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Lore and history of the South Island Maori

A Legend of the Rakaia Gorge

page 100

A Legend of the Rakaia Gorge

To the best of the writer's knowledge not one tourist or historical book, or magazine, has recorded the legend of the Rakaia Gorge, known only to a few settlers of long ago.

Fighting Hill, in the Rakaia Gorge above Windwhistle, does not refer to an old-time Maori battle as might be presumed. Past Maoris in their legends tell the stories in a figurative way. This narrative refers to the frequent north-west wind being broken in velocity, and halted largely in further destructive progress, as it come in conflict with a wind blowing towards the west across the Canterbury Plains.

A taniwha used to dwell near where the Acheron homestead now stands. He had cultivations there, and in addition for food, he captured the gigantic bird known as the moa, the weka, and other feathered game (although the moa no longer exists, his bones and his gizzard stones can still be found in the locality).

The possessions of the taniwha were exceedingly tapu, and any interfering visitors suffered accordingly. However, if left alone, the taniwha did not cause harm to anyone.

One very cold day the taniwha journeyed away to find a hot spring in which to warm himself. While away, a demon personified in the form of a violent north-west wind, came down the Rakaia from the Main Divide, and flattened out the property of the taniwha. The latter individual, ever industrious, returned and re-established everything, but at the same time determined to outwit the north-west demon, and protect the possessions from any future destruction planned by the evil deity.

The taniwha journeyed up to the mountains and brought down huge stones and boulders with which he hoped to halt or even imprison the demon. With the stones and boulders the course of the Rakaia was narrowed so that it flowed contorted between two rocky walls. The keystone of the taniwha's gigantic task remains today as the rock island which acts as a portion of the Rakaia Gorge bridge.

The evil one, the north-west wind, in his struggle to have a clear strong pathway to the plains, became so warm that the heat from his body melted the snow on the mountains. The taniwha in forming his barrier to the demon's progress also page 101suffered a heated body, and the perspiration fell so hot on the stones and boulders that they were blistered. The proof is that today you can find rock crystal in the bed of the Rakaia river.

The taniwha and the north-west demon proved a well-matched pair. They still have their little differences but on the whole we can now consider them fairly good friends and it is well that such is the case as it benefits us now dwelling on the Canterbury Plains.

Such is the story of Fighting Hill.