The Story of Haunui-a-nanaia

Maori history tells the story of Haunui-a-nanaia, son of Popoto and his wife Nanaia, who was the ancestor of the Te Ati Hau a Paparangi people of the Whanganui region. Haunui pursued his errant wife Wairaka who had run off with a slave. He set out from his home at Te Matau a Maui following the path of Wairaka and her lover across the island and down the west coast. After exacting his revenge he decided to go home via the East Coast, and named many of the landmark features that he came across during his mission.

Upon starting back towards Te Matau a Maui, he climbed a high mountain and on reaching the top sat down to rest. He named the mountain Remutaka - ‘remu’ to ‘gaze about’ and ‘taka’, ‘to sit down’. It could also refer to the edge ‘remu’ of his cape touching the ground ‘taka’ on that spot. As Haunui sat there he saw a lake before him - when he looked towards the lake the reflection of the sun caught his eyes and made them water. It was this incident that led to the name – Wairarapa. It was not so much the glistening water but the reflection of the sun that caught his eyes and made them water. The full saying is found in a number of old waiata that have been left behind, ‘ka rarapa nga kanohi ko Wairarapa’ – his eyes sparkled hence Wairarapa.

Haunui then went on to name a number of places in the region, before returning home on his god Rongomai, a giant eagle that is today seen in the form of a meteor, but before doing so visited Rangitumau to look back over the land he had come from.

Early Settlements

Archaeologists believe Māori settled in Palliser Bay in the late 1300s, living on small birds, fish, seals and kūmara. There is evidence of about 300 people in six separate communities on the eastern side of the bay. Yet by the 1600s these settlements had gone. A rising population and falling food supplies – caused by over-hunting, a cooling climate, and lower soil fertility – may have led to the exodus. Some communities may have resettled along the fertile Ruamāhanga valley. Later, the Rangitāne and Ngāti Kahungunu tribes moved into the region, and still live there today.  Europeans arrived in the Wairarapa in the 1840s. They began farming land leased from Māori, and founded the towns of Greytown and Masterton.

Remutaka or Rimutaka?

Rimutaka was the original spelling of the area adopted by Europeans, however it has no meaning in Maori. It was found that this original spelling was a mistake, though was not corrected until much later - the Rangitāne iwi was granted the changing of the name as part of its Treaty of Waitangi settlement, made legal in 2016. It has taken longer for it filter through to official agencies and institutions. The Geographic Board has now officially changed its place names, and the Department of Conservation is following suit. You may still see much of the original signage throughout the trail, which is slowly being replaced.

With thanks to Rangitāne o Wairarapa Education and Te Ara for information supplied on this page