Story: Ngāti Tūwharetoa

Page 5. Mountains and lakes

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The myth of the mountains

The story goes that in the days when the earth was young there were four mountain warriors: Tongariro, Taranaki (Mt Egmont), Tauhara and Pūtauaki (Mt Edgecumbe). Also among them was the beautiful maiden mountain, Pīhanga. The warrior mountains fought for her affections and after many days and nights Tongariro emerged victorious.

The defeated mountains decided that they should leave Tongariro’s domain. Their quest was to travel as far as they could before dawn, when they would be fixed to the spot. Pūtauaki headed east and by daybreak reached his present position at Kawerau. Tauhara was not in too much of a hurry, looking pensively back at Pīhanga; he only reached the other end of the lake. Taranaki went west and still looks back, longing for the day when he might return to avenge the defeat.

Tongariro National Park

In the 1880s land was being sought by numerous claimants around the Lake Taupō area. Because the Tūwharetoa chief Horonuku had joined both Waikato and Te Kooti in fighting against the British Crown, some claimants believed this was reason enough for the Crown to treat the Taupō blocks as rebel land. Horonuku could see that he might lose the land. So in 1887, on the advice of his son-in-law (the Tauranga politician Lawrence Marshall Grace), he signed a deed with the government which ensured that the mountain block could never be sold. The land became New Zealand’s first national park.

The Taupō lake bed

In 1926 the Coates government concluded an agreement with Ngāti Tūwharetoa that ceded the Taupō lake bed and all its tributaries to the Crown. In return, a consolidated fund from fishing licences would be gathered and a portion paid to Ngāti Tūwharetoa. The tribe were also to establish a trust, which was called the Ngāti Tūwharetoa Trust Board, to administer tribal affairs.

Their day in court

During the 1950s and 1960s, the Māori Land Court sat in Taupō, Tokaanu and Taumarunui, with the main base located in Whanganui. The district judge would arrive at the venues and set up court. In Tokaanu, families would often gather at the court house and wait all day for their turn; some would set up family picnics. Court day was a community affair.

However, after years of negotiation with the Crown, the lake bed and its tributaries were returned to Ngāti Tūwharetoa in the 1990s.

Native fish

Native fish once abounded in Lake Taupō and its tributaries. Five main species formed part of the traditional diet of settlers in Ngāti Tūwharetoa lands:

  • kōkopu, the largest and most important
  • īnanga, the freshwater whitebait
  • kākahi, a mollusc
  • koura, a freshwater crayfish
  • kōaro, a small freshwater fish.

The rivers of the area also had native eels. Rainbow and brown trout were introduced to Lake Taupō in the early 1900s. They soon ousted the native species, so that today there are few, if any, left in the lakes or rivers of the Ngāti Tūwharetoa district.

How to cite this page:

Martin Wikaira, 'Ngāti Tūwharetoa - Mountains and lakes', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/ngati-tuwharetoa/page-5 (accessed 22 November 2019)

Story by Martin Wikaira, published 8 Feb 2005, updated 1 Mar 2017