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Whakapapa and Mātauranga Māori

Origins of the Giant

The stories of Te Mata and his legendary feats are probably the most well-known stories of the region.

Different hapū of the region view Te Mata from many different perspectives and pass down various stories relating to the maunga.

Each group determines which stories best represent their people, and all stories are respected and acknowledged equally.

This is one story, retold by local historian Pat Parsons:

The well-recited legend of Te Mata Peak portrays the hill as the prostrate body of the Waimārama chief Te Mata.

Many centuries ago the people living in pā (fortified villages) on the Heretaunga Plains were under constant threat of war from the coastal tribes of Waimārama. At a gathering at Pakipaki (5km south of Hastings) to discuss the problem, the solution came when a kuia (wise old woman) sought permission to speak in the marae: “He ai nā te wahine, ka horahia te pō,” she said. (The ways of a woman can sometimes overcome the effects of darkness).

Hinerākau, the beautiful daughter of a Pakipaki chief, was to be the focal point of a plan. She would get the leader of the Waimārama tribes, a giant named Te Mata, to fall in love with her, turning his thoughts from war to peace. The plan succeeded but she too fell in love.

The people of Heretaunga, however, had not forgotten the past and with revenge as the motive, demanded that Hinerākau make Te Mata prove his devotion by performing seemingly impossible tasks. The last task was to bite his way through the hills between the coast and the plains so that people could come and go with greater ease.

Looking towards the Peak from Hastings, the huge bite that choked Te Mata can be seen. The outline of his body forms the skyline, with his head to the south and his feet to the north. European settlers also thought the hills resembled a man lying down and called him the “Sleeping Giant”.

To prove his love, Te Mata attempted to bite through the mountain, but choked on the earth and died. Today his half-accomplished work can be seen in the hills in what is known as The Gap or Pari Kārangaranga (echoing cliffs). His prostrate body forms Te Mata Peak.

At sunset one can often see in the mists which stretch from the crown of Kahurānaki, the beautiful blue cloak with which the grieving Hinerākau covered the body of her husband before leaping to her own death from the precipice on the Waimārama side of the Peak. The gully at the base of the cliff was formed when her body struck the earth.