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To the Heretaunga plains

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To Heretaunga Plains

From Nukutaurua to the Heretaunga Plains

At Nukutaurua, the Kurahaupo people had a reasonably comfortable life. The sea gave them plenty of fish and shellfish, and there were eels in the lagoons and estuaries, but the land was not so generous. The plants they had brought with them; Taro, Kumara, Yam, Aute, Gourd and Cabbage tree did not grow well there.

If they wanted the plants they had brought with them to yield crops, they needed to move.

In those times there were no roads, only a few tracks, and the Maori had no wheels or pack animals. When moving from one place to another the choice was simple. Either; walk and carry what you have with you, or put it in a boat and paddle.

The founding population of New Zealand was born of Polynesian seafarers; accomplished boat builders, navigators and sailors. Boats were the principle means of transport. As New Zealand was settled, it was populated first around its water margins, coast and river, and later, inland. To travel any significant distance except by water was extremely arduous in this hilly and unbroken land.

Diary. Heretaunga

“We set of for the plains with everything we could fit in the canoes. Some of the men returned for the rest later.

We rounded the Cape and saw across the Bay for the first time. It was a long way, but we could see the hills on the far shore in the distance; our new home. As we went around the bay we could see that there were other people in the area, we could see their fires. The men had already spoken to some of them. We wouldn’t go where the hearths are kept warm, we didn’t want to fight. We went to the land at the far Eastern end of the bay, close to Te Matau-a-Māui.

At Te Awanga we have a good little harbour, and river. Fishing is good out towards the Cape, and there are plenty of crabs and shellfish around the rocks. We have hills behind us and the plains at our side. The hills give us big trees, for building and for canoes. We burned the bush off the flat land next to us and turned the ash into the ground; it makes fine planting fields.

The soil here is good to work with; as it is neither too hard for the Ko to break, nor too wet for the young plants.

Our plants are thriving in the good soil and sunshine. They will never dry out here. Even if the land dries we will be able to give them water from the rivers. This year’s harvest will be good. Until then we have what sea and forests give us, as well as the fern root that we have been shown by the local people.

This is a bountiful land. Thank the spirits.”

Most of the Kurahaupo people moved on, but Popoto stayed and married Nanaia. Six generations later Rongomaiwahine, was born, famous for her beauty. Rogomaiwahine had exceptional lineage. She was descended from both Popoto, captain of the Kurahaupo and Ruawharo, Tohunga of the Takitimu. Rongomaiwahine rose to lead a tribe of that name, and those people remain on Mahia to this day.

Under the leadership of Whatonga, The Kurahaupo people left Nukutaurua for the lush plains around what is now known as Hastings, in Hawke’s Bay. It is a large and sheltered coastal plain with fertile soils. The plains are watered and drained by three large rivers that never run dry, and it is amongst the sunniest parts of the country. These days it is famous for its wines; a testament to the region’s wonderful growing conditions.

The people of the Kurahaupo settled on the plains, but they were not the only people that had found the location attractive… there were already groups there; the Te Tini a Awa, Ngati Mahu, Ngati Mamoe, and Ngati Ira. Each had their own territories.

One of the elements defining a tribe’s range was where their fire pits were located. Where they regularly lit fires was considered to be within their ‘rohe’, or territory. If you moved onto land that had recent fire pits on it, then you should expect that someone else had prior claim over it.

There were four principal means of acquiring territory.
– The land was vacant
– Your people had always been there
– The territory was gifted to your people by someone with rightful guardianship
– Your people took the land by conquest

If you trespassed on someone else’s land uninvited, then you should expect to be evicted.

The Kurahaupo people occupied the coast and land to the East of the Tukituki River.

Whatonga built himself a house he called ‘Heretaunga’ which was known for its fine carvings. ‘Heretaunga’ means; a place where you tie up the canoes, but over the course of time this name became used to represent the whole area.

On these fertile Heretaunga plains, the Kurahaupo people and their crops flourished.

Whatonga’s first son was born at Te Awanga, to his first wife, Hotuwaipara. They named him ‘Tara-Ika’. The story is that Whatonga went on a fishing trip to Cape Kidnappers where he caught a lot of fish. On his return his wife cut herself on the spines of one of the fish, and Tara-Ika, ‘fish spine’, was named after this event.

Cape kidnappers is known to the Maori as ‘Te Matau-a-Māui’, ‘the fishhook of Maui’ that pulled up the North Island..

Whatongas exploration

Whatonga’s exploration of the North Island

After Tara was born, Whatonga set out to explore some of this new land. He rounded Cape Kidnappers and followed the coast of the North Island in an anti-clockwise direction. He touched the top of the South Island, and entered Wellington Harbour which he named for his son; ‘Te Whanganui a Tara’, ‘The great harbour of Tara’.

He continued around the coast to the west and north and then went up the Manawatu River. At Aokautere (to the East of Palmerston North) he married his second wife, Reretua, and had another son, Tautoki. After a while, Whatonga moved on again, back to Heretaunga, bringing with him his new wife Reretua and infant Tautoki.

Reretua had at least two more sons, and Hotuwaipara had another son, Tumatakokiri.

Among the Polynesian immigrants it was common for the men to have multiple wives. These were often women from the ‘Tangata Whenua’, the ‘People of the Land’, that were already living there.

The Heretaunga Plain

The Heretaunga Plains

To the South-West of Napier is the township of Taradale. It’s original name is Omaranui, which means ‘place of abundant cultivation’. Overlooking it, and controlling the Tutaekuri River is a huge Pa site called Otatara. This is an ancient site that was occupied by the Ngati Ira when the Kurahaupo people arrived.

Tara took his people, and with the Ngati Mamoe mounted an unsuccessful assault on Otatara Pa. In retaliation, Te Whakumu, Chief of Te Ira, led 400 men in an attack on the Ngati Mamoe stronghold at Puketapu.

This indicates the scale of the population on the plains at that time; a single tribe could present 400 warriors when required.

Rangitanes Pa

Tanenuiarangi Pa, 1859, By Henry Bates. Alexander Turnbull Library. Reference Number: NON-ATL-0008. Object #11978

Tautoki married Waipuna, and they had a son Rangitane, (also known as Tānenuiarangi), who became the eponymous ancestor of the Rangitane tribe. Rangitane, built a Pa on the South side of the Ngaruroro River, in direct sight of Otatara, where he lived with his Grandfather, Whatonga. The Tānenuiarangi Pa was still occupied in 1859 when Europeans arrived, but is now the site of the Whakatu meat works.

Heretaunga became a springboard for growth, and inspired by Whatonga’s explorations, Tara set out to claim some of the new land he had discovered.

Kurahaupo expansion

The progress of the Kurahaupo population

Tara and his people made their way south from Heretaunga to ‘Te Whanganui a Tara’, Wellington Harbour. There they settled at Mirimar, which at that time was still an island. By the time Tara reached Mirimar they numbered over 200 people, and Tara had become the Eponymous ancestor of Ngai Tara. From Mirimar, Ngai Tara looked across Cook Strait to the South Island. In time they occupied the Marlborough Sounds and the coast around Nelson.

The Rangitane people expanded down the East coast occupying all that coast until their territory met with that of their cousin’s, now the Ngai Tara. From Palliser Bay they crossed to Wairau and the Blenheim plains.

The descendants of Whatonga, through Tara and Rangitane expanded their range, eventually occupying and controlling the whole of the North Island from Heretaunga south.

While Tara and Rangitane went South, another of Whatonga’s sons, Tumatakokiri, headed North-West… to Taupo.

The wreck of the Kurahaupo

Kurahaupo banner

Nukutaurua

Nukutaurua

If you travel to the Mahia Peninsula, cross to the North side, and follow the road to the East, you will pass many Urupa. They are all on the North side of the Peninsula.

This is a sacred place.

The tar seal stops at Nukutaurua, and a little further on the road ends. If you want to go further, then you have to walk.

And so it was for the crew of the Kurahaupo.

Incredibly, after successfully crossing 4,000 km of Pacific Ocean, the Kurahaupo finally came to grief on this benign looking shore on the Mahia Peninsula.

Diary: Nukutaurua

“When we left Te Hiku o Te Ika, we left Po and some others behind, but some Te Ngare joined us, and we had a crew again; there had been so few of us on that leg from Rangitahua.

‘The fire in the sky’ seems so far away now.

To Nukutaurua

The Kurahaupo’s course along the East coast of the North Island

As we traveled down the coast, on the East side of the Land we were amazed at just how enormous this land is. Often we passed between islands and the coast, and even these islands are big, some are bigger than any we have known before.

Sometimes on the land, we saw fires. There are people here and there. The Te Ngare had told us that there were others. Some have been here a long time, and some are new travelers like ourselves.

For the last days before we came here we saw only a few fires, and none since we came round a great Cape and the coast turned South.

The land around is high and tree covered, and the hills are deeply cut by valleys carrying big streams. There is plenty of water in this land but mostly the land stops high, and cliffs fall to the sea below.

As the coast turned again to the West Popoto said that we would go ashore where we next saw a good place.

At this place there was a flat plain in front of the beach, and behind were flat topped hills, grassy and bare. The hills were separated by valleys, and we could see that several good streams ran to the beach, a bigger one ran down through a wooded valley.

Popoto gave the instruction; we would land here.

The sail was lowered and we turned, the paddlers and steersmen now controlling our movements, directed by Popoto.

As the beach grew close, less than fifty paces, a shout went up, ‘reef!’

The beach, plain as it looked, had hidden reefs before it. The surf we had seen was not caused by the gentle uplift of a sandy beach floor, but by rows of reefs. Now we saw the lines of rocks running out from the shore, out to level with us, and beyond.

The men tried to turn us, but it was too late, we were trapped. The wind and the current pressed us onto a line of sharp rock, and one of our hulls smashed into it.

We were stuck, and one hull was sinking.

The wind and waves held us fast against the rocks, and try as they might, the men could not get us free. Now, with one hull filled with water, we were too heavy, and the reef gripped hard on our Kurahaupo.

Popoto told us to get everything ashore.

It was misfortune that put us on the hidden reef, but thankfully the water to the beach was shallow. We pulled all that there was from the waterlogged hull, and with everything on the deck we were, again, soon pushing through the surf, carrying with us all that we have.

We recovered everything, and salvaged what we could of our boat. Then we sat on the beach exhausted.

We warmed ourselves around fires and watched as the surf beat and broke the Kurahaupo. We will not sail on her again. “

nukutaurua reefs

The surf lines extending into the sea are lines of reefs. They extend far out under the surface.

After all they had endured; the crew of the Kurahaupo finally surrendered her to the ocean on a reef off the Mahia Peninsula.

It is remembered locally; that the Kurahaupo was bewitched and hit a reef close to the shore, that everyone survived, that the waka sank, and that it subsequently turned into a reef.

Cape Table

James Cook first made landfall in New Zealand at Gisborne on 9th September, 1769. He liked what he first saw of New Zealand so little that he left the bay just two days later, and headed South.

Wednesday, 11th September.

“We weighed and stood out of the Bay, which I have named Poverty Bay, because it afforded us no one thing we wanted.”

By noon the next day he had reached the eastern point of the Mahia Peninsula, next to an Island. He named them Cape Table, and Portland Island. These names are still used.

Thursday, 12th September.

“In the Afternoon, while we lay becalm’d, several Canoes came off to the Ship…”

“This point I have named Cape Table, on account of its shape and figure. It lies 7 Leagues to the Southward of Poverty Bay, in the Latitude of 39 degrees 7 minutes South, longitude 181 degrees 36 minutes West, it is of a moderate height, makes in a sharpe Angle, and appears to be quite flat at Top…

…We saw a great Number of the Natives assembled together on the Isle of Portland; we likewise saw some on the Main land, and several places that were Cultivated and laid out in square Plantations.”

The people that Cook saw were descended from the occupants of two waka’s; the Kurahaupo, and the Takitimu.

The local tribe is Te Rongomaiwahine, and have the common female ancestor of that name. She was of extremely noble lineage being descended from both Ruawharo, the Tohunga of the waka Tākitimu, and Popoto, commander of the Kurahaupo.

The full name of the Peninsula ‘Te Mahia mai Tawhiti’ was given by Ruawharo, as the land reminded him of where he had come from.

It means ‘The whisper of Home’.

However, only a few people from the Kurahaupo remained in Mahia. The rest of them moved onwards, looking for a more comfortable place to live.

To the plains of Heretaunga

Diary: Nukutaurua

“The men have returned from exploring, and there was a Hui. They said that some days to the South is a great and good plain with many rivers flowing through it, and that it will make us a good home.

“Popoto says he will stay here. It was decided that the rest of us will pack up what we have, and leave in the morning.

“Whatonga will lead us now.”

The Mahia peninsula provided all that was needed for survival, but on their journey down the East Coast they had seen more hospitable land. Most of the people of the Kurahaupo moved on looking for somewhere where they could enjoy an easier life; somewhere they could lay down roots… somewhere to call ‘home’.