping place). Tamatekapua is buried at the peak of the mountain.
Rongokako was the grandfather of Kahungunu, the founding ancestor of the Ngāti Kahungunu people. Rongokako was said to be able to take giant strides, and he left footprints at a place known as Te Tapuwae-o-Rongokako (Rongokako’s footprint), near Whāngārā. Te Mata Peak in Hawke’s Bay is known as his final resting place. It is said his form can be seen in the adjacent hills.
Rongokako’s son (Kahungunu’s father) was Tamatea-pōkaiwhenua. He is mentioned in a place name said to be the world’s longest: Taumata-whakatangihanga-kōauau-o-tamatea-turi-pūkaka-piki-maunga-horonuku-pōkai-whenua-ki-tānatahu. It means ‘the place where Tamatea, the man with the big knees, who slid, climbed and swallowed mountains, known as landeater, played his flute to his loved one’.