Māori culture is rich in legends or pūrākau. Learn about some of the most famous stories, and where to experience them for yourself.
According to Māori legend, Māui-tikitiki-a-Taranga was a cheeky and clever demigod who liked to push boundaries. When his brothers planned to exclude him from their fishing trip, Māui hid in the front of their canoe, revealing himself once they were far out to sea. On that fishing trip, Māui caught his biggest fish ever – the North Island.
Mount Hikurangi, on the North Island’s East Cape, is said to be the first part of Māui’s fish that emerged from the sea. The mountain is sacred to local tribe Ngāti Porou, who consider themselves direct descendants of Māui.
A visit to Mount Hikurangi with a local Māori guide is well worth the effort. You’ll hear legends while gazing up at amazing carved representations of Māui and his family.
Ngati Porou run guided hikes and 4x4 tours to see the Māui carvings, as well as treks to the mountain's summit to watch the sunrise.
Tāne-mahuta, Lord of the Forest, is an important figure in Māori legend. The oldest of six siblings, Tāne-mahuta grew tired of living in darkness, closed in between his sky father (Ranginui) and earth mother (Papa-tū-ā-nuku). He decided to push them apart, and in doing so created the world of light (Te Ao Mārama) we live in today.
Waipoua, on the northwestern coast of the North Island has one of the largest surviving stands of kauri forest; some of its trees are more than 2,000 years old. The forest’s most ancient and revered trees are Te Matua Ngahere (father of the forest) and Tāne-mahuta – named after the legendary Lord of the Forest.
Footprints Waipoua offers guided tours through this unique native wildlife haven. Along the journey visitors will hear Māori legends of the forest, its gods and inhabitants, including the creation story of Tāne-mahuta. A highlight is hearing the Māori guides greet the giant trees with spine-tingling sacred songs (waiata).
Hinemoa and Tutanekai were New Zealand’s very own Romeo and Juliet – two star-crossed lovers whose liaison was both passionate and forbidden. This tale has a happy ending though, as they proved the strength of their love through a dramatic and dangerous act, thus gaining the acceptance of their families.
The best place to learn about Hinemoa and Tūtānekai is on the island of Mokoia in Lake Rotorua, where the famed events took place. Venture there with Mokoia Island Experiences and you’ll hear the lovers' story in all its colour and fullness from members of the local Te Arawa tribe.
There on the island you can soak in Hinemoa’s Pool, the natural hot spring where she bathed. You’ll also get to experience a traditional welcome ceremony, delicious Māori food and a bush walk to see native plants and birds.
Māori legend tells the story of the ancestor Paikea who journeyed to a new life in New Zealand on the back of the whale Tohorā. The story represents the spiritual bond between the human and natural worlds, and the potential revealed when nature is respected rather than exploited.
The story of Paikea inspired Witi Ihimaera’s book Whale Rider, which in turn inspired an award-winning film of the same name.
Off the Kaikoura Coast in the South Island, majestic whales dwell beneath the ocean’s surface. If you want to encounter the giants of Paikea’s story, Kaikoura is the place.
On board a Whale Watch Kaikoura tour, visitors feel the connection between the Māori people and the sea as they witness nature at close hand, learn about Kaikoura’s hidden wildlife and hear the legend of Paikea, and other local stories.