Stories of Tasman Bay or Te Tai-o-Aorere


1. An ancient legend -  Tūtaeporoporo

This story confirms that Whakatū was recognised throughout Aotearoa as an important mahinga kai (food-gathering place).

A Taniwha
Tūtaeporoporo was an enormous shark that preyed on seasonal visitors and passing travellers in the waters of Te Tai a Whakatū (Tasman Bay).  He was eventually hooked by Tu Ariki, a Ngāti Apa chief from the Rangitikei district in the North Island, who was on a regular seasonal fishing trip to Whakatū.  Tu Ariki was the great great great grandson of Ruatea, the captain of the Kurahaupo waka from Hawaiki. 

Tu Ariki

Whakapapa of Tu Ariki. Image by Brian Flintoff

After a protracted struggle Tu Ariki dragged Tūtaeporopo into his waka.  There was such a pleading look in the taniwha’s eyes that the chief took pity on him and released him back into the water instead of delivering the customary death blow.   

An Inseparable Pair

From that day on Tūtaeporoporo accompanied Tu Ariki wherever he went on fishing expeditions and war parties by sea or inland waterways.  When Tu Ariki was killed in battle, Tūtaeporoporo was overcome by grief and anger;  he sought utu (revenge) for his loss by preying on all human travellers on or near the great Whanganui River.


Tu Ariki captures Tūtaeporoporo ki te Tai a Whakatū. Image by Brian Flintoff

A Plan to Rid Themselves of the Monster
Local tribes combined to protect their people from the taniwha.  Brave Aokehu, a grandson of Hinewaitai, sister-in-law of Turi who captained the Aotea from Hawaiki, volunteered;  he hid in a watertight box pitched into the river to be devoured by the monster which would eat anything smelling like a human.  Aokehu emerged from the box in the beast’s stomach and attacked from the inside, eventually killing Tūtaeporoporo.  The floating carcass was followed downstream until it beached.  Tūtaeporoporo was then hacked open to release Aokehu, and a great hoard of weapons, clothes, waka and other treasures ingested by Tūtaeporoporo was retrieved.

Whakapapa and Time
The whakapapa of Tu Ariki and Aokehu place the events in the story in the late fourteenth – early fifteenth centuries.

Tu Ariki2

Whakapapa of Aokehu

2. The discoverer - Rākaihautū

This is the first traditional account that explicitly identifies the Whakatū area. According to whakapapa evidence, Rākaihautū sailed from Hawaiki across Te Moana a Kiwa (Pacific Ocean) to Aotearoa in c.850AD. His waka was Te Uruao, he was accompanied by his son Rakaihoua, and he carried his magic ko (digging stick), Tu Whakaroria. Te Uruao made landfall at Taumatini, near Whakatū. There Rākaihautū planted a karaka tree to mark their successful journey, handed the captaincy of the waka to his son, and agreed to rendezvous at the southernmost point of the land.


The voyages of Rākaihautū. Image supplied by Mitchell research


Image by Brian Flintoff

Rākaihautū set out to explore the hinterland. He dug up three trenches that filled with water, forming Lakes Rotoiti, Rotoroa and Rangatahi (Tennyson), and sculpted the surrounding mountain ranges. He continued south shaping the landscape and forming the southern lakes. He eventually rejoined Rakaihoua and his crew at Motupōhue (Bluff). The party then coasted back to Horomaka (Banks Peninsula) where they established a settlement. Rākaihautū marked his presence by plunging his ko into the land to form the rocky peak, Tuhiraki, now known as Mt. Bossu.

Te Iwi Waitaha
Twelve generations later a descendant, Waitaha, was born; the iwi who took his name spread throughout most of the South Island and parts of the North Island. At Whakatū they exploited the valuable pakohe (argillite) resource and began developing the extensive Waimea gardens.

3. Blind Bay - Tasman, Cook, D'Urville

When Europeans arrived to settle Te Tai o Whakatū (now Tasman Bay) it was known as Blind Bay. A number of European explorers had been in the general area but had not ventured into Whakatū itself.

A Dutch visit: Abel Tasman, 1642
In 1642 Abel Tasman, working for the Dutch East India Company, was sent to investigate the unknown “South Land”.  There were two ships, the Heemskerck and the Zeehaen, in his expedition.  On 13 December 1642 high mountainous land (Te Tai Poutini) was sighted and the ships coasted northwards, arriving in Mohua (Golden Bay) on 17 December.  They anchored about two kilometres offshore, possibly off Wharawharangi between Taupō Point and Te Matau (Separation Point). Ngāti Tūmatakōkiri were the iwi with manawhenua in Mohua at that time.

Some waka approached the ships but their paddlers and passengers could not be enticed aboard by offers to trade.  There were exchanges of voice and trumpet calls but little understanding between the cultures.

When Tasman decided to move the ships closer inshore more waka approached and a small boat travelling between the ships was attacked with the loss of four Dutch lives.

Blind Bay1

Image supplied by author

The ships weighed anchor and left immediately, peppering a large fleet of waka pursuing them with gunshot.  Tasman named the bay Moordenaers Baij (Murderers Bay), later known as Massacre Bay.  From Mohua the ships crossed Te Moana Raukawa (Cook Strait) into the Taranaki Bight.  They did not pay any attention to Te Tai o Whakatū.

A British visit: James Cook, 1769-1770
In 1769 Captain James Cook led an expedition funded by the British Government to explore and chart the Pacific Ocean including the supposed southern continent, to observe the transit of Venus in Tahiti, and to proclaim British sovereignty over new territories.  He captained the Endeavour, and was assisted in his interactions with Māori by the Tahitian chief, Tupaia.  Cook had copies of Tasman’s maps with him.

In order to chart the coastline Cook circumnavigated New Zealand, discovering the Strait that bears his name, and leaving amazingly accurate maps;  his only serious mistakes were recording Banks Peninsula as an island and Stewart Island as a peninsula.  Unfortunately he travelled direct from Farewell Spit to Stephens Island/Takapourewa, and named the intervening space (now Golden Bay/Mohua and Tasman Bay/ Te Tai-o-Aorere) Blind Bay because he could not see the bottom of it.  He did record that “I have reason to believe this to be Tasman’s Murderer’s Bay”.

Blind Bay2

Image supplied by author


Because Cook’s charts were used by subsequent explorers, traders, whalers and the New Zealand Company, Blind Bay remained as the name for Tasman Bay for many years, while Tasman’s Murderers Bay became Massacre Bay.

Cook led two further expeditions to New Zealand in 1773-1774 and 1777 but did not visit Nelson districts. He was responsible for names we are familiar with – Rocks Point, Cape Farewell, Cape Stephens, Stephens Island, Admiralty Bay, Queen Charlotte's Sound and Cloudy Bay.

A French visit: Dumont D'Urville, 1827
Dumont D'Urville, captain of the French naval vessel Astrolabe, spent a week in Blind Bay (Tasman Bay/ Te Tai-o-Aorere) in January 1827.  The journals and illustrations of his crew are the only known pre-colonial accounts of the Tasman Bay area.  D'Urville had Cook’s maps, instructions to chart waters around the Pacific islands with greater detail, and some facility in Te Reo Māori which allowed limited communication.

The Astrolabe found anchorage at what is now known as Astrolabe Roadstead in the lee of Motuareronui (Adele Island) on the western side of Tasman Bay.  From there the crew traded and shared social occasions with Māori, examined the greater bay area, and recorded their impressions of the locals they interacted with.

Many aspects of Māori life including physical appearance, clothing, housing, trade preferences, ornamentation (tattooing, hairstyles and adornments), haka, waka and waka handling, relationships (gender and class), and curiosity about the ship and other European goods were detailed in journals and drawings.

One surprise was that several Māori men had their noses pierced, and two wore a little piece of wood in their noses.  Lesson, botanist and surgeon on the Astrolabe, said that despite the almost frantic desire to trade for European goods, only one man in Tasman Bay was willing to trade his ear ornament, what “the natives prize the most and part with only very reluctantly … often merely long, smooth, rounded sticks of green jade”.

Blind Bay 3

Chart by Guilbert, 1827

Only two kainga (villages) were named – “Maitche” on Guilbert’s chart, “Mae-Tehai” in D'Urville’s log, perhaps Motueka or Matakohe from its location on the map, and “Shoitche” on the map, “Skoi-Tehai” according to D'Urville, which seems to be located at or near the Boulder Bank, either at the Glen or perhaps on the other end on what is now Haulashore Island;  there are no letters “s” or “c” in Te Reo Māori.  Guilbert’s map shows “Baie Tasman” for Cook’s Blind Bay.

The chiefs expressed well-grounded fears of imminent attack by tribes armed with guns from the north.

D'Urville left a number of names still in current use:  Separation Point, Astrolabe, Torrent Bay, Adele Island, Fisherman Island, Pepin Island, Croisilles (or Croixelles), Cape Soucis (Cape Anxiety), French Pass, and of course D'Urville Island, although he only agreed to the latter until such time as the island’s Māori name (Rangitoto) became known.

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Further sources - Stories of Tasman Bay or Te Tai-o-Aorere


  • Mitchell, H & J (2004) Te Tau Ihu o Te Waka: A History of Maori of Nelson and Marlborough, Vol I The People and the land. Wellington, N.Z. : Huia Publishers