Great Lake Taupo Cultural Heritage

A unique history, interwoven with legends and stories from a time past, have combined to form the identity of the remarkable Taupo region of New Zealand.

Taupo Moana - the Great Inland Sea

Taupo waters are some of the clearest waters you will find, with many rivers and streams feeding the lake from glacial mountains, mountainous valleys and tall forests that fill the great lake, Taupo moana — The Great Inland Sea.

Ngati Tuwharetoa, of Te Puku o Te Ika a Maui (the belly of the great fish of Maui), recognise two travellers as the first to set foot here, Ngatoroirangi and Tia. They both travelled to these lands from the western parts of the Bay of Plenty having travelled aboard the Arawa waka. As High Priest of the waka, Ngatoroirangi was responsible for the creation of Taupo moana. Its size so great, that in places you cannot see the other side.

Ngatoroirangi travelled to the central North Island searching for a suitable place to settle his followers, he climbed to the peaks of Tauhara, where before him lay a great dust bowl.

Ngatoroirangi, wanting to promote growth in this barren area, uprooted a totara tree from the mountainside and hurled it into the dust bowl. The west wind caused him to miss his mark and the tree landed upside down. Its branches pierced the earth and fresh water welled up to form Taupo moana — “The sea of Taupo”. This tree is said to be still visible under the water about 70-metres off the shore at Wharewaka Point.

Giving thanks for the life-giving waters at the shores of the newly created lake, he then plucked strands from his cloak and cast them into the water where they became the native fish of the lake. One of these turned into an eel but after wriggling away a short distance it died. There are still no eels in the lake to the present day.

The descendants of Ngatoroirangi include Ngati Tuwharetoa, who continue to live around Taupo, the great inland sea, and for generations they have looked to the peaks of the mountains and the life-giving waters captured in the Pepeha, the connector to this place.

Ko Tongariro te maunga -  Tongariro is the mountain
Ko Taupo te moana - Taupo is the great inland sea
Ko Tuwharetoa te iwi - Tuwharetoa are the people
Ko Te Heuheu te tangata - Te Heuheu is the man
Tihei Mauri Ora! - I have life!

The Story of the River

In earlier times the river that flowed from Tongariro Maunga (Mt Tongariro) across Taupo Moana to the sea was known as Waikato. Kainga (hamlets) existed along both sides of the river, with Waitahanui, the major pa of the local people situated at the delta. Te Hau o Tunono was a special wind that flowed with the course of the river, connecting the whakapapa (genealogy) shared by the people living along its banks.

Originally the river flowed westward to join the Tokaanu Stream near Maunganamu, but the actions of two Taniwha (water monsters) churned up the water, washed away islands and cut new channels, diverting the course. The new course from Poutu to the delta became known as the Tongariro River.

The Battle of the Mountains

The Battle of the Mountains is a famous local Maori legend about four warrior mountains called Taranaki, Putauaki, Tongariro and Tauhara who stood in the heart of Te-Ika-a-Maui – the heart of the North Island.

Tongariro is the Warrior Mountain of Ngati Tuwharetoa situated at the heart of the Central Plateau in the North Island of Aotearoa. Tongariro has three peaks which include Ngauruhoe and Ruapehu. The battle of the mountains is an ancient telling of the deep love between Tongariro and Pihanga — the only female mountain in this area — and how suitors to her hand fought for her and eventually left this area.

A long, long time ago, before humanity existed, a battle raged between the mountains that once occupied this area. They fought for the hand of Pihanga. It was a vicious and merciless battle with no holds barred, everything was at stake, but also everything to gain — for love.

The majestic Tongariro was severely wounded, almost to his death. After many days and nights, Tongariro emerged victorious. He had defeated the other mountains, winning the right to the hand of Pihanga forever. Tongariro warned the defeated mountains to leave his territory before sunrise, for that’s when they would freeze into position for the rest of time.

Whakaari (White Island) made it out to sea in the Bay of Plenty, Putauaki (Edgecumbe) made it to Te Teko in the Bay of Plenty, Taranaki (Egmont) ran to the West Coast, Tauhara, who kept looking back at Pihanga, only made it to the other side of Lake Taupo.

Now Tongariro and Pihanga exist hand in hand, in love and bound together for all eternity.
The Ngati Hikairo ki Tongariro people uphold guardianship of Tongariro and the Ngati Turangitukua people maintain the same for Pihanga.

Great Lake Taupo Historical & Cultural Experiences

There are many things to do in the Great Lake Taupo region that give you an insight into this unique area and the history and customs of the Tuwharetoa people. Local operators offer escorted walks, treks and eco-cultural experiences. Contact one of the i-Sites to learn more about these activities.

Visit the Mine Bay Maori Rock Carvings - over 14-metres high and only accessible by water, marae-taught carver Matahi Brightwell led a team of four artists to create a spectacular carving of his ancestor Ngatoroirangi on the rock face.

Wairakei Terraces – home to the silica terraces, hot pools, a replica Maori village, treasured Maori carvings, Maori cultural performances and a traditional hangi feast.

Chris Jolly Outdoors Taurikura Maori Cultural Scenic Cruise - Hear the songs and stories of ancient Tuwharetoa, participate in interactive Maori performances and traditional games, learn to work the poi, sample Rewana Bread and even get your own moko tattoo on this special Lake Taupo Maori culture scenic cruise.

Haka ShopMaori Culture Experience you wont forget. Hear the stories of Lake Taupo, the mountains, lakes, rivers & tribal people.

Taupo Museum – learn about the history of the Great Lake Taupo district

Opotaka (Home of the Haka), situated on the shores of Lake Rotoaira, in between the town of Turangi and the Tongariro National Park, is where Ka Mate, New Zealand’s most famous haka, was composed.

Visitor Guide 2018

Everything you need to know about things to do and places to stay in Great Lake Taupo.

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