Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 20, June 1976


Thirty members of the Paeroa Historical Society spent an interesting and informative period in Whakatane during Queen's Birthday weekend.

On arrival the group was met by the President of the Whakatane Society, Mr. London and by Mr. Kingsley-Smith, noted newspaper editor, writer, and television personality known as "Kotare" who broadcasts from Radio Whakatane on Maori history and legends. He told of the arrival of the Matatua canoe under command of Chief Turoa, and of clashes with the Tangata Whenua (the men of the land) the Morieri [Moriori ? – E] people.

Maori men were responsible for the sailing of the canoes and Maori women were forbidden to handle the paddles. On arrival off this promising spot the men left the canoe to reconnoitre. Their absence extended beyond the change in the tide and the canoe began to drift seawards. The forthright and rebellious daughter of the Chief Mahataroa leapt to her feet crying "I will be man, I will take the canoe to the shore". When the men returned the women were paddling and Mahataroa calling "Ka-wha-ka-tane a-hau-ia-hau", hence the name Whakatane.

Mahataroa's Rock is a fitting memorial to the courage and resourcefulness of the Princess.

Many were the stories told of the Bay of Plenty tribes, the Hau-Haus, and the Tuhoe. During one of their clashes Whakatane was razed by the Hau-Haus. Fortunately the inhabitants had been warned of the likely attack and had escaped.

A visit was made to Whakatane's eastern area to see the famous rock "Ngatatua" at the entrance to the harbour, and Muriwai's Cave nearby, which is used by the local Maori people as a retreat in which to meditate and work out their problems. Whale and White Islands can be clearly seen from this area. At the edge of the town the Wairere waterfall is a spectacular sight.

On the Sunday a journey was made to Opotiki via the coast road - we noted the magnificent pohutakawa [pohutukawa – E] trees at Ohope Beach. Our guide on this occasion was Mr. Dave White, a dedicated student of the early history of the area and a descendant of an early pioneer family. The road leads first to a plateau overlooking the harbour and the surrounding view is one never to be forgotten. Then on down the coast road for a considerable distance with our guide recounting the history of the numerous forts and pahs of the Whakatarea and Hau-Hau tribes.

The mud flats of Ohiwa Harbour are home to many varieties of wading birds - we noted large colonies of blue herons. The bush here was shown to be regenerated, that is, bush grown since it was cut back by the people two hundred years ago, as cleared patches were needed for kumara growing.

When the notorious Chief, Te Kooti was pardoned, he received a grant of 600 acres where his followers built a pah and marae. Te Kooti's people followed the Ringatu religion which is still practised by a large proportion of the Bay of Plenty people.

At Opotiki we visited the famous historical Church of St. Stephen the Martyr. The Rev. Carl Sylvius Volkner built the original Church and suffered death at the hands of the rebellious Chief, Kereopa, of the Ngati Parou [Porou ? – E], partly in revenge for the death of the Chief's daughter and partly because he was considered by the Maoris to be a spy.

The party enjoyed a lunch break in the beautiful Hukutaia Domain high on the hills overlooking Opotiki. Here native shrubs and trees from all over New Zealand have been planted with each specimen named and the area from which it originally came. A giant hollow Puriri tree had formerly been the burial place of a number of Chiefs of the Ngati Porou.

Our next stop was near the Mihimario Pah, Te Urupe, the Chief pah of the Ngati Porou where Mr. White addressed us on the ways of the Maoris in early times and their firmly held beliefs concerning tapu.

The route took us through the Waimanu Valley famed for its cheese. A stop was made at the site of an old floor [flour – E] mill with the huge grinding stone now a roadside memorial. Then on to Taneatua, meaning God-like and named after a Chief who was noted for his habit of leaving a kuri (dog) whenever he visited an area.

That evening we visited the Whakatane Museum where Mr. London and Mr. Kingsley-Smith described many different and rare artifacts on display.

On Monday we made two visits to places of interest - first, the famous Pohaturoa Rock, the very heart of Whakatane. The Rock surrounds the cave where warriors underwent the tatooing necessary for their role and mana, and where every baby born received a baptism of cold water - only the fittest surviving. Then a short visit to the local radio station followed by farewells to the members of the Whakatane Historical Society who had proved such excellent hosts.

Both Mr. London and "Kotare" accompanied us part of the way to Tauranga to give us more information about the different points of interest. A stop at Matata gave us an opportunity to hear the legend of the mountains: Tarawera and Edgecombe, as well as other stories.

In Tauranga the party visited "The Elms" the well known former mission station and home of the descendants of Archdeacon Brown who established the home and planted the garden in 1833. Mr. Maxwell, a grandson of the Archdeacon held our interest with an address about the history of the house and the Church with particular reference to the huge tree planted by his Grandfather 150 years ago, as well as a library which remains as it was left 90 years ago.

The Battle of Gate Pa took place close by during which the Maori people will always be remembered for their observance of a high standard of Christian chivalry.

We arrived back in Paeroa tired but happy; feeling that our debt of gratitude to the members of the Whakatane Historical Society would be a difficult one to repay.