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This is Pania of the Reef, a legendary figure in Māori mythology with special significance to the local Hawkes Bay tribe of Ngāti Kahungungu. The status was unveiled in 1954 and is a popular attraction on the Napier waterfront, with her romantic story charming locals and visitors alike.
While there are many variations to the story of Pania of the Reef, all versions tell of Pania's beauty. Pania was said to be a beautiful maiden who belonged to the ocean. Everyday she would swim to the shore and at sunset would return to her people under the sea.
One day while on shore, she hid herself in a flax bush next to a freshwater spring at the foot of Hukarere cliff. A handsome chief named Karitoki stopped to drink from the spring and saw her there. In awe of her beauty, Karitoki fell in love and took Pania back to his home where he made her his wife. Although Pania was in love with Karitoki, she would still hear the siren call of the sea and would return to her people every morning, while in the evening she would travel back to be with her husband on shore.
Pania soon gave birth to a son who was hairless, and so he was named Moremore or 'the hairless one'. Karitoki began to suspect that Pania was homesick for her people and he became concerned that he might lose her and his son to the sea. He consulted a tohunga (high priest) who told him to place cooked food upon the mother and child, as this would take away Pania’s powers and bind her to the land. But as he was placing the food upon her, Pania woke up and fled back to her people with her son, never to return again.
The child Moremore was turned into a taniwha (guardian) in the form of a shark which lived in the waters around the reef of Hukarere. Pania herself became the reef within the bay. According to some stories, within the hollow of her left armpit only blue cod may be caught, and from her right armpit only snapper, while her thighs yield only the hapuka (grouper). These fishing grounds were highly sacred to the Māori people.
In today's culture, local fishermen believe she lies beneath the reef. At low tide you can sometimes her there, with her arms stretched out to the shore and her long black hair swaying with the ebbing tide.
InterCity runs daily services to Napier from towns and cities around the North Island. Visit www.intercity.co.nz and book online.