Legend has it that Hape-ki-tūārangi and his followers froze to death near Rangipo. Ngātoro-i-rangi – a powerful tohunga (high priest with the mana to carry the most powerful of deities) wanted claim of Hape-ki-tūārangi’s lands – thus conjured a fierce blizzard of snow and sleet by a series of incantations. Unfortunately for Ngātoro-i-rangi, Hape-ki-tūārangi’s people were not the only ones to succumb to the cold. Ngātoro-i-rangi’s slave Ngāuruhoe also perished, and Ngātoro-i-rangi soon found himself fighting for his own survival.
Ngātoro-i-rangi – the direct successor to the high priest of the Taputapuatea marae on Rangiātea (French Polynesia) – was trained as a priest and a navigator and made several journeys to the mythical island of Hawaiki. After various skirmishes at Hawaiki, the Maori people prepared to migrate to New Zealand, and Ngātoro-i-rangi found himself navigating aboard the great waka of Te Awara. Apon landing at Maketu on the east coast of New Zealand, Ngātoro-i-rangi travelled inland and was instrumental in the naming of many places across the Bay of Plenty.
It is said that he, along with his slave Ngāuruhoe, stomped his way inland from Maketu where springs of water appeared in his footprints forming the many lakes from Rotorua to Tokaanu. Along the way, Ngātoro-i-rangi placed patupaiarehe – pale and sometimes hostile humanlike spirits – deep within the hilly forests of Rotorua and the Uwerewa mountain range.
When arriving in the Taupō region, he climbed atop Mount Tauhara. Here Ngātoro-i-rangi threw down his spear to claim the lands and drinking water of Taupo for his grandchildren.
PHOTOS: View from Tauhara Summit where Ngātoro-i-rangi claimed the lands around Taupo (acknowledgement to O.Jones for photographs)
But he wasn’t yet done. Observing the mighty mountains across the lake, Ngātoro-i-rangi determined he must climb and claim those for his descendants as well. Once reaching Rangipo at the south end of Lake Taupo, he came across the other inhabitants where he conjured the blizzard of snow and sleet to repel them, before setting upon climbing the nearest mountain.
Fatigued and shivering he finally made it to the summit. He named the mountain Tongariro – which means ‘strong south wind’ – and looking out over the plains of what is now Tongariro National Park he claimed the land for his descendants, who would later return as the Ngati Tuwharetoa tribe.
PHOTOS: Tongariro National Park were Ngātoro-i-rangi killed Hape-ki-tūārangi and laid claim to the Tongariro region for the Ngati Tuwharetoa tribe (acknowledgement to T.Schmidtke and J.Jones for photographs)
Freezing and near death he called to his two sisters Kuiwai and Haungaroa in Hawaiki to send him three baskets of fire;
‘Kuiwai e, Haungaroa e, ka riro au i te tonga, tukuna mai te ahi! O Kuiwai, O Haungaroa, I am seized by the cold wind to the south, send me fire!”
This they did, sending the baskets of embers in the form of taniwha by a subterranean passage to the top of Tongariro. The tracks of the taniwha formed the line of geothermal fire which extends from the Pacific Ocean and beneath the Taupō Volcanic Zone, and is seen in the many volcanoes and hot-springs extending from Whakaari to Tokaanu and up to the Tongariro itself.
Legend has it that, of the three baskets requested, only one basket arrived. The first basket was intercepted at White Island on the east coast, and the other by the people of Waiotapu. The final basket of embers arrived just in time to save Ngātoro-i-rangi from freezing to death, but it was too late for Ngāuruhoe. Ngātoro-i-rangi was disgruntled at this, so after warming his body he threw the remains of the basket into the side of the mountain. The place where the basket landed was named Ketetahi, meaning ‘one basket’ which on a clear day you can still see smoking off the side of Mt Tongariro.
PHOTOS: Waiotapu Thermal Area, where one basket of fire was intercepted as it made its way to Ngātoro-i-rangi as he laid shivering atop Mt Tongariro
This Christmas it has been a pleasure, and a privilege, to be part of my family adventures all across the land that Ngātoro-i-rang claimed for his descendants. From the summit of Mt Tauhara, to the fiery waters of Waiotapu, to the fresh drinkable waters of Lake Taupo, to the tussocks foot hills of Tongariro, and finally into the icy waters that come off the snow capped mountains that killed the slave Ngāuruhoe.
Footnote: The myths of Ngātoro-i-rangi vary slightly between tellings. The version I am repeating here is a blend of two slightly different tellings sourced from;
- R.D. Craig, Dictionary of Polynesian Mythology (Greenwood Press: New York, 1989), p185.
- Te Ara Online – Encyclopedia of New Zealand
… however other versions have Ngātoro-i-rangi being sent six baskets of embers which resulted in Whakaari (White Island), Moutohora (Whale Island),
Rotoiti, Tarawera, Rotorua, Orakei Korako, Wairakei, Tokaanu and finally Ketetahi at
Tongariro all becoming thermally active. The most detailed version I came across was from Taupo District Council which is particularly good and quite varied from the tale told here.