Monday, October 6, 2008


View of Whakatane from Toi's Pa
There are several great stories about Whakatane and its Maori history. It is a small, but quaint town, located in the Bay of Plenty in the North Island. It is supposedly one of the sunniest places in the country and though there was a lot of sun, many of these pictures happened to be taken on cloudy days. Sorry!

Something must be said for the beauty of storm clouds, though, so I still love these pictures.

Anyway, back to the legends. Bear with me because I'm sure I'm messing this up a little bit, but the general idea of the story is correct. Trust me!

Maoris are originally people from the South Pacific Islands (there is still a question mark as to where in Polynesia they come from). They immigrated to New Zealand around 1000B.C. As part of this immigration, one of the men (whose name I've forgotten) landed in the bay of Whakatane (which was nameless at the time) and he thought it was a perfect location for a new settlement. He sent word to the leader of the tribe that this was a perfect location and gave three landmarks as ways in which this leader could find the right place. There was a grouping of large boulders in the mouth of the Whakatane River that lets out into the ocean. They have since been destroyed by city lawmakers who wanted to make the river bank larger.

Whakatane River bank letting out onto the Pacific Ocean

The second landmark he referred to was a large cave that could house up to 60 people. He thought that Muriwai (a respected woman of the tribe) could live there. Today, the cave is partially collapsed, but it's interesting to see where people lived.

Muriwai's Cave

The third and last landmark and probably the most important was Wairere Falls, a waterfall that would ensure clean and fresh water for the settlement.

Wairere Falls

Obviously, they came and they settled! Whakatane is small, easily walkable and filled with really sweet people. The other day I was walking back to my hostel (by the way, I stayed at a really quaint gingerbread-type house run by a young couple: Lloyd's Lodge) and there was a guy on the street who was holding up a sign to promote 8 dollar- pizzas from Dominoes. As I walked past him, he said hello. I answered automatically and continued on. It is only about 5 seconds later that I realized that a perfect stranger had said hello to me without any reason. It was a delayed culture shock on my part. After two years of living in South Korea, where no strangers say hello, it was so incredibly bizarre and yet wonderful to get that kind of natural kindness.

Over the next couple of days, kids, adults, men and women would just say hello for no reason at all. It reminded me of Haiti and the casual greetings strangers would give each other on the streets as I was growing up. It is wonderful to feel that again. I had gotten used to the silences of North America, Europe and Asia...

Storm Clouds in Whakatane harbor

Anyway, back to some history. Now is the story of how Whakatane got its name. About 200 years after the first settlement in the area, a group of men led by Toroa had sailed in on a canoe to where the river and ocean met. They got out and went to meet the local leaders but they didn't secure the canoe very well and as the tide rose, the canoe started to drift away. Wairaka,
Toroa's daughter saw that the canoe was drifting away. Traditionally, however, women were forbidden to steer a canoe (called waka in Maori), so she cried out 'E! Kia whakatane aui ahau!'(let me turn into a man) and so jumped into the canoe and paddled it into safety. After that bravery, they named the town in honor of her deed.

In the place where she supposedly saved the canoe, a statue stands to commemorate her.

Statue of Wairaka

From the top of the mountain above Whakatane, there is a great view of the city and of the islands off the coast. If you remember the story of White Island and Whale Island, below is a picture of Whale Island.

Whale Island

Funny seed from a tree downtown
Natural Tunnel?

Cool-looking statue

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