Sharing our stories: Kaitiaki’s top three Maori legends

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If you love a good story, you’ll love the ones that exist in the Maori culture.

They have a deep connection to the land and elements with fascinating

stories of mountains that ‘battled’, creation of a world of light and tales of love that will melt your heart. Here are three of our favourite Maori legends. 

Forbidden love but with a happily ever after ending

Hinemoa and Tutanekai’s love story has been told around the shores of Lake Rotorua for generations. We certainly love to share it with guests on our tours!

This beautiful story tells us about the union of high-born Hinemoa and Tutanekai of the tiny island of Mokoia in Lake Rotorua. The story is even remembered in a well-known Maori song, Pokarekare ana.

They fell in love when Tutanekai visited the mainland. After the young warrior returned to his village on the island, the lovers agreed that at night, Tutanekai would play his music and Hinemoa would make her across the lake to join him. Realising her intentions, Hinemoa’s people had put all the canoes high up on the shore. One night Hinemoa selected six large, dry gourds as floats, strung them together and used them to swim to the island, guided by the strains of her lover’s music. She arrived safely and soaked in a hot spring to warm up. At the same time Tutanekai sent his servant to the pool for some water. Hinemoa broke the gourd the servant brought and when Tutanekai came to investigate, he discovered Hinemoa.

And then they lived happily ever after. The dangerous and dramatic act proved the depth of their love, thus gaining acceptance of their families.

Maori legends

Mokoia in Lake Rotorua where Hinemoa and Tutanekai fell in love

The phantom canoe

Mount Tarawera erupted without warning on June 10. But if Maori legend is to be believed, the warning did come – 11 days before the disaster that obliterated three villages and skilled more 150 people.

This spine-tingling tale is one of a ghostly, fully-laden waka (canoe) being paddled across Lake Tarawera, in the shadow of the mountain. Maori people who had seen the waka noticed that those on board had feathers in their hair that were associated with death, and believed that the phantom canoe was an omen of disaster.

Maori legends

Kuirau Lake that according to ancient Maori Legend use to be called Tawakahu Lake

When a taniwha angered the gods

First, let’s get our head around what a taniwha is – it is a legendary creature that makes its way into many a Maori legends. In the case of Kuirau Lake, this taniwha is said to have caused the lake to boil. Let us explain.

According to ancient Maori Legend Kuirau Lake use to be called Tawakahu Lake and was cool enough to bathe in. A beautiful young lady would swim in this lake. Her name was Kuiarau and her husband said that it belonged to her. But there was a big old Taniwha who lived in the same lake. The Taniwha would watch the girl swim until he could not bear it any longer. So one morning the Taniwha rose up and seized Kuiarau. Maori folklore tells us that she either died of fright because she was so terrified or she was taken back to the Taniwha’s lain. But whatever happened, the gods were so angry that they made the lake boil to get rid of the Taniwha.

From that day on the lake was called Kuirau Lake in memory of the beautiful lady who used to swim in its waters, although the spelling has changed a little.


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