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I GREW up under the shadow of Mount Taranaki, a magnificent two and a half kilometre high volcano standing dominant on the North Island west coast. The local Maori have a legend of how Taranaki, and the other volcanoes of the North Island, came to be.

The Maori know the North Island as Te Ika-a-Maui, or the Great Fish of Maui. From his canoe (the South Island), Maui brought the fish up to the surface where it thrashed around. Needing to contain the fish, Matua ti Mana, otherwise known as Mount Ruapehu, was placed on the centre of the great fish.

The mountain stood very lonely in it solitude so the sky father Ranginui gave him two tear drops to flow from him. One of these became the Whanganui River flowing from its western slopes, and the other the Rangitikei River flowing from its eastern slopes. Both rivers flowed southward towards the sea.

This did not ease Ruapehu’s loneliness, so Ranginui created Tongariro, Taranaki, Ngauruhoe and the maiden Pihanga beside Ruapehu to the north. Tongariro became the guardian of the Whanganui River and Ruapehu the guardian of the Rangitikei River. Pihanga married Tongariro and they produced the other mountains of the North Island.

Taranaki desired Pihanga and a huge battle of jealousy was fought between Tongariro and Taranaki. For a while it seemed Taranaki was winning when he swiped the head clean off Tongariro flinging it into Lake Taupo where it still stands to this day as Motutaiko Island. Tongariro persevered though standing his ground.

Despite Taranaki’s sacred role in the group, Ruapehu had no choice by to cast him away to live in solitude away from the group. He left the clan, first travelling westward, then southward, following the path of the tear drop of the Whanganui River. As he followed the river downstream, he carved out a deep and wide channel through which the river flows today.

Upon reaching the coast he rested before heading north westward to the coast until suddenly stopped by the Pouakai Mountains. There he rests to this day looking towards his old clan, though often hiding from them with the long stream of cloud that often extends eastward from him as he remains there facing towards the other mountains.

Legend tells that one day Taranaki will return to Ruapehu and Tongariro along the route he travelled, so few Maori have ever settled along the Whanganui River in the fear of his return.

In the mean time, the local tribes look to Ruapehu as their mountain, and to Whanganui as their river.



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21 February 2016


Western North Island

New Zealand



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