Kupe and the Boulder Bank


The distinctive Boulder Bank protecting Nelson Haven, known to Māori as Te Taero a Kereopa (the obstruction of Koreopa) or Te Tahuna a Tama-i-ea, was named to commemorate exploits during Kupe's visit to Aotearoa in about 1350.  

Kupe pursued a giant octopus, scourge of Kupe's fishing ground in Hawaiki, across the Pacific to Aotearoa, finally dispatching it at Whekenui Bay, Tory Channel. Before returning home Kupe visited Nukuwaiata  to gather fish, shellfish and birds for the long journey north. Two of Kupe's men, Pani and Kereopa, who wished to remain with tangata whenua , absconded in canoes after kidnapping Kupe's daughter.

The Boulder BankNelson's Boulder Bank. Image courtesy Nelson City Council
Click image to enlarge

Kupe launched his waka in hot pursuit, dashing through Te Aumiti and into Tasman Bay.   The fugitives threw Kupe's daughter overboard, forcing him to divert to rescue her, and also prayed for currents, whirlpools and storms, and created reefs and rocky headlands. Nevertheless, Kupe's Matahourua steadily gained on them until the runaways separated as they coasted towards Whakatū.

Kupe's pursuitKupe's pursuit of Pani and Kereopa. From Mitchell H & J. Te Tau Ihu o Te waka v.1.(Topo data Eagle Technology & Linz and cartography Moira Jackson Assoc). Permission must be sought for further use of image.)
Click image to enlarge

Kupe first pursued Kereopa, who paddled towards the shore. Kereopa offered karakia, which caused boulders at the foot of Horoirangi1 (Mackay's Bluff) to fall into the sea and create a barrier between his waka and the Matahourua. No matter how hard Kupe's crew paddled, Kereopa's boulder bank grew apace, and they could not outstrip it. Kereopa landed and fled inland.  

Kupe then turned his attention to Pani, who had circled back towards Rangitoto ki te Tonga. Pani also invoked deities and taniwha to whip up storms and violent currents to impede Kupe, but without success. When Pani's party swung around the northern tip of Rangitoto into the passage between it and Takapourewa their canoe was overwhelmed in rips and all drowned. Kupe witnessed the tragedy and named the passage Nga Tai Whaka Hoki Hoki a Pani, or the wild seas which caused Pani's canoe to overturn,  and now known as Hell's Gate.  

The overturned canoe became a rock formation named Te Waka a Pani; Pani's daughters became an unusual large split rock, Nga Tamahine (the daughters) a Pani, and his slave (mokai) also became a rock known as Te Mokai a Pani.   In a cave nearby, Te Ana a Pani, Kupe trapped Pani's spirit forever. A a loud moaning noise can be heard when tides surge into it - Pani's eternal grief over his downfall.

Kereopa escaped. His name is perpetuated in senior lines of Ngāti Kuia and other South Island tribes. Some southern Māori claim descent from Kereopa through his marriage to a Waitaha woman.2

Many other features of Te Tau Ihu , especially in eastern parts, were named for events during Kupe's visit. Naming or renaming the landscape was a sign of taking possession in Maori tikanga.

In 2013 the Boulder Bank was registered as a historic area by Heritage New Zealand. In 2014 the area was listed as a wahi tapu site by Nelson City Council.


Note on the geological origins of the Boulder Bank

The 13.5km long barrier spit sheltering Nelson Haven is a unique geological feature composed of granodiorite pebbles, cobbles and boulders derived from Mackay Bluff, north of Glenduan. The granodiorite was intruded into the earth's crust 140 to 145 million years ago at the beginning of the Cretaceous period. Subsequent uplift and erosion has exposed the granodiorite, angular pieces of which fall from the bluff where they are transported by coastal longshore currents in a southwesterly direction. Because the granodiorite is very hard, with few planes of weakness, the pieces do not readily disintegrate. Instead, as they abrade against each other they become progressively more rounded and smaller as the distance from Mackay Bluff increases. Movement of material is still continuing, requiring regular dredging of The Cut, an artificial shipping channel into Nelson Haven that opened in 1906. Today, the Boulder Bank is managed as a scenic reserve by Department of Conservation. Land access is gained along Boulder Bank Drive, signposted at the northern end of Nelson Haven on State Highway 6 or from Glenduan sited 15km north of Nelson.

Information supplied by Mike Johnston, Nelson geologist, to Janet Bathgate for publication on a Nelson City Council Interpretation Panel

Updated April 2020

Sources used in this story

  1. Horoirangi, approximately 11 kilometres north of Nelson City, towers over the southern boundary of Wakapuaka, so-named by Kupe because of the similarity of the coastal terrain to Wakapuaka in Hawaiki
  2. 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, pp.31-37.

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  • This was a verry good site to learn about the formation of the boulder bank.

    Posted by Katie, ()

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