Tōhē - A Last Journey

A tale from He Korero Pūrākau Mo Ngā Taunahanahatanga a Ngā Tūpuna (Place Names Of The Ancestors) - A Māori Oral History Atlas

Tōhē was an early tupuna of the northern Kurahaupō people who as an old man conceived a desire to pay a last visit to his daughter who had married a chief of Ngāti Whātua of Kaipara. Members of Tōhē's tribe, Ngāti Kuri, begged him not to make the journey as part of it would be through enemy territory. But Tōhe insisted on making his way southwards. This story is an account of the portion of his journey on which he traversed the Wahapū o Hoki Ānga, where several names can be traced back to the passing of the ariki and his faithful servant through that territory.

Tōhē at several points of his journey, illustrated by Cliff Whiting
Tōhē at several points of his journey, illustrated by Cliff Whiting

Tōhē was a tupuna of the northern Kurahaupō people who late in his life decided to journey from the far north to visit his daughter living at Kaipara. This story tells of that part of Tōhē's journey which saw him traverse the Wahapū o Hoki Ānga toward the Maunganui Bluff, from Te Rārawa to Ngāti Whātua proper across what was seen at the time as territory belonging to Ngapuhi to the south of Hoki Ānga.

Tōhē's journey across Wahapū o Hoki Ānga began on the north side of the Hoki Ānga Harbour below Rangatira Mountain and opposite Kokohuia/Opononi. Whānui was so named because of the width of the bay lying to the south from that spot. Tōhē's departure and landing points for crossing the Hoki Ānga are consistent with a line used even to this day when crossing from north to south on the outgoing tide. Tōhē supposedly swam the river to land at the foot of cliffs on the southern shore. Local tradition places the name Whānui as indicating his crossing point, and its wide expanse of water.

Tōhē's southern landing point was at the start of the conglomerate cliffs which then extend two kilometres to the south head of Ara i Te Uru. Ara i Te Uru was a taniwha of the Takitimu people which was left at the mouth of the Hoki Ānga to prevent other vessels from entering. The name of the sheltered cove at the foot of these cliffs where Tōhē landed is known as Te Papaki, the cliff against which the waves beat. The small rock which juts up at the base of these cliffs is known as Rua Kēkeno, the hole in the cliff where seals were seen. The appearance of seals heralded disaster.

From Te Papaki, Tōhē climbed to a prominent spur known as Te Pikinga Ō Tōhē, the place to which Tōhē climbed. The summit is known as Te Pākia. It was on the summit of this hill Pākia (which means to touch) that Tōhē was wiped dry of rain by his servant.

Having rested, Tōhē and his companion descended into the next valley along another spur which is still known as Te Hekenga Ō Tōhē, the descent of Tōhē. On reaching the floor of the valley he found it flooded. The marshy nature of the valley floor is not so evident today, but as recently as the 1930s the flats, some eighty hectares in extent, were one big swamp. The only spot where Tōhē and his companion could have crossed is some three hundred metres below the site of the present marae, where there is only some six metres between the only clay banks in the valley. The stream is known by the name Waiwhatawhata, which has reference to a support suspended over water.

Once across, having reached the foothills on the southern side of the valley, Tōhē and his servant turned towards the coast some two kilometres, then followed it southwards. Along this stretch of coast they encountered another stream also in flood which was named Pōkuru for the lifting up of their garments to avoid a heavier wetting, pōkuru meaning to gather up in folds.

The tide was low when they reached the next body of flooded water, this time a river. An exposed body of rock covered in mussels afforded them a meal, so the rock became known as Kai Kai (to eat). The rock is still known as Kai Kai today and Tōhē's association with it is remembered. They then turned inland, following up the northern bank of the flooded river, eventually reaching a log jam. There they were able to cross over, holding on to the heads and stems of mamaku fern. The valley and river were therefore named Waimamaku.

Passing down the southern bank of the river, back towards the coast, under low drizzle and fog, they heard voices. In response, they called into a cavern in the cliffs hard by the river bank and close to the shore line, to let the people know of their passing. This cavern or rock overhang is known as Whaka Ō, to answer.

Pursuing their journey along the shore, they encountered the next stream, also in heavy flood. They named this stream Wairau, The word rau means leaf, but it is not clear if the stream was given this name because it was carrying myriad leaves on its surface from the huge forests inland or because the waters which flow from these lands are naturally beer-coloured, through the leaching of decaying vegetation. Perhaps both phenomena provided reasons for the name.

Their next stage was to the top of a finger of rock, a beautiful place where they repaired their carrying baskets. The renewing of the straps or handles (kawe) gave rise to the name Kawerua (two handles). From there they turned southward again along the long stretch of beach toward the blue-grey up-thrust of the distant Maunganui (high mountain) Bluff.

On this part of Tōhē's journey, from the crossing of the Hoki Ānga to Kawerua, he experienced torrential rain. Many of the place names which have their origin in his journey reflect this aspect of the weather conditions he encountered. We can create a mental picture of the travellers as a regal old man travelling with a devoted slave to satisfy his desire to see his daughter before death. That he did not reach his destination can be attributed to the wet weather experienced on the journey and to the inability of a tired old body to overcome the effects of being continually wet and damp. Later on the journey, beyond the Maunganui Bluff, Tōhē perished, before reaching his journey's end.

John Klaricich, who gathered this information about Tōhē's journey, recorded with interest that a home had been built supposedly upon the path traversed by Tōhē after he had crossed the Waiwhatawhata Stream. The person whose home it was, while relating the story of Tōhē, stated jokingly that he always kept the door shut firmly at nights in case Tōhē's returning spirit passed through on its homeward journey!

John Klaricich has always accepted that after Tōhē's death to the south, his slave retraced the journey homeward over the same route, so achieving Tōhē's spiritual return.


Place names from Tōhē's journey

Te Papaki
Cliff against which the waves beat
Rua Kēkeno
Hole in a cliff inhabited by seals
Te Pikinga ō Tōhē
The place where Tōhē climbed
Te Pākia
The touch
Te Hekenga ō Tōhē
The descent of Tōhē
Bridged water
To gather up in folds
Kai Kai
To eat
Water of the mamaku fern
Whaka Ō
The answering
Water carrying or coloured by leaves
Please note that the place names in this story were correct at the time of publication but some may have been updated or changed in the time since. All of the current place names can be found in the New Zealand Gazetteer.

Reproduced courtesy of the New Zealand Geographic Board copyright.