The Lost Land of Paorae
There was a vague story about some Maori Lost Atlantis that once existed on the western coast of the North Island of New Zealand. One dim legend ran that it was an island and that it vanished suddenly and mysteriously, obliterated by the gods of ocean.
To clear up these uncertain tales, and to discover what there was of authentic history in the word-of-mouth traditions, I consulted two kaumatua of the Ngati-Mahuta tribe, Patara te Tuhi and Honana Maioha, of Mangere, Manukau Harbour. This was in 1898. They were brothers and of high rangatira rank, much tattooed survivors of the grand old generation whose minds were stored with tribal history, legend, poetry. Patara’s wise, shrewd, benevolent old face was a wonderful picture of trenched, scrolled designs, the work of a long-gone tohunga-tā-moko on Motutapu Island. Men with histories, too. So, sitting in the sunshine in the comfortable lee of a tall row of cultivated flax, on their Ararata farm, the veterans of Ngati-Mahuta told the story of the lost land called Paorae.
Old England has its memories of fertile coast lands devoured by the tide; of villages and churches and farms that within historic times have disappeared beneath the waters of the North Sea and the English Channel. New Zealand, too, has lost lands to Tangaroa, through the joint agencies of subsidence and erosion of the coast. But there was no island, the old men said; there was a great tract of mainland which the ocean has won for its own; and the waves now surge over the long-vanished kumara grounds of the teeming Ngaiwi people.
A long, long time ago, Patara’s narrative went, a large expanse of low-lying land, dotted with dwellings and cultivations, stretched out seawards from the present South Head of Manukau Harbour. This tract of country extended southward in the direction of Waikato Heads. Anciently, the face of the land round Manukau Harbour and the Heads presented a very different appearance from what it does now. Then, the greater part of what is now Manukau (or originally, Manuka) Harbour, with its shallow tidal flats, was solid land, covered with kauri and other heavy timber. This land was low-lying, flat, and sandy, and through it ran three long saltwater creeks, or arms of the sea. Gradually, in the course of long years, the sea, to use Patara’s words, ate up the soft soil, until the sea slowly but surely took the land for itself. Thus, the Manukau was turned into a saltwater sea, and sea-birds screamed and fishes played where once thick forests grew.page 118
Said Patara: “Now, Kawana, if I were on the height of Mahanihani, at the Heads, I could show you where there lay, stretching southward to Waikato, the long flat land which was called Paorae. How many miles it stretched seaward I know not; our ancestors did not reckon in miles. It might have been three miles, it might have been ten out to sea. It was a flat land, and mostly sand, and on it were the houses and cultivations of our forefathers in the very remote days before the pakeha came to this country. When the canoe Tainui from Hawaiki sailed down the West Coast this Paorae was a large extent of land; and it became a famous place for the cultivation of the kumara, and also the taro. The ground was warm and very sandy, and the kumara grew abundantly. There was a freshwater lagoon abounding in eels and wild duck. There were villages of the ancient people on the land, and it became a favourite spot for the tribes to go for kai mataitai—fish, and pipi, and mussels.”
Along the shore at the north end, the old man said, there were fishing stations. Large canoes were drawn up on the sand, and in the summer months were launched day after day for the capture of the shark and other fish, which were hung up to dry in the sun. A little way back from the beaches were the cultivations of the sweet potato and the taro. Paorae was a great kumara farm of the Ngaiwi, or Ngaoho, the ancient people who occupied the land about the Manukau Heads and southward to Waikato. The Tamaki Isthmus, with the site of the present city of Auckland, was then owned by the Waiohua nation, who swarmed over its fertile plains, and entrenched themselves on its volcanic hill cones. But in time Ngaiwi were dispossessed by Waikato, who came down and slaughtered the owners of the land from the Waikato Heads to Manukau. So passed the land “to the brave”—“Kua riro ki te toa”—and the Waikato warriors became possessed of the coast lands of Paorae. One of the conquering chiefs was Kauahi, who became the lord of the kumara flats.
In those days there was no South Channel, such as the steamers now take when crossing the Manukau bar, bound for Taranaki. The three creeks of the Manukau, then, according to the ancestral traditions, discharged to the north of the present bar, out beyond where the sharp volcanic heights of Paratutae and Marotiri stand.
“And how did that land vanish?”
“Kua kai e te tai” (“It was eaten up by the sea”) was Patara’s reply. “Ever since it was first inhabited and cultivated, that land was gradually being bitten into by the ocean. Each year, each year, the sea would eat a piece of the Paorae; the waves would roar right up to the plantations, and the growers of the kumara would be edged back and back. The great waves of the Tai-Hauauru dashed against that land of sand and washed portions of it away, and so in time the ocean rolled over it all. But there page 119 was no great or sudden catastrophe. It did not perish by any great earthquake, or by a sudden and awful hurricane from the sea. It was worn away gradually until now, as you may see, there is not a sign of that ancient Paorae.”
Patara said that his father, the warrior chief Maioha (whom Angas the artist sketched in 1844) remembered seeing in his boyhood the fastvanishing land of Paorae. Maioha died about the year 1860, and it would therefore be about the period 1780–1800 that the sands were still visible. Rongomate, Maioha’s father, was one of the chiefs who owned the kumara lands of Paorae, and the great Kaihau was also one of the overlords of the Lower Waikato and the country around Manukau Heads, and in his time the Paorae flats still resisted the encroachments of the sea, and were fishing places and plantations. In Maioha’s time the old fort Te Pa-o-Kokako stood on the South Head. It has now been worn away by the action of water, wind and weather.
The Manukau bar did not exist when Paorae was inhabited and cultivated. The fact is that the southern shoals and sand-banks of the bar are part of the ancient Paorae, with the surface washed away. The Maori name for the Manukau bar is “Te Kupenga-o-Taramainuku” (“The Fishing-net of Taramainuku”). In Norse mythology there is the legend of the white-veiled sea goddess Ran, who spread her nets on the dangerous coast for sailor men, and who, with her nine pale daughters, entertained the drowned in her coral caves. Taramainuku was the grandson of Tama-te-Kapua, the chief of the Arawa canoe, and he settled at Kaipara Heads, where, in very remote times, before his day, there was a land occupying the parts inside the entrance now covered by the tide waters.
There is a proverbial saying applied to the roaring bar of the Manukau, where in westerly winds the rollers for miles outside the Heads break in drowning surf over the banks of sand: “Kei te tua o Manuka, te kite ki muri ki te Kupenga-o-Taramainuku” (“When you pass out beyond the Manuka waters, do not look back until you reach—or pass—the ‘Fishing-net of Tara’”)—a kind of Maori equivalent for the cautionary “Don’t hallo till you are out of the wood.” It was upon these shoals that are the last remnants of the ancient land of Paorae that H.M.S. Orpheus was lost in 1863, when Commodore Burnett and nearly 200 seamen and marines were swept down into Taramainuku’s foam-hidden fishing-net. The pakeha sailor would call it Davy Jones’s Locker.page break