Located in the East Coast region
At low tide, deep channels and pools are exposed in the reef, which are ideal for snorkelling. It’s a wonderful place to wander over and explore the rock pools, where you will see anemones, small fish and the large crayfish for which the area is renowned.
Underwater visibility can be low, but if you strike a calm day the deep channel running through the reef is a good place for scuba divers or snorkelers to see species such as blue moki and crayfish.
During the incoming and outgoing tide, there can sometimes be a current in the channel draining the reef platform. If you plan to snorkel or scuba dive in the channel, check the tide times beforehand and plan your dive accordingly.
Te Tapuwae o Rongokako marine reserve is on the east coast of the North Island, approximately 16 km north of Gisborne.
You can get to the reserve from SH35, public access at Pouawa.
Be aware of private land. The beach above the strand line of the seaweed is private land. The pa and farmland are private property and there is no public access.
Don't take, disturb, kill or damage anything within the reserve - it's illegal. If you see people taking anything from the reserve, report the activity to DOC as soon as possible. You can call 0800 4 POACHER (0800 476 224) or 0800 DOCHOT (0800 362 468). It is also an offence to pollute or litter the reserve, discharge any firearm in or into the reserve or erect any structure in the reserve.
Low tide is best for beach-walking and also for snorkelling or shore-diving, as the reef platform can be almost completely cut off from the open sea at low tide, creating a shallow and sheltered area for entering the water and for exploring the rocky shore.
Weather and sea conditions can change rapidly - be prepared by checking the local tide tables and the weather forecast.
The subtidal area of the reserve contains several distinct habitats. Down to about 10 metres in depth, a variety of seaweeds such as flapjack and kelp can be found and kina, marine snails, sponges and other animals are common. Fish species include spotties (paketi), banded wrasse (tangahangaha), red moki (nanua), hiwihiwi, butterfish (greenbone, marari), marblefish (kehe) and parore.
You may see hundreds of tiny crayfish in the crevices and overhangs, depending on the time of year. At between 10 and 20 metres depth, there are extensive kelp forests, which are home to many different fish species, such as scarlet wrasse (puwaiwhakarua), scorpionfish, sweep (hui) and leatherjackets (kokiri). Sponges, hydroids, anemones, soft corals and sea squirts thrive on the rock faces and overhangs.
The footprint of Rongokako (Te tapuwae o Rongokako), an ancestor of East Coast tradition, is embedded in one of the rocky structures of the marine reserve, close to shore.
There are many traditions surrounding Rongokako. He was a giant of great athletic prowess and dexterity, who could stride long distances. Although his origins are unclear, some say he was the father of Tamatea and came from Hawaiki in the Takitimu canoe. Others say he came in the Horouta canoe. Another version suggests that his arrival was as mysterious as his departure.
According to local tradition, Rongokako was sent by Kiwa to investigate the late arrival of the Horouta waka to Turanganui-a-Kiwa. On his arrival at Ohiwa, a disagreement arose between Rongokako and Paoa and the two giants fought. Paoa chased Rongokako down the East Coast shoreline. To help overtake Rongokako, he set a large rat trap to snare the giant's pet, an enormous kiwi. But Rongokako saw the danger and sprang the trap, which flew inland forming Mount Arowhana. The site of the trap became Tawhiti, an area between Te Puia and Tokomaru Bay.
Rongokako left footprints in the flat rocks as he strode down the eastern seaboard of the North Island. The first of these tapuwae (footprints) is at Wharekahika (Hick's Bay). The second is at Kaiora, south of Whangara mai tawhiti, from which is derived the name of this marine reserve, Te Tapuwae o Rongokako. The next footprint is located at Turanga, another at Nukutaurua, on the Mahia Peninsula. Rongokako then stepped over to Te Matau-a-Maui (Cape Kidnappers), then to the shores of Raukawa (Cook Strait). He crossed the Strait and was gone.
Kaiora, the settlement that overlooks the marine reserve, was a well populated papa kainga (village). The famous East Coast chief, Porourangi, lived here and is buried close by.
Konohi, the local chief, also inhabited the district. He had three sons Marukauiti, Te Riwai and Wahakapi, from whom the present tribe of Whangara mai tawhiti claim descent.