Kupe's arrival in The Mercury Bay
The Coromandel town of Whitianga was originally known as Te Whitianga-Nui-a-Kupe, meaning ‘Kupe’s big crossing place’. According to Maori tradition, Kupe was the first Polynesian explorer to sight The Coromandel. In around 950 AD, before the canoe migrations, Kupe travelled from Raiatea, Hawaiki in the mighty double canoe, Matahourua. He is reputed to have made the 2960km journey with his wife Kuramarotini (or Hine-te-aparangi), their four daughters and Pekahourangi, the tohunga (navigator). The name Aotearoa is said to have come from Hine-te-aparangi, after first sighting a cloud-covered Moehau mountain. “E Kupe, he aotaea, jua u tatou” (O Kupe, yonder is a cloud, we have landed).
The Matahourua’s successful voyage to New Zealand could not have happened without those onboard possessing an extensive knowledge of nature. Wind, wave, clouds, and drifting seaweed were observed as navigational indicators. The flight path of Pipi-wharauroa (shining cuckoo) informed the voyage path. At night, rising stars and phosphorescence marked the way. At dusk, Kupe and his crew navigated by Te Putanga-mai o re Ra (the setting sun passing along the side of the canoe).
Kupe eventually left Whitianga and returned to Hawaiki, however many of Kupe's tribe settled in Whitianga. Around 1150 AD, Toi arrived and named the peninsula Te Paeroa-o-Toi. His people intermarried with the Kupe settlers and their descendents were still living when Hei arrived 200 years later.
400 years after Kupe’s big crossing, the Te Arawa canoe made its journey. Hei was the tauira (sailing master), navigating similarly to Kupe and Toi before him; by ocean currents, wind and stars. Hei and his people remained in Whitianga, as do today’s descendants of Hei; the tribe Ngati Hei. The people of Hei commemorated their leader by naming Te Whanganui o Hei, (the Great Bay of Hei) and Hahei in his honour.