Pūrākau - Legends of Te Tau Ihu


The stories and legends, or pūrākauof Te Tau Ihu tell of significant events in the history of the region. Some are Polynesia-wide legends, including creation myths, adapted to local landscapes; others are parables to identify or protect valuable resources, or sagas which glorify human qualities prized by Māori. Some stories act as an aide-memoire to recall ancestors and events of the Hawaiki homeland; others are oral maps for the guidance of travellers. Some well known ones are:

The Separation of Rangi and PapaThe Separation of Rangi and Papa, from Cowan, J. Legends of the Maori (Volume 1) Part of: New Zealand Text Collection 
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Tutaeporoporo, The Taniwha of the WhanganuiTutaeporoporo, The Taniwha of the Whanganui from Cowan, J. (Ed.) Legends of the Maori. In New Zealand Electronic Text Centre
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There are stories of very early visitors to Te Tau Ihu from Hawaiki:

  •  Makautere and Tapuae-o-Uenuku landed at Waipapa on the Kaikōura Coast, and named many rivers, mountains and other features.
  • Kupe, whose exploits are known throughout Aotearoa and beyond, travelled on the Matahourua in pursuit of a giant octopus which was interfering with his fishing in Hawaiki. His journey took several years, and he finally dispatched the octopus at Whekenui (named for the event) in Tory Channel / Kura Te Au. Hundreds of traditional place names in Te Tau Ihu derive from Kupe's visit.

Other stories encompass:

  • Hinepoupou's epic swim from Kapiti Island to Rangitoto (D'Urville Island) after being abandoned there by her unfaithful husband
  • an explanation about the origins of the name Onamalutu in the Wairau Valley, a corruption of the name Ōhinemahuta.
  • Hui Te Rangiora's exploration of the southern seas where he encountered icebergs
  • the origins of the name Te Moana Raukawa (Cook Strait).

Some accounts of pre-whakapapa tribes and early whakapapa tribes have mythical elements:

  • Ngā Tūrehu were a supernatural people usually associated with elves and fairies (the fair-skinned Patupaiarehe); Māori are said to have acquired netmaking and weaving skills after Māori women were kidnapped by Ngā Tūrehu and later escaped.
  • Ngā Kāhui Tipua are variously depicted as a race of giants, dog-faced ogres, taniwha, or human beings. Their stories are based in Te Koko-o-Kupe / Cloudy Bay about the time of Kupe's visit.
  • Rākaihautū, an ancestor of Waitaha, disembarked from the Uruao from Hawaiki at Whakatū. Armed with his magic kō he journeyed south digging lakes - Rotoiti, Rotoroa, and Rangatahi (Lake Tennyson) - and sculpting mountain ranges, to rejoin the Uruao in Foveaux Strait / Te Ara-o-Kiwa.

These myths, legends and oral histories demonstrate how Māori perceived the world in times past, what they feared, and what human qualities they admired. They are important keys to many local place names.


Updated April 2020

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    Posted by Robin M Wright, 04/09/2019 5:40am (5 years ago)

  • I am from nz but i moved to aussie last year. and i never knew how much i would miss home so now i have been on the internet and searching maori stuff. im part maori and i love learning maori things. do you have any suggestions on how i could as my school to start maori culture? there are over 400 new zealanders at my school and over 10 teachers. any advice? Ed. I suggest you contact the Maori Language Commission (http://www.tetaurawhiri.govt.nz/). They should be able to provide you with information and resources.

    Posted by Cassie, ()

  • kia ora, bro it's awesome to see our maori people get into our beautiful culture, well cuz the best resource for learning te reo is "Tewhanake.maori.nz" http://www.tewhanake.maori.nz/
    hope this helps cuz
    kia pai a ratou ako
    mauri ora

    Posted by hehana, ()

  • Kia ora, I am a teacher at a kura kaupapa maori in Wellington and we will be studying korero on this area. Could you please recommend some resources or childrens books on legends and other korero we could teach our tamariki please.

    Kia Ora Muri, There is not much written for children on this area. I suggest John & Hilary Mitchell's book "Te Tau Ihu o te Waka" Volume I, p.18-42. We will search for further titles to add to our bibliography. Ed.

    Posted by Muri, ()

  • kia ora koe, my name is Wahine and i have been trying to search for any info on the three sacred rocks/stones that was scattered throughout the world namely, asia, new zealand and ?. i watched an episode on maori television a few months ago in regards to io and the three stones, have tried to google but come up with no answers. i believe tht these three stones were cast out over the world as portals to the next life. if you hve any info for me that would be so helpful thanx. Ed. We will get back to you on this

    Posted by wahine, ()

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