The Legend of Kupe and Kurumārōtini

In traditional Māori oral history, 1000 years ago Kupe, his wife, Kuramārōtini (sometimes known as Hine-te-aparangi) and tohunga, Pekahourangi, were the first explorers to discover Aotearoa, later renamed “New Zealand.

Sailing south from Hawaiiki across Te Moana a Kiwa (later named the Pacific Ocean), guided only by their ocean sailing experience and the stars, they travelled in their waka (canoe), Matahourua, to find out what lay beyond the horizon.

History has it that when they spotted a large land-mass shrouded in white cloud in the distance, Kurumārōtini cried out, "He ao! He ao! He aotea! He aotearoa" -"A cloud, a cloud! A white cloud! A long white cloud!" As a result, the land became known as “Aotearoa”, land of the long, white cloud.

On return to Hawaiiki (thought to be the East Polynesian islands encompassing Tahiti and the Marquesas), Kupe and Kurumārōtini spoke of a verdant land, abundant with birds, with tall, forested mountains, clear rivers and lakes and bountiful seas. This inspired many other adventurers to cross the ocean to find this beautiful new land.

Some of these waka landed in Tāmaki Makaurau (“the bride sought by a hundred suitors” or, metaphorically, a very desirable place) - the ancestral name for the isthmus now known as Auckland.

Many well-known Māori kin groups descend from these waka, among them: Te Arawa, Mataatua and Tainui. The resulting whakataukī (proverb) “Tamaki Herenga Waka” describes the isthmus as the resting place of many waka, referring to the layers of tribal associations within the Auckland area.

A millennium of Māori occupation flourished in Tāmaki, with the rich volcanic soils enabling productive gardens, the forests full of birds and plenty of fresh water. The short distance between the two harbours, the Manukau (“settling birds,”) and the Waitematā (“shimmering waters”), made for easy harvesting of the abundant fish stocks. The isthmus became known as “whenua rangatira” – a beneficent and special place, offering prosperity and peace.

Kupe and Kurumārōtini’s quest, together with the later arrival of Te Herenga Waka into Tāmaki Makaurau, speaks of the spirit of adventure and courage of those early navigators, and their fearless curiosity for the new and unknown.  

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This same adventurous and curious spirit will be sought in the new Kupe Leadership Scholars. Qualities, such as compassion, integrity, humility, respect for others, a desire to serve and a big vision for Aotearoa New Zealand and its communities will also be hallmarks of these Scholars.

The New Zealand Leadership Institute will, through the Kupe Leadership Scholarships, develop and nurture these capabilities in able and committed graduates who are already showing signs of becoming tomorrow’s leaders in Aotearoa New Zealand.