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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 10, Issue 8 (November 1, 1935)


“Ko Tongariro te Maunga; ko Taupo te Moana; ko Te Heuheu te Tangata.” (“Tongariro is the Mountain; Taupo is the Lake; Te Heuheu is the Man.”) “Ko Rongomai te Atua; ko Te Heuheu te Tangata.” (“Rongomai is the God; Te Heuheu is the Man.”)

These are the proverbial sayings or pepeha of the people who live on the shores of Lake Taupo, or Taupo Moana, regarding the hereditary Chiefs of the Heuheu family, the heads of the Ngati-Turumakina section of the Ngati-Tuwharetoa tribe. Most tribes and some families of high aristocratic lineage have their special sayings, slogans, or honorific aphorisms; but that of the Heuheu line is the proudest of all in its lofty-sounding and poetic symbolism. The tradition and history of the heart of the North Island are for centuries the history of this long-pedigreed family. The most celebrated of the line was the majestic old chief Te Heuheu Tukino, of whom some of the pioneer travellers and missionaries wrote, and who was killed with many of his tribe by a landslip in 1846. It was his son, Te Heuheu Horonuku, who presented the New Zealand Government with the sacred peaks of the Tongariro volcanic country, a gift that was the nucleus of the Tongariro National Park. The present chief, Hoani te Heuheu, is the grandson of Horonuku.

Te Heuheu Tukino (Horonuku), who presented to the State in 1887 the mountain peaks now the Tongariro National Park. He died in 1888.

Te Heuheu Tukino (Horonuku),
who presented to the State in 1887 the mountain peaks now the Tongariro National Park. He died in 1888.

The genealogy of the Heuheu family line of South Taupo is a family tree that is worthy to stand alongside any chieftain's pedigree in the Scottish Highlands. No Lord of the Isles can point to a longer line of fighting chiefs than the members of some of our New Zealand first families, whose ancestral names go back into the Hawaikian era, generations before the first sailing-craft from Tahiti and other Eastern Pacific islands touched the New Zealand shore. The old families preserved their word-of-mouth lists of descent as tapu things; the very recital of the revered ancestral names had the virtue of a prayer. Now many of these lists are preserved in print; the ancient tapu has gone, but the wonder and the magic of old, old traditions remain. The hereditary paramount chiefs of Ngati-Turumakina came of a line not only of warrior leaders but of high priests. The most revered of all the ancestors of the Heuheu family was Ngatoro-i-Rangi, who was the priest of the Arawa canoe and who discovered the volcanic mountains, the history of which is so interlocked with that of the Heuheus.

The unusually dramatic quality of the Tongariro landscape is in keeping with the heroic traditions of the olden overlords of the country. It is a place of classic Maori-Polynesian mythology in which the nature-legends of the dim and faery past are blended with the long warrior history of the Heuheu family and their clans. The high chiefs and the high peaks alike were tapu; they were as gods and guardians of the land and the people. That wide view of water and mountain that comes to the eye as one looks from the north end of Lake Taupo gives you the domain of the ancient line whose beginnings in the whakapapa or family-trees go back to the gods and the personified powers of nature. Those flashing pinnacles of ice and snow; those fuming craters and nests of steaming mountain-springs and heights moulded by the never-resting powers of the under-world, they all have entered into the making of the soul of the Heuheus and their people. The chiefs identified themselves with the volcanic peaks. “I am that Mountain,” said the great Heuheu to those who asked his permission to climb Tongariro and Ngauruhoe. “You cannot tread on me.” Or again, “That Mountain is my ancestor; it is tapu to alien foot.” This sacredness was intensified in the Maori mind when the bones of the great Heuheu who had scorned to acknowledge Queen Victoria as his superior in mana were given mighty sepulchre, in a cave high on Tongariro's side.