The Taniwha of Te Whanganui A Tara


Wellington harbour is said to have been the work of two great taniwha called Whataitai (also pronounced as 'Hataitai') and Ngake. Whataitai was a gentle easy-going taniwha who lived at the northern shallow end of what was originally a great lake, while Ngake who lived at the southern end was vigorous and turbulent.

Ngake decided to try and get free of the lake and join the deep water he could hear crashing on the other side. He went to the northern corner of the lake near what is now Petone and wound himself up into a great fury, his tail lashing backwards and forwards, scooping up sand and piling it in the corner, which is why it is so shallow now. Twisting his tail up like a giant spring, with a giant hiss and a roar of taniwha enthusiasm. He drove off to the south at great speed.

Whataitai pushed his head out of the water near Scorching Bay to watch Ngake crash into a great wall of rock and earth at Seatoun, with such force he smashed right through it out into the open sea. Bleeding and battered, Ngake swam off into the deep waters of Raukawa moana, (Cook Srait) out into the deeper waters of Moana a kiwa and was never heard of again in these parts.

Whataitai slowly pushed off from Ngauranga to join Ngake, whose movement had let in the tides, but as they were now going out again Whatatai became stranded in the shallows where he wriggled so much he became well and truly stuck. He stayed there for a long time, kept alive by the tides washing over him for eleven generations, up to the time of Te Hao Whanue, the great earthquake of about 1460. This lifted Whataitai up, his skin dried out and he died.

The wairua, soul of Whataitai, left him in the form of a bird, whose name was Te Keo. It flew to the hilltop Matairangi over the harbour, and began to tangi, to weep, for Whataitai. The peak was renamed Tangi-te-keo, now known as Mount Victoria.

This is how the harbour entrance and the Mirimar peninsula, once the island Te Motu Kairangi, were formed, with Hataitai built on the back of the great taniwha.

Birds Eye View of Wellington, 1839
Birds Eye View of Wellington. Coloured lithograph by Thomas Allom after a water colour by Charles Heaphy 1839.
The Wellington World Cup is being held on Mt Victoria and start/finish area is at the Hataitai velodrome.

There's more information available on the history of Wellington.