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The legend of Kurangaituku and Hatupatu

The Maori are the indigenous people of Aotearoa/New Zealand. In ancient Maori mythology the bush was peopled by patupaearehe (supernatural beings). One, known as Kurangaituku was a giantess who speared pigeons and kakas (parrots) with her extremely long nails and beak-like lips. Kurangaituku was known as the Bird Woman and her domain was the vast forest of Whakamaru.

One day Kurangaituku was hunting pigeons when a spear entered her lips. Looking round she spotted a group of Maori on a bird-hunting expedition. It was Hatupatu and his brothers from Mokoia Island on Lake Rotorua. At her cave home Kurangaituku kept a number of birds in a huge aviary, which she tended with great care. Having never seen a man before, Kurangaituku captured Hatupatu to keep as a mokai (pet) with her birds. Hatupatu was treated with great kindness but he was naturally anxious to return home and one day during Kurangaituku’s absence he crept away. He carefully sealed up the hole through which he had crawled so that none of the birds could escape to warn their mistress. However, the Riro Riro, the smallest native bird, managed to squeeze through a tiny opening and flew into the bush, calling to Kurangaituku “Riro Riro” (gone, gone).

Kurangaituku set off in pursuit of Hatupatu and caught up with him as he approached a large rock. Hatupatu was one of three brothers in his family: a disadvantage in those times. As compensation Hatupatu’s  grandmother had given him supernatural powers. Desperate to escape he pronounced a potent spell “Matiti matata” (open and cleave asunder). The rock at once opened and received him, protecting him from Kurangaituku.

This rock, which is on the Putaruru-Taupo highway, near Atiamuri, is known as “Te Kohatu Hatupatu” (the rock refuge of Hatupatu). The mountain behind the rock is named Kurangaituku.

When Kurangaituku left, Hatupatu continued his homeward journey, but tiring, he rested on a rock at Pakaraka and fell asleep. He was awakened by a rush of wind heralding Kurangaituku’s approach. Again he used his magic power to escape through a hole in the ground.

In the Hemo Gorge, approaching Whakarewarewa, his pursuer close behind, Hatupatu picked his way across the treacherous ground to avoid the hot springs. The dangers were not apparent to Kurangaituku. She waded through and was engulfed while Hatupatu escaped. This ended the reign of the Bird Woman. The claw marks made by Kurangaituku as she grabbed at Hatupatu are still visible on the rock at Pakaraka, eight miles from Rotorua on the Taupo Road.

Kurangaituku has been adopted as the symbol of the Waikato-Bay of Plenty Branch of the New Zealand Dental Association.