The Ngāi Tahu creation story explains the southern landscape. Te Waka o Aoraki is the South Island. Aoraki is Mount Cook, Rakirua Mount Teichelmann, Rakiroa Mount Dampier and Rarakiroa is Mount Tasman. Together they reside on Ngā Tiritiri o te Moana – or the whitecaps of the ocean, more commonly known as the Southern Alps.

Cultural narrative, Aoraki

To begin – there was nothing. From this nothing arose Te Māku who coupled with Mahoranuiatea to bring forth Ranginui, sky father. Ranginui, who had many wives, first married Pokoharuatepō and from their union came Aoraki, Rakirua, Rakiroa and Rarakiroa.

The four brothers lived in heaven, but one day decided to visit their step-mother Papatūānuku. They travelled down from heaven in their canoe to explore the land and seas.

After a while they decided to find some food before returning to heaven. In a good fishing ground they lowered their hooks and waited, but no fish came. They became hungrier and hungrier until they were so hungry they decided to go home, to the heavens.

As they readied the canoe to return, Aoraki began to recite the karakia that would take the magical canoe back to the heavens. But the brothers were so tired, hungry and disappointed that they began to grumble, and finally to fight.

Aoraki became so distracted by the fighting that he lost his concentration and made a fatal error in the karakia. The canoe crashed back down to earth with parts of it breaking off and scattering across the sea as the canoe overturned. It was a terrible disaster.

The brothers saved themselves by climbing on top of the overturned canoe and although Aoraki tried and tried to fix the error in the karakia, nothing could undo the damage.

They never returned to their father Ranginui, but remained on earth with Papatūānuku where the canoe became their permanent home. After many generations, the brothers eventually turned to stone, the tallest of them being Aoraki.