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Kupe's travels around Aotearoa

The great battle between Kupe, his warriors, and the giant wheke (octopus) of Muturangi took place at the top of the South Island. Kupe's children, wife, and other whānau members stayed at Te Whanganui-a-Tara (Wellington), to gather supplies and to keep safe from what Kupe knew would be a fierce sea battle.

And dangerous it was. His huge ocean sailing vessel, Matahorua, was almost capsized, which would surely have been the end of Kupe and his crew. But Kupe's quick thinking saved the day. By throwing calabashes into the sea to imitate bodies, he tricked the giant wheke. And when it emerged from the depths, Kupe leapt onto its head and struck the blow that ended its life. Arapaoa was the name given to that fatal blow, and that was the first name given to the South Island of Aotearoa.

When Kupe returned to Te Whanganui-a-Tara, he was met with great surprise and joy. His daughters were so sure that he had been defeated by the wheke that they had slashed their chests in mourning. So the rocks of that area were stained red with blood and are still known today as Pari Whero (Red Rocks).

After resting at Te Whanganui-a-Tara, Kupe and his whānau set sail once more. Before they left, Kupe named the two islands in the harbour after his daughters – Matiu (Somes Island) and Makaro (Ward Island).

They then travelled around the south coast, stopping firstly at a place to gather shell fish. There they used bull kelp to make containers for storing food. That place (Sinclairs Head) was named Rimu Rapa, meaning 'flattened seaweed'.

After they had gathered supplies, they continued up the west coast to Porirua where they stopped at an island off the coast. Matiu, Kupe's daughter, was so pleased that they had successfully crossed the great ocean of Kiwa and that her father had defeated the giant wheke, that she suggested naming the island Te Mana-o-Kupe-ki-Aotearoa. Kupe agreed and the island is still known today as Mana Island.

While exploring the harbour at Porirua, Kupe saw a large white stone in the water, which he retrieved to use as another anchor stone for their waka Matahorua. The new anchor was named Hukatai because of its white colour.

They then travelled south to Arapaoa (South Island) to find out how plentiful the resources were and whether or not other people lived there. Their journey along the West Coast brought them to a river that Kupe named Arahura, meaning 'the way opened up'.

They didn't discover other people, but they did find a stone they had never seen before. Plentiful in the rivers of the south, the beautiful pounamu (greenstone) was recognised not only for its beauty but also for its tool making properties. One particular type of pounamu had flecks of white running through it, which were likened to the inanga (whitebait) they were catching in their nets. Kupe's wife, Hine-te-uira-i-waho named that type of greenstone Inanga for that reason.

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The travellers then continued down the West Coast until there was no more land to discover, and so they came around the southern coast of the South Island. There they saw many seals and penguins. Kupe said to his travelling companion Hine-waihau, "Leave your pets here to dwell at this end of the island, for there are surely no people here".

So the seals and penguins were left to inhabit the southern end of Arapaoa, which is now called Te Waipounamu or Te Waka-a-Māui.

Kupe and his travelling companions then sailed back to Te Ika-a-Māui (North Island) and continued their journey back up the western coast. They passed by Mana Island and Kapiti Island on the side closest to the shore, and so it was said that Kupe severed these islands from the mainland. This occurrence was recorded in song and handed down through the generations.

They sailed further north up the coast and stopped at the mouth of the Whanganui river. Because it was so windy there, Kupe named that place Te Kaihau-o-Kupe (Kupe's windeating).

While exploring the Whanganui river, one of Kupe's crew was drowned crossing the river to gather korau (wild cabbage). His name was Pawa, and so that place was named Kauarapawa.

They left the Whanganui river and continued up the coast to Pātea, where Kupe planted karaka seeds. Later, when he had returned safely to Hawaiki, Kupe recalled this part of his journey to Turi. In years to come, Turi captained the waka Aotea and eventually settled his people in the Pātea area.

Kupe continued up the coast of Te Ika-a-Māui until they came to the Hokianga harbour, which was so bountiful with sea life that Kupe's daughter Hine-te-uira asked if they could take possession of that place. Kupe agreed, and the tohunga recited their karakia and placed a stone of urutapu (named Tamahaere) at the harbour's entrance. This was a very sacred ceremony and that particular place is still known to be tapu to this day.

The travellers feasted in celebration at a place called Tarata-rotorua, then readied themselves for the long journey back to Hawaiki. Hokianga means 'the returning place', and was so named because Kupe and his whānau departed from that area.

Once back in their homeland, Kupe was asked many questions about the land of the long white cloud. And so the stories of discovery and adventure were shared with the people of Hawaiki – stories of giant trees, mountain ranges, rivers full of fish and greenstone, and forests full of birds, some standing taller than a man.

So enticing were these stories that the people of Hawaiki wanted to see those places for themselves. Talk of following Kupe's travels to the distant shores of Aotearoa became a reality when new waka were built and many more people decided to leave Hawaiki to start a new life in the distant land.

This was the beginning of the migration of the Māori people from Hawaiki, and was made possible because Kupe had chased the giant wheke across the Pacific Ocean to discover a new and wonderful land called Aotearoa.

(c) Wiremu Grace

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