Figure 3. Aotearoa—New Zealand: 3 Districts of Te Taitokerau–Northland.
Figure 3. Aotearoa—New Zealand: 3 Districts of Te Taitokerau–Northland.

Hawaiki & Kupe

Kupe is a legendary Māori voyager whose exploits appear in traditional records and modern tales of New Zealand history. As is the case with all oral histories, there are regional variances in the tales of Kupe. Some of the wider held tribal narratives claim Kupe was the first Polynesian to discover the islands of New Zealand. There are conflicting tales of his reason for leaving his homeland of Hawaiki, but it is known that he traveled in the Matawhaorua waka (war canoe) and battled a giant octopus that belonged to his competitor, Muturangi, before arriving at the islands. Kupe’s wife, Kuramārōtini, is said to have named the North Island Ao-tea-roa or “long white cloud” upon seeing it for the first time (fig. 3).14 Te Ahukaramū Charles Royal, “First People in Māori Tradition - Kupe.”

Like Maui before him, Kupe’s link to New Zealand is a lifeline to the land for Māori. His voyage along the country’s west coast is notable for the numerous place names found in his accounts. The names he gave to localities, from Wellington at the bottom of the North Island to Northland at the top, have been preserved by generations who settled the regions and have outlasted, for whatever reason, the place names offered by his fellow Māori ancestors.15 Royal, “Kupe.”

In around 925 AD, after completing his journey up the coast, Kupe settled in Hokianga. According to tradition, Kupe was the only Māori voyager to make the return journey from Aotearoa back to his homeland of Hawaiki, for which he departed from Hokianga. It is said that Kupe declared Hokianga as the place of his eventual return, even leaving some items behind for good measure. The origin of the name ‘Hokianga’ reflects this story, as hoki means ‘to return’. It is also recorded in Te Taitokerau (Northland) tradition that Nukutawhiti, Kupe’s grandson, returned from Hawaiki to settle in the Hokianga.16 “The History of the Hokianga.”

The Hokianga is one of the oldest Māori settlements and is a heartland for the indigenous people of Aotearoa. In the 14th century, the great chief Puhi landed just south of a region called Bay of Islands on the east coast of the North Island. Over time, Ngāpuhi (the tribe of Puhi) slowly extended westward until it reached the west coast and colonized both sides of the Hokianga (fig. 4).17 “The History of the Hokianga.” This project brought me to both sides of the Hokianga where I learned from the descendants of Kupe about the country he discovered.

Figure 4. 12 Iwi of Te Taitokerau–Northland.