Boulder Bank Stories


1. Kupe, Kereopa and Pani - the creation of the Boulder Bank at Whakatū

Re-discovery of Aotearoa
There is no mention of the Boulder Bank in the stories of Rākaihautū, the discoverer of Aotearoa in the 9th century, perhaps because it was not created until c.400 years later when Kupe, captain of the Matahourua, re-discovered this southern land.  Kupe and his crew had chased Whekenui, a dreadful taniwha and scourge of travellers on the lagoon at Hawaiki, across Te Moana a Kiwa (Pacific Ocean);  they finally ran it to ground and killed it in Kura Te Au (Tory Channel).  The party then moved to Nukuwaiata (Chetwode Island) in Te Moana Raukawa (Cook Strait) to catch and preserve birds and fish to re-stock Matahourua for their long journey home. 

Kereopa and Pani abscond, Kupe pursues
Kereopa and Pani,  warrior-tohunga (priests), were crewmen on the Matahourua.  While at Nukuwaiata they met local women and decided to remain in Aotearoa;  they each built small waka and departed, but for some strange reason took Kupe’s daughter with them as a sort of hostage, which naturally provoked Kupe to immediately give chase.  Pursued across Admiralty Bay, Kereopa and Pani paddled to Te Aumiti (French Pass) where, to create a diversion, they threw the girl into the maelstrom. 


Image by Brian Flintoff 2003

Having rescued the girl, Kupe, now bent on utu, resumed the pursuit, along Current Basin between Rangitoto (D'Urville Island) and the mainland, and into Te Tai-o-Aorere (Tasman Bay).  The Matahourua, with its many crew, soon gained on Kereopa and Pani who decided to separate.  Kereopa hugged the coastline while Pani traced a wide arc towards the west before heading towards the northern side of Rangitoto. 

Kereopa Creates a Moving Barricade
Initially Kupe followed Kereopa;  during the pursuit Kupe was intrigued at how similar one area was to Wakapuaka in Hawaiki, so he gave that name to the locality just north of Whakatū.  Seeing Kupe rapidly closing on his small craft, Kereopa chanted karakia (prayers, incantations), causing the rocks at the foot of the cliffs (now known as Mackay’s Bluff) to begin moving.  

Try as they might, Kupe’s crew could not outpace the growing barricade which protected Kereopa on the haven he was creating;  Kereopa and his party were able to land and escape inland.  One of the names for the Boulder Bank at Whakatū, Te Taero a Kereopa – The Barrier of Kereopa, commemorates the event.


Image supplied by author

The Demise of Pani
Kupe then turned his attention to Pani who was attempting to pass through the frightful waterway, now known as Hell’s Gate, between Rangitoto and Takapourewa (Stephens Is).  In the turbulent current and stormy conditions even Pani’s karakia could not prevent disaster;  his waka was overturned, and everything was turned to stone.  The dangerous tidal reef in the channel is Te Waka a Pani, lying on its side;  the two halves of a split rock, Nga Tamahine a Pani, are his daughters, forever frozen as witnesses to their father’s folly;  and Pani’s wairua (spirit) is trapped in a cave, Te Ana a Pani, where, with the right conditions of wind and tide, he can be heard bewailing his eternal punishment.

2. Potoru and Te Ririno

The Boulder Bank at Whakatū features in another of the Great Migration stories, involving two waka travelling across the Pacific from Hawaiki  -  the Aotea captained by Turi and Te Ririno commanded by Potoru.  Some traditions claim that Turi and Potoru were cousins, that their waka were hewn from the same tree, and that they sailed together for part of the journey, to Rangitahua in the Kermadecs. 

Potoru and Turi in Dispute
At Rangitahua the crews re-stocked and repaired their waka before the final leg south to Aotearoa, but soon after departing Turi and Potoru differed in their interpretations of Kupe’s sailing directions.  Turi claimed that after clearing Rangitahua they should sail towards the rising sun, whereas Potoru vehemently insisted that westwards into the sunset was the correct bearing.  Potoru would not yield, so for a time Turi accompanied him but kept well out to sea.  Being closer in-shore Te Ririno was caught in a rip and raging surf and became unmanageable;  eventually the vessel was flung onto a low-lying reef called Taputapuatea where it was wrecked and all hands drowned. 

Turi’s interpretation must have been correct for the Aotea was certainly navigated successfully to Aotearoa, making a series of landfalls on the West Coast of the North Island.  Turi and most of his crew settled at Patea and eventually spread to other districts.  Today thousands of Māori people whakapapa to Turi and other crew members of the Aotea.

However most accounts claim that the two canoes proceeded south together for most of the journey from Rangitahua to Aotearoa and it was as they approached the coast of the North Island that the dispute between Turi and Potoru flared up.  According to these versions Te Ririno was wrecked on the coast of Aotearoa and not on a reef several hundred kilometers to the north. 

Potoru‘s Demise
At least three accounts identify the site of the wrecking as the Boulder Bank at Whakatū.  An ancient oriori (song, lament) preserved in the traditions of the Taranaki tribes commemorates this version of events, and explicitly identifies the site of the disaster as O-tama-i-ea, one of the ancient names of the Boulder Bank:


An ancient oriori commemorating the Taranaki tribes version of Potoru's demise

A Cautionary Whakatauki
Although Potoru and his companions on Te Ririno have no known descendants, his name remains immortalised in a famous whakatauki (proverb) to describe a foolishly stubborn person:

“E tohi i nga tohi a Potoru       
Persist, with the obstinacy of Potoru … and see where it gets you!”

The Place-name “Wakatū”
Some traditions claim that the wrecking of Te Ririno led to the place-name spelt “Wakatū” – from “waka” (canoe) and “tu” (meaning stood up, thrown up, cast up as in a storm).  There are other traditions from which “Wakatū” is derived, and also derivations of “the spelling Whakatū”. 

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