Tuia - Encounters 250: Cook’s place names around New Zealand - Cape Kidnappers / Te Kauwae-a-Māui

Photo of Cape Kidnappers
Photo Credit: Christopher Stephens, New Zealand Geographic Board

When Māui fished up Te Ika-a-Māui [the North Island], he is said to have used a hook made from the jawbone of his grandmother, Murirangawhenua. Te Kauwae-a-Māui or Te Matau-a-Māui are both names applied to the cape recalling this story and may refer to the hook itself or where the hook snagged on the fish.

In October 1769, Te Kauwae-a-Māui was the location of an unfortunate incident of cultural misunderstanding. As the Heretaunga Tamatea Deed of Settlement recalls:

  • On 15 October 1769, several waka came into contact with Captain James Cook’s ship the Endeavour off the Heretaunga Tamatea coast. Local tradition remembers that these waka carried a Ngāi Te Whatuiāpiti force under the rangatira Te Rangikoianake and his son Hāwea. Seeing what they believed to be a young Māori boy being held captive, Te Rangikoianake’s party attempted to free the Endeavour’s Tahitian cabin boy.

To Cook and those onboard the HMB Endeavour the rescue appeared as a kidnapping attempt. The marines fired on and killed several Māori. Both Cook and the Endeavour’s naturalist Joseph Banks openly admit the number would have been higher had they not been concerned for the safety of Taiata. Taiata escaped into the water and swam for the Endeavour where boats were lowered to take him up. Banks comments that Taiata was ‘frigh[t]ned enough but not at all hurt’ and also gives his account of Taiata asking his elder, the Tahitian priest Tupaia, if he could offer a fish to an atua (deity) in gratitude for his escape. We only have Banks’ account of this, however, and he may have misunderstood.

Cook then labelled the promontory ‘Cape Kidnappers’ and Europeans have called it by that name ever since.

In 2015, the hapū of Heretaunga Tamatea (an area stretching from Cape Kidnappers / Te Kauwae-a-Māui to the Tutaekuri River and inland to the Ruahine Range) settled their historic Treaty of Waitangi grievances with the Crown. In this agreement, the Crown recognised the reserves at Cape Kidnappers / Te Kauwae-a-Māui have immense cultural and historical value to Heretaunga Tamatea and agreed to work with the collective around the reserves’ management. ‘Te Kauwae-a-Māui’ was restored as part of the dual name with Cook’s name by an Act of Parliament in 2018.


Last Updated: 11 February 2019