The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 14, Issue 4 (July 1, 1939)
The Maiden of Taieri — A Tragic Romance of the Ngati-Mamoe in Pre-European Otago
Overlooking the lower reaches of the Taieri River near the coast, some miles south of Dunedin, is a rocky promontory which tradition has named the “Maori Leap.” Here, about two hundred years ago, a Maori warrior and a Maori maiden fell in love, a romance which was to end in tragedy at this spot, and claim a terrible revenge.
From the middle years of the seventeenth century onwards the Maoris who inhabited the South Island, the Ngati-Mamoe, were engaged in a constant life and death struggle with another tribe, the Ngai-Tahu, who came from the North. Gradually the Ngati-Mamoe were exterminated in their many fights with the northern warriors, until they perished as a distinct and independent tribe at the Battles of Aparima and Teihoka; but these do not concern our story.
After a fierce battle against the Ngai-Tahu, at Pakihi, the Ngati-Mamoe, a sadly depleted tribe, weakened by many defeats, were retiring southwards, living in caves to escape attack the more easily, and moving under the cover of darkness. Among these fugitives, whose crude rock drawings have been found in “rock shelters” at the Opihi Gorge and the Upper Waitaki, was a chief by the name of Tukiauau, his son, and a few followers. Not long afterwards this little band separated from the rest, and slowly making their way southwards came to a lake called Waihora. This is to-day Lake Waihola, which passengers speed by on the South Express to Invercargill.
Here Tukiauau built a pa, for feeling safe from immediate attack he had decided to rest in this favourable spot. Knowing that a friendly chief, Tu-wiriroa, had a pa in the neighbourhood, Tukiauau's son, Koroki-whiti, set out down the Taieri River towards the coast, where he found the pa overlooking the river mouth.
Thoughts of the pleasant feast, however, vanished from Koroki's mind page 24 when the chief called for Haki-te-kura, and he set eyes on Tu-wiri-roa's beautiful daughter. Koroki immediately fell in love with this comely maiden and she, seeing his love for her and admiring his honest countenance and robust stature, soon lost her heart to him.
Bidding farewell to Tu-wiri-roa and his daughter, Koroki paddled back up the river to his pa beside the Waihola Lake, filled with joy that Haki-te-kura had returned his affections. A few days later, as he had surreptitiously whispered to her, Koroki returned to the mouth of the river. Haki-te-kura, watching for him, saw his canoe appear round a bend in the stream and come from out the shade of the bush-clad slopes which fell steeply to the river below. Scrambling down, unknown to her friends, onto the rocks, she met Koroki as he drew his canoe to the river bank.
There, on the edge of the sands amid the shadows of the ratas cast by the evening glow of the southern sky, these two dusky lovers plighted their troth, while the distant roar of the ebb-tide surface came only as a murmur to their ears.
As tradition has it, these two used to meet “on the sands when the tide was low.” So these clandestine meetings continued, until one evening Koroki came hastening to her with ominous news—the Nga-Tahu were coming south and his father was deserting the pa. Haki-te-kura broke into tears as Koroki bade her a gentle farewell, promising a speedy return when they could evade the powerful and warring tribe pursuing them.
Abandoing his pa at Lake Waihola, Tukiauau embarked with his followers in a large war canoe and made his way through the bush-clad gorges of the Taieri to the sea.
As they passed below Tu-wiri-roa's pa, Koroki glanced up to wave to Haki-te-kura standing on the cliff edge. She, overwhelmed with grief at the departure of her lover and eager to join him, flung herself over the edge towards his canoe, but alas, fell not into the water, but upon the rocks below. Koroki, sorrowful to the heart at the terrible and sudden loss of his beloved, went on his way from this place of tragedy.
Cautiously padding his canoe into shallow water behind some islets, he warned his men not to make any sound. After some hours a large number of people came out in a canoe to fish. When they had anchored and were intent on watching their lines, Tu-wiri-roasurrounded them, his men leaping from the canoes on the hapless victims. Taken unawares without their weapons and with no line of escape they were everyone mercilessly slaughtered, while the remainder of their band on the shore soon afterwards shared the same fate.
Thus ended this tragic romance in which both of the lovers came to an untimely end; one of the many sad episodes in the final years of the Ngati-Mamoe.