White Island was born over two million years ago and is one of the most active volcanoe in the world. It steams, fumeroles belch, the crater is continually pushing out showers of ash and thermal activity occurs constantly.

Positioned just off the Bay of Plenty coast. It was named by Captain Cook who said “it always appeared to us“. The Maori name of Whakaari means ‘to make visible‘.

Maori mythology says that back in the times when mountains walked, talked, loved and fought, two sister mountains, Whakaari and Motuhora lived on the Huiarau Range. One night they broke away and pushed down to the sea they had always wanted to visit. As they went Whakaari gouged the bed of the Whakatane River, and Motouhora, being tall and slim, formed the narrow gorges of the Waimana River. Feeling hungry, the plump Whakaari sent her sister to find food while she kindled a fire. Suddenly Whakaari saw the first flush of dawn and, knowing that when the sun’s rays touched her they would transfix her to the spot forever, she fled out to sea. Motuhora returned to find her sister gone. Furious, she picked up a blazing log and chased after her. The sun’s rays caught the pair before Motuhora could reach her sister, and with all her remaining strength she hurled the blazing log at Whakaari. So it was that fire came to the volcano and so it is that Motuhora (Whale Island) is much closer to shore.

Another legend says :

Ngatoroirangi, a great Tohunga (spiritual leader), decided to to travel inland to explore the area. While he and his travel companions had a rest on the eastern side of Lake Taupo, he spotted a very beautiful mountain to the south. Ngatoroirangi decided he wanted to climb that mountain for a better view of the region. When they reached the foot of the mountain, Ngatoroirangi told his companions to stay put and wait for his return. They were asked to fast until he came back because this would give Ngatoroirangi the strength to succeed in this adventure.

Ngatoroirangi promised them a big feast on his return and that he would teach them everything that he was going to learn during his travel. So it happened that he and his slave Aruhoe started their dangerous journey. The higher they climbed, the colder it got, and the cold froze their breath and made their fingers and feet stiff. Aruhoe stumbled very often but Ngatoroirangi urged him to move on.

Meanwhile his companions who were waiting for his return became very hungry and grew tired of waiting. So they suggested that Ngatoroirangi might have died and they were waiting and suffering for nothing. Somebody mentioned how impatient hunger can be. So they decided to light a fire for cooking and they started to eat again.

Their deeds caused Ngatoroirangi to feel icy cold fingers stabing into his heart which made him double over in agony, and he prayed to his sisters in Hawaiki to send him fire to warm him: “`Oh Kuiwai, Ih Haungaroa, come quickly. Ka riro au I te tonga.’ (I am carried away by the cold south wind). Do not delay or I will surely perish.

His sisters heard him praying and instantly sent the fire demons Te Pupu and Te Hoata to their brother who was fighting with death. The two demons swam as fast as possible through the pacific to Whakaari (White Island). When they lifted their heads, the earth around them became a fiery pit. And this is what you can still find today on White Island.

But here the fire demons realised that they were still far away from Ngatoroirangi. So they dived back into the sea and moved on. When they reached the land they went on underground. Each time the demons broke through the soil for orientation they left a steaming, bubbling track of thermal activity.

The tunnel which they were `digging´ on their way built a connection between White Island and Mount Ngaruahoe which lasted forever.

With all their might, the fire demons broke through the crust of the massive cone of Tongariro where Ngatoroirangi was dying.

Aruhoe had already succumbed to death. But Ngatoroirangi was rescued by the heat which was produced by this volcano. He called it Tongariro to remind us of the icy south wind which nearly had killed him.

By this adventure the Arawa tribe became the guardians of the thermal activities in the area of Rotorua.

Another version of the legend is that Pūtauaki was lonely after losing a fight for Pīhanga (another mountain) so when he met Tarawera he decided to start a relationship with her. After raising a son and years of a troubled marriage, Pūtauaki cast his eye out towards the sea, where the very beautiful Whakaari was. The two would call out to each other at night while Tarawera slept. One night Pūtauaki could not contain his love any longer and decided to travel out to be with Whakaari. It is said that a mountain can only move once in their life and only at night so Pūtauaki had to travel across the land fast. Little did he know, his son had awoken and was following him. He heard the little whimper from his son and turned around. He tried to tell his son to stay with Tarawera but the little mountain would not leave his father. Then the sun rose and froze the two mountains where they were. When Tarawera awoke she saw that her husband had left and she started to weep, thus creating the Tarawera Falls and river. Until this day Tarawera still cries and Whakaari still calls out for her lover, who is frozen to the spot near Kawerau.

(CC) 2016 Tysilyn Fernandez


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