From Okere the launch heads back again for Lake Rotorua. This time she makes down the middle of the lake, for she is aiming at Mokoia, her last port of call during the trip. Mokoia! It was almost the first glimpse you caught of the lake, an isolated patch of beauty in the centre. But, to the Maoris, Mokoia is not merely an island; they (I speak particularly of the older
Maoris) regard it almost with the reverence that Christians give to the Holy Land, and few visit or leave it without tears in their eyes. For several centuries Mokoia has been the treasure-house of all the sacred emblems of the Arawa tribe, and it has also witnessed the performance of their greatest religious ceremonies. While many legends have woven themselves around the island, none are more interesting than two stories known to be true. Hongi, a famous chief in the north, had grown up dreaming of the day when he would swoop down upon the Arawas
“An emerald lake now shimmers in the blase.“
(Rly. Publicity photo.) Lake Rotoma, one of the enchanting lakes near Rotorua.
and exact a terrible vengeance for their massacre of the Ngapuhis. When the opportunity came, he sailed down the East Coast with a force of one hundred warriors, and penetrating inland, reached the stretch of bush blocking the approach to Lake Rotoiti. Horigi's implacable resolution was not to crumble at such an obstacle, the famous Hongi's track was hewn out, and the canoe carried overland to the lake. With every precaution Hongi made the journey into Lake Rotorua, and as they saw him approaching, the Maoris on Mokoia, innocent of any danger, hastened down to the water's edge to give a warm greeting to their supposed neighbours. But with a volley of musket shots, Hongi changed their salutations into cries of dismay and in a very short space of time not a single one of the would-be hosts was alive. Thus Hongi quenched his terrible thirst The other is the famous story of the romance of Hinemoa and Tutanekai. As often, two fathers had attempted to direct the course of love, and love, willy-nilly, had marked out a path for itself. Two miles across the water from Mokoia, Hinemoa lived, outwardly obedient to her fattier, the chief of the Owhata Village, who, strict jailer as he was, used every precaution to keep her by his side. But the call of her lover's plaintive music, which she could distinguish clearly on a still night, made her yearning irresistible, and spurning her father's caution in withdrawing the canoes, she plunged into the lake when the village was asleep, and succeeded in reaching the island, numb with cold, but rejoicing. The bath in which she rested, at that time filled with warm spring water, has ever since borne the name of Hinemoa's bath, and is to-day the chief spot of interest on the island. Mokoia is a communal possession, and its owners are said to run into hundreds. Every few years the Maoris come across to cultivate the land, which at other times is allowed to lie fallow; otherwise the island is usually deserted. Less than half an hour you spend at Mokoia, but if, as a pakehd, you do not come away with tears in your eyes,
you will gaze back at it with a new sympathy and interest in Maori tradition.