Ngati Tuwharetoa

Tongariro – the Ngati Tuwharetoa Story

Ko Tongariro te Maunga,
Ko Taupo te Moana,
Ko Tuwharetoa te Iwi,
Ko Te Heuheu te tangata

Tongariro is the mountain,
Taupo is the lake,
Tuwharetoa is the people,
Te Heuheu is the man.

 In the long ago there was a great number of mountains in the heart of Te Ika-a-Maui, the North Island of Aotearoa (New Zealand). Far more than you see today. Like gods they stood here and Tongariro was the chief of them all, but in those far-away days the lofty snow-capped Taranaki lived here too. He stood where the round lakes Nga Puna Tamatea (Tama Lakes) now lie, and beside him stood Tauhara and Putauaki (Mt. Edgecombe). All these mountains were gods and warriors, and all male except for one. Her name was Pihanga and she still stands here today as the gently rounded eastern buttress of the Kakaramea Range. Her richly coloured robe of forest is held closely about her womanly form.  

All the warrior mountains loved Pihanga and each wished her to become his wife. But the one she favoured most was Tongariro, crowned by the summit of Ngauruhoe. Tongariro was determined to have Pihanga for his own and turned on the other mountains to drive them away. A fierce battle developed and the landscape was burned and scarred as fiery rocks were thrown and the mountains heaved in combat.

Tongariro was victorious. He fought the other mountains and defeated them. Pihanga was his.

The defeated mountains debated amongst themselves about where they should go. They said to each other, "We must separate, we should go this way and that, for Pihanga now belongs to Tongariro and we have no place here."

Tauhara and Putauaki, who stood where Rotoaira Lake is now, agreed. "Yes we will leave immediately and go to where the sea looks towards the rising sun." They had decided to head towards the Bay of Plenty where there was room for mountains. Taranaki decided to go west.

The mountains parted. They uprooted themselves and began their travels, crying their farewells to Pihanga as they went. "Remain you here O Pihanga," they said. "We are going away."

They travelled all through on night. It was a magic pilgrimage through the hours of darkness; the only time when spirits and mountains can journey. Taranaki travelled fast and angrily and at daylight he halted at the sea coast where he now gazes towards the setting sun.

Putauaki was halted by the dawn when he had travelled the greater part of his journey east. He now stands at the northern end of the Kaingaroa Plain looking down on the wide valley of the Rangitaiki. He is the Ngati Awa’s sacred mountain. A great cone of green and blue, his quiet crater holding a little lake.

But Tauhara was the slowest of Pihanga’s admirers. He travelled with tardy, lingering steps. He paused many times to gaze towards his lost love. When daylight came and stopped his march he had reached the place where he still stands, near the shores of Taupo Moana (Lake Taupo). He eternally looks back across the lake at the beautiful Pihanga.

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