Māori legend says New Zealand was fished from the sea by the daring demigod Māui.
According to Māori and Polynesian myths and legends, Māui was the gifted and clever demigod, who, after a miraculous birth and upbringing won the affection of his supernatural parents.
He was bold and sharp-witted and taught useful arts to mankind although he was not always liked. He tamed the sun and bought fire to the world but one of his most famous feats was the creation of the islands we know today as Aotearoa, New Zealand.
Māori legend says that one-night Māui’s four brothers planned to go fishing and leave him behind. Overhearing their plans and not wanting to be left out, Māui hid under the floorboards of his brother’s canoe and waited until they were far away from the shore before revealing himself. He had carved a magic fishhook from an ancestors’ jawbone and he cast it deep into the sea, chanting powerful words.
Soon, Māui realised he had caught something. Something huge! With the help of his brothers, the catch was hurled to the surface of the water. Much to their surprise the fish they had caught was in fact a huge piece of land and they were delighted to find that they had discovered 'Te Ika a Māui' (Māui’s fish), which we know today as the North Island.
Before Māui had time to thank Tangaroa (the god of the sea) for the gift of this land, Māui's brothers began carving out pieces of the huge fish, creating the many valleys, mountains, and lakes that you see today on the North Island.
'Te Waka a Māui' (Māui’s canoe) or what we know now as the South Island is said to be the waka or canoe that Māui and his brothers fished from. It’s believed that the Kaikōura Peninsula on the east coast of the South Island is the place where the seat of the canoe was situated, where Māui stood to haul in his giant catch.
Stewart Island-Rakiura is believed to be the anchor from the canoe and is named 'Te Punga a Māui' (Māui’s anchor stone).
If you look closely at a map of New Zealand you may be able to visualise the North Island as a fish, with the head near Wellington and the base of the tail in the Coromandel and the backbone through the centre of the island near Taupo and Rotorua and the fins on the east and west coasts.
Looking at the South Island on the map you may see that the southern tip in Southland resembles the stern of the canoe and the prow can be seen in the north.