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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 9, Issue 9 (December 1, 1934)

Heaven's Door and Window

Heaven's Door and Window.

There is an aura of tapu about some of our ancient volcanoes, those long dead furnace cupolas that seem to have an air of watchfulness, as if they had not yet done with that eruption business. I have in mind at the moment Mt. Edgecumbe, the Putauaki of the Maoris, whose blue truncated cone springs at you, so to say, when you top the forested hill above Lake Rotoma, on the motor road from Rotorua to Whakatane. Our mountain climbers do not seem to have discovered Edgecumbe yet. They will find their problem there is not bush or cliffs but the high and tangled fern and scrub that clothe the steep-angled peak. In the crater at the top there is a little lake, and there is a very ancient forest of quite tall timber there, nearly three thousand feet above sea-level.

But the most enthalling thing about Putauaki, to my mind, is the magic garment of legend and poetry and witchery that the Maoris have woven about it. For many a generation the very summit of the eastern peak, the highest part of the crater rim, was the burial place of the chief people of the Ngati-Awa and Pahipoto tribes. The remains of persons of lesser rank were deposited in caves on the west peak, and near the foot of the mountain, on the north-west side, towards the old village of Otipa, on the bank of the Rangitaiki River.

Fine inspiring names were given to the top of the boldly carved mountain. The sharp eastern crown, the tribal necropolis, haunted by the spirits of the dead, is called Te Tatau-a-Rangi, “The Door of Heaven.” The central crater, with its little lake looking up to the sky like a blue eye, is Te Matapihi-a-Rehua, which means “The Window of the Star Sirius.” There is a mythological reference here which would take much explanation to make fully clear. Rehua, or Sirius, the brightest of the fixed stars, is often coupled with Atutahi (Canopus) in Maori poetry. Rehua and Atutahi have authority over the lesser stars, says the Maori. When small clouds drift around that mountain top, the Maoris say the spirits of the dead are hovering there.

At the lofty Tatau-a-Rangi there is, according to my Maori informants, who live at the base of the mountain, a deep, mysterious cavern (torere), a volcanic fissure of unknown depth. Its mouth is partly covered by a stone slab. Into this mighty doorway to the unknown the rangatira dead were lowered.