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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 5, Issue 7 (December 1, 1930)

Mountain of Love — Te Aroha, its Forested Peaks, its Explorers, and its Legends

page 25

Mountain of Love
Te Aroha, its Forested Peaks, its Explorers, and its Legends

The spa town of Te Arohza, on the banks of the willowed Waihou River in the shadow of a grand mountain range, is a greatly popular place of resort for its beauty of situation as well as for its pleasant warm mineralised bathing springs and its drinking waters. In this article Mr. Cowan tells some little-known Maori legends of Te Aroha which enhance the interest of a visit to the pretty town. The Pakeha town dates back just fifty years; the Maori history of the place covers six centuries.

Fastness of Maori tribes from immemorial times, refuge of broken clans in war, fairy haunt invoked in poetic chants of the Maori, Te Aroha—“Mountain of Loving Greetings”—is a place whose human interest heightens its landscape beauty. This three-thousand-feet wooded blue bastion of the Moehau-Hautere range, that builds a high skyline a hundred miles long in the eastern part of Auckland province, is more than a mere rugged mass of rock and soil and tall timber. It is one of those mountains with a personality, like Taranaki's lone peak, the type of mountain that came naturally into the animistic mythology of the olden race. It looked to them a giant watchman overlooking riverside and valley and plain.

Some people have fancied the name Te Aroha a reference to the love and pity symbolised in the fact that the mountain was a refuge for defeated and hunted tribes in the days of continual warfare. Undoubtedly its ravines and forests often gave secure sanctuary to Maoris retreating from their enemies. But the origin of the name antedates the intertribal wars; and there are definite explanatory traditions.

Climbers and Name-givers.

Five centuries ago a chief of the Arawa people climbed to the topmost peak of Te Aroha range, and surveyed with wonder the vast expanse of territory that stretched west and south and north as far as vision could carry. His name was Kahu-mata-momoe, which means “Sleepyeyed Kahu.” But the adjective belied this explorer of old; he was by no means one of the dozing kind. “Kahu”—“Hawk”—described him well, no doubt, for, like most Polynesians, pathfinders of that most adventurous epoch in Pacific Islands history, it was his habit to ascend as high as possible above the lower world. Kahu was the son of Tama-te-Kapua, the captain of the Arawa sailing canoe, who had died and been buried on the summit of Moehau (Cape Colville), and he was on his way home to Maketu from a visit to a kinsman at the Kaipara. As was his way, he kept to the tops of the ridges on his travels, and when he came to these parts he ascended the mountain heights that loom like a blue cloud above the Upper Waihou River.

When he felt the soft sea breeze fanning his cheek he murmured words of affection for the friends and places far away, his father, whose grave was high on cloudy Moehau, and the words “Muri-Aroha” came to his lips—love for those left behind. As he stood on the mountain top he thought of his kinsfolk on the distant seashore, and he said, “Let this mountain peak be called ‘Aroha-tai-o-kahu’“ page 26 —his love towards the sea. Then he climbed to a point where he had a clear view over the western plains and hills, and as he gazed long upon that wild lone land he chanted his words of affection and regret for his kinsfolk who had gone to Taupo and other inland parts, and he named that peak “Aroha-uta-o-Kahu,” or “Kahu's Landward Love.”

Another Version: Rakataura the Explorer

That story of the naming of Te Aroha is the Arawa tribe's version. The Tainui canoe crew's descendants, the Ngati-Maniapoto and allied tribes, have a different narrative, attributing the name-giving to Rakataura, the priest of Tainui, six centuries ago. Rakataura, when his people had settled at Kawhia after their voyage across the Pacific from Tahiti, explored the great expanse of the interior now known as the King Country, from the West Coast to Lake Taupo. He lived at various places with his family and he then went on eastward to the great range that extended like a wall beyond the plains.

He ascended the loftiest peaks of this range to survey the surrounding country, and as he stood on the heights he chanted songs of affection and sorrow for his distant kinsfolk, and he named the inland-looking peak Te Aroha-i-uta, and the other Te Aroha-i-tai-the names which the Arawa attribute to Kahu-mata-monioe. If this story is correct, then Rakataura of Tainui would seem to have prior claim to the fame of the name-giving.

The Fairy Mountaineers.

There are tales of fairy foresters. The Maoris call them Patu-paiarche or Turchu (a term which means fairies, enchanted people, furtive woodsmen), and sometimes mohoao, or wild people of the bush. I have a legend of Te Aroha which peoples the mountain with a fairy tribe, whose chief was called Ruatane. He was the chieftain of all the fairy people inhabiting the Colville Range. No doubt these Patu-paiarche were really fugitive tribes of the ancient people who preceded the Hawaiki Maoris in New Zealand. The legend refers to them as a mystic people, skilled in enchantments. Ruatane once seized a woman of the Nati-Matakore tribe, far away in the Rangitoto country, south of the present King Country boundary and bore her off to his village high up on cloudy Aroha. But there was another fairy chief, Tarapikau, whose home was in the Rangitoto Ranges, and he pursued Ruatane, and by stratagem and the exercise of powerful hypnotic charms, which steeped the abductor and his tribe in deep slumber, he recovered the stolen woman and restored her to her tribe.

An angry fairy was Ruatane when he awakened from his heavy sleep, and he made war on Tarapikau, and he hurled from the top of his mountain a burning dart that set fire to a rata tree on which his foe was perched on the top of Rangitoto, fifty miles away!

The Mountain War-gong.

On the top of Aroha-i-uta peak, overlooking the Waihou Valley, a chief named Ruinga long ago built a strongly stockaded pa. It was called Nga Tukituki a Hikawera, and it was the fortress of a tribe who lived on the products of the bush.

In this pa, according to the traditions of the Ngati-Tamatera tribe, there was a great pahu or signal gong, a large oval piece of timber, hollowed out somewhat like a shallow bowl, and made as thin as possible, on the principle of the sounding-board. This pahu was suspended from a stage on the middle of the mountain stockade, and was struck with a heavy stick when it was desired to give a signal such as calling the tribe together in the event of an enemy's invasion.

Rib-tickling with Spears.

An old man of the Ngati-Tamatera—the Ohinemuri tribe over whom the grim warrior Taraia was chief last century—gave me some previously unrecorded names of the Aroha region. That high hill to which so many holiday visitors to Te Aroha town climb, the spur just above the Government baths and Domain, was called Whakapipi. On its summit once stood a fortified place occupied by the page 27 Ngati-Tumutumu tribe, one of the very ancient clans of bush-dwellers who were here long before the Hawaiki immigrants reached New Zealand in the Arawa and Tainui, and other historic canoes. Whakapipi means “heaped up,” a pile of stones or timbers or other material.

The little stream which flows down between two sharp ridges and through Te Aroha town into the Waihou River, was called by the Maoris the Tutumange-ongeo. It is not an enticing name for the tyro in Maori pronunciation, nevertheless it is a curiously interesting title that should be preserved, for it holds a story. My old Tamatera informant said that the stream derived its name from a combat between two long-ago champions who met each other in front of their war-parties on the creek side. Both were armed with long spears. They fought so desperately that each was fatally pierced by the other's spear, and both died on the bank of the bush stream. And in memory of that duel of long ago the name-givers combined the root-words “tu,” meaning wounded, and “mangeo,” meaning pain, or acute smarting”. Also, there is a form of the word meaning to tickle. Let us reduce the formidable Aroha brookname, there-fore, to its most agreeable form and give it a down-to-date translation as “Tickled to Death.”

Down by the Willowed Banks of the Waihou River. (Rly. Publicity photo.) Te Aroha as seen from the historic mountain.

Down by the Willowed Banks of the Waihou River.
(Rly. Publicity photo.)
Te Aroha as seen from the historic mountain.

Te Aroha Mineral Springs: The Discoverers.

The first mention we have on record of the health-giving waters for which Te Aroha has attained fame as a spa, goes back to the year 1849, when Sir George Grey, then Governor of the colony, made a journey overland from Auckland to Taranaki by way of this Waihou Valley, Rotorua and Taupo.

An account of the tour was written by Mr. G. S. Cooper, the Governor's Assistant Private Secretary, and this, with a version in Maori by Pirikawau, a native interpreter, who accompanied the party, was published in 1851, in a little book (“Journal of an Expedition Overland,” etc.), which is now one of the rare treasures of New Zealand libraries.

This is an entry in Mr. Cooper's diary narrative, under date December 12, 1849. The party was then camped on the Waihou banks, a short distance above the present town of Te Aroha:—

“It was raining this morning harder than ever, and continued to do so without page 28 intermission throughout the day, so as to preclude the possibility of our proceeding on our journey…. We went about two miles down the river to see a spring called Te Korokoro o Hura (‘Hura's Throat'). It is situated at the foot of Mt. Te Aroha, on the eastern bank of the river. On approaching it, Whakareho, who was our guide, instructed me in a native ceremony for strangers approaching a boiling spring. It consists in puiling up some fern or any other weed which may be at hand, and throwing it into the spring, at the same time repeating the words of a Karakia:

‘Ka u ki Matanuku,
Ka u ki Matarangi,
Ka u ki tenei whenua,
Hei whenua;
Hei kai mau te ate o tauhou.'
‘The following is the translation:
”‘I arrive where an unknown earth is under my feet,
I arrive where a new sky is above me,
I arrive at this land,
A resting place for me;
O Spirit of the Earth, the stranger humbly offers his heart as food for thee.'

In A Picturesque Setting. (Rly. Publicity photo.) The Government Spa at Te Aroha—famed for its curative mineral baths and drinking waters.

In A Picturesque Setting.
(Rly. Publicity photo.)
The Government Spa at Te Aroha—famed for its curative mineral baths and drinking waters.

“The above ceremony, which is called ‘Tupuna Whenua,’ is used by persons on their first arrival at a strange place, for the purpose of appeasing the spirit of the earth, who would otherwise be angry at their intrusion.

“On examining the spring we found that the water was not hot, and could hardly be called tepid, although it was not quite cold. We found a small quantity of sulphurous deposit in the mud, through which its water wells up.”

That unfragrant Throat of Hura is today the famous mineral-water of Te Aroha, which thousands of visitors sip for their stomachs’ sake and out of curiosity. The bathing waters Grey's party did not see or sample; there was not much inducement, evidently, to go exploring at the flood-sodden base of the mountain.