Tamatea

This is the story of Tamatea who captained Takitimu, another canoe that journeyed to the South Island after dropping most of its passengers in Te Ika-a-Māui, the North Island. The story describes and explains familiar Te Waipounamu, South Island landmarks and place names.

Maori banner, cultural narrative

As Tamatea and his crew travelled south in their canoe Takitimu, they were caught in a terrible storm. Day and night they fought the raging storm in an effort to save their canoe.

Finally, they made it to Te Ara-a-Kiwa, Foveaux Strait, exhausted, hungry and scared. Working hard to bring the broken canoe to shore, they limped slowly into Te Waewae Bay where the unforgiving sea overcame them again. The canoe broke and threw the people and cargo onto the beach.

They rested for a while in Te Waewae Bay, but as the seasons moved towards winter, Tamatea decided they should begin the long journey home. Their travels north were filled with adventures that are recorded in place names and landmarks throughout Te Waipounamu.

Fire was very important to the early travellers and Tamatea’s sacred flame was saved when the canoe capsized. Its embers, contained in a hollowed out log, were jealously protected by its guardians.

When they arrived at Oamaru, the fire sank into the ground overnight, leaving only ashes and a charred stick to be found in the morning, but the sacred fire burned long, hard and deep into the ground, even burning rocks. Soon only ash was left, and after centuries, the ash consolidated to form stone. This stone is known today as Oamaru stone, or sandstone.

Continuing up the island, Tamatea and his people rested at Rāpaki in Te Whakaraupō, Lyttelton, where Tamatea realised that he needed help. Climbing to the top of the mountain overlooking Rāpaki, he sent karakia back to a tohunga called Ngatoroirangi.

At the time Ngatoroirangi was resting at the foot of Tongariro in the Bay of Plenty. He heard the call for help and sent a request to his two sisters Te Pupu and Te Hoata to take fire to Tamatea.

The sisters could change themselves into fireballs. They sped across the landscape, gouging out the riverbed of the Whanganui River, leaping across Raukawa Moana, Cook Strait to Whakatū, Nelson and travelling on until they reached Te Iringa o Kahukura, the Port Hills where they sped along the top of the hills until they reached Tamatea at Rāpaki.

Tamatea and his people were saved and followed the warm path all the way back to the foot of Tongariro where they thanked the tohunga.

As the sisters travelled down Te Waipounamu to Tamatea, embers dropped off and caused thermal activity at both Hanmer and Maruia.