The Hokianga Harbour - A Taniwha Tale
Copied from
Or read avisitors vision how it all happened, the saga about the dragon.

Ross Gregory - 2001

No part of Aotearoa can claim a more storied past than Hokianga. From both the Maori and Pakeha aspects, it can be said to tell the history of Aotearoa.

Hokianga has two stories of the same taniwha. One is that two taniwha, Arai-te-uru and Niwa, were put in place to guard the harbour entrance. Arai-te-uru made his home on the south head and Niwa positioned himself at the north head. Their job was to lash out with their powerful tails and stir the waters into such frenzy that invading waka would be swamped and rendered helpless in the sea.

That is one story, but I like this other one much better.

It begins with Arai-te-uru, whose brood of youngsters used to brawl amongst themselves as most youngsters have always done.


One of them, Waihou, scorning the crowded family cave in the cliff above the beach, boasted he could dig a bigger and better one using his nose as a plough. Taunted to do so, he swam a little way inward and began digging furiously with his nose into the cliff.

It was sandy at this point, so he dug through fairly quickly and the ocean followed as he went. He kept on burrowing, passing between green hills till he came to a wide valley, which the sea had already filled to become a bay between Motukaraka and Rawene.

Now came a great obstacle, a solid hill wall right across his path. But Waihou was young and fit. Fiercely he attacked with his nose, and after a hard struggle, burst through The Narrows into a wide valley, which soon flooded to become the Kohukohu Horeke expanse of the harbour.

Waihou dug on until he came to a high wall of mountains, Puketi, which he was forced to skirt around. Eventually the long narrow valley he was following ended in a sloping wall. He stopped digging, waddled up this slope, and came to a high flat plateau above it.

Now he was really weary and the noonday sun beat down relentlessly out of the cloudless sky. He curled himself round and round and went to sleep. The circular hole he made with his tail filled with rainwater and eventually drowned him. Lake Omapere is there until this day to give justice to this story.

After Waihou had left the family dwelling, the other brothers argued until one of them, Waima, went off to find why his brother had not returned. Entering the harbour through Waihou's newly made opening from the sea, he swam on until he reached the wide Rawene Bay, but he failed to see The Narrows and mistakenly turned to his right. He dug into the earthy countryside for some miles but soon began to bruise his nose against rocks. Eventually he found himself hard up against another huge mountain wall, the Waoku. He turned around and wriggled back over the rocks, rubbing them smooth and round with his long body, until he came again to the clay land. You can see these nice smooth stones even today.

Here he made a sharp turn right. Scenting his brother Waihou in the far distance, he struggled on for miles in an easterly direction. He gashed and cut himself badly when forced to climb the twin waterfalls of Taheke, hence the name, and eventually came within shouting distance of Waihou's sleeping place.

He called not once, but many times, but there was no response. Waima could see only the high sacred mountain of Putahi separating them so off he wandered to the south of Kaikohe and lost himself in the swampy gullies of Punakitere.

Utakura was next to go and seek out his brothers. He was well on his way to finding Waihou's new home when he found his way blocked by the high drop of the Korotangi Falls. Boxed in by steep black gorge, he made his own home in the pool in the falls.


Then went Wairere. He left Waihou's track just short of Horeke and immediately encountered rough going from huge boulders strewn along his path. They were unusual boulders - so unusual that he decided to take one back with him to show his brothers. With great effort he lifted a huge boulder onto his shoulders and struggled back along the way he had come. With such a huge load on his shoulders and his legs aching, Wairere decided to have a rest. Down the bay he struggled, where he sat and fell asleep. Waka were often upset on Wairere's big rock and it was said that Wairere was still trying to shake the heavy load off his shoulders. This place in the bay was also not far from where another brother, Mangamuka was to end his journeys.

Omanaia, another of the whanau, was a lazy fellow. He turned off half way up the harbour and kept on digging due south until he came up against the high mountain of Waoku, just as his brother Waima had done earlier. Smelling the scent of his brother across the ridge to his left, he dug up a path under the shelter of the mountain to what is now Waima, but finding his brother gone, Omanaia burrowed on into the hills and became lost in the fortresses on Waoku.

Whirinaki followed in the wake of Omanaia, and he came face to face with the Waoku mountain wall. Not having swum or dug very far, he was quite fresh, and succeeded in making four giant leaps up the mountainside. On his last giant leap, he clawed his way to the top of the mountain wall, but his body was so heavy and he did not have enough strength to heave himself over and onto the top. Absolutely exhausted, he slowly slithered down and finally crumbled to a heap on the floor where he died. Today you will see the high Whirinaki Falls and three other tributaries of the Whirinaki River tumbling down and heading out to the harbour.

Next to explore was Orira. He went on past Rawene, through The Narrows, and turned neither to his left nor right. He started to burrow through the tumbling hills of Umawera but here he met a giant who questioned him in a loud gruff voice as to what he was doing. Orira answered cheekily to which the giant did not take kindly. In a rage, the giant clubbed him over the head with such ferocity that Orira was killed instantly. Orira's attempts to find his brothers can be seen today in the form of a small trench where he met his death.

Now it was Mangamuka's turn. He swam up the waterway but, having heard the giant thundering his rage from Umawera, he turned north. He burrowed furiously through solid rock, making a steep-sided gorge, until he met a sleeping tupua (a spirit able to take any shape) in the shape of a large stone. The tupua decided to get out of the way and spouted a shower of water out of a hole in its back into the taniwha's eyes. Blinded by this surprise action, Mangamuka turned round and went back the way he had come, eventually dying in the bay not far from Kohukohu, Motitui Island, where he lies to this present day. The tupua, complete with the hole in the back, can be pointed out in the gorge that Mangamuka made.

And so we come to Wairupe who turned off to the left in his search. Being an unsteady character, he wandered round between the high hills until he tired of this and tried to get back to the harbour. The way was not easy as he had to cross mudflats. The mud was so soft that Wairupe simply got bogged down in the mud of the Motukaraka estuary. His body sank down into the oozing mud and was completely covered. He was suffocated and that was the end of him.

Motukaraka wandered in a similar fashion, and became tired of the high hills all around him in just the same way. He wearily made his way back down the Tapuwae Stream and, being extremely tired, eventually went to sleep in the mud of the estuary as Motukaraka Island.

Now the most impatient of all the tamariki was Ohopa. Scouting along the north shore, he dived again and again at the enclosing hills. He finally grew so angry at the hard stones that he leapt high in the lofty Panguru mountain range where he took a very deep hatred to every living thing and became a terror to the district.

The younger but more patient brothers set out to search for Ohopa. Waireira broke through the low hills in to pleasant, open countryside originally called Whakarapa, now called Panguru. He made that his home and troubled no more about the impatient, rampaging Ohopa.

But Motukauri was not so lucky. He did not get far inland when he was baffled by high ridges, long before reaching Ohopa's mountain domain. He circled around and around, making the Motuti basin, before finding the way out again. By this time Ohopa had seen him and began pelting him with great rocks. Unfortunately for Motukauri, one of these rocks hit him on the head and knocked him unconscious, killing him as he was heading out of the harbour. Today there is Motuti Island to show where his body lay.