Myths and Legends of New Zealand's East Cape

Home to fascinating myths and legends, Eastland is steeped in Maori history. Get off the beaten track and discover a place untouched by the outside world.

Hundreds of years ago, Polynesian explorers left their home countries in search of new beginnings, navigating their way across the Pacific Ocean using only the stars. The first place they landed in New Zealand was Titirangi Hill in Gisborne, today the largest town in the East Cape. All of the tribes in New Zealand can trace their beginnings back to those first few waka (canoes) that landed here – making the region an integral part of Maori history and legends.

Home to sacred mountains, beautiful Marae (Maori meeting houses) and stunning carvings, the East Cape is the place to come for those fascinated by unique culture. Listen for conversations in Te Reo and watch out for children heading to the beach on horseback – in this part of New Zealand, time stands still. A natural wonderland where locals make the most of nature’s bounty with fishing, hunting and veggie gardens being a way of life, exactly as it has been for hundreds of years.

Mount Hikurangi

Dominating the East Cape landscape is Mount Hikurangi, recognised as the first point in New Zealand to greet the morning sun. Standing tall at 1754 metres, the mountain is the highest non-volcanic peak in the North Island – but its importance to the local Ngati Porou tribe is what makes it so sacred. Here, Maori legend states that when the demigod Maui fished up the North Island, Mount Hikurangi was the first point to emerge from the ocean.

The mountain is now said to be the resting place of the waka (canoe) Nukutaimemeha, the waka that Maui used on his famous fishing voyage. Two-thirds of the way up Mount Hikurangi lies a tribute to this rich cultural heritage, in the form of nine carvings of Maui and his family. The centre carving represents Maui, and the remaining eight mark the points of the traditional compass. The carvings stand as a legacy for future generations of Ngati Porou; a reminder of the rich cultural heritage the tribe is steeped in.

Te Poho O Rawiri Marae

One of the largest meeting houses in New Zealand, Te Poho O Rawiri Marae stands imposingly at the foot of Titirangi Hill in Gisborne. The interior of the Marae is nearly completely covered in geometric tukutuku (woven panels) and fine ancestor carvings.

Tarawhiti Museum

Gisborne’s local museum and art gallery works to showcase the heritage and legends of local Maori tribes. Home to fascinating early Maori artefacts, photographs and artworks, the museum provides an insight into the life and times of those who have lived in the region over the last few hundred years . Tarawhiti Museum also features major displays about Captain Cook and the European settlers who made first contact with local Maori in the region.

At MoaTrek, we weave the very best experiences and places New Zealand has to offer into our small group tours. Our 6-day East Cape Caper Tour follows the road less travelled, incorporating Eastland’s fascinating Maori myths, legends and heritage.

Learn more on our website, or contact us now.

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