Sunrise at Te Mata Peak. © Andrew Caldwell

Te Mata Peak: Hawke's Bay icon


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The story about how Te Mata Peak in Hawke’s Bay came to be and how it came to resemble the recumbent figure of a man so closely, is nearly as picturesque as the little town of Havelock North beneath it.

According to the legend, the local people of Heretaunga, fed up with being harassed by their neighbours, the people of the Waimārama region, held a council to decide what to do about it. Suffering from a military disadvantage, fighting was hardly an option. So it was clear an alternative means must be found. The solution was proposed by an old kuia, who pointed to one of the tribe’s more notable assets: the supreme beauty of the chief’s daughter, Hinerakau.

‘He ai na te wāhine, ka horahia to po,’ the old woman said: ‘Womanly wiles will overcome the forces of darkness’.

Hinerakau obligingly placed herself at a point where the leader of Waimārama raiders, a giant by the name of Te Mata o Rongokako, would see her, and he duly came, saw, and was conquered. Hinerakau then did as women do when they have a man completely in their power: she gave him some chores. Her affection, she admonished, would be indexed to his performance.

Te Mata took to his work with a will, easily accomplishing everything she set him to do. Until, that is, she invited him to chomp his way through the pesky range of hills that made access to the sea so tiresome for the people of the region.

Te Mata gave it a good crack – the deep gouge in the range known as The Gap is the bite he took out of it – but some part of his mouthful stuck in his craw, and he subsequently choked and died. He lies there still.

As for Hinerakau, she was so remorseful that she threw herself off a nearby cliff into the sea.

It’s a mournful story, and one to contemplate as you enjoy the panoramic view from the 399-metre summit of Te Mata himself. On a clear day, you can see the whole of Hawke’s Bay laid out before you up to Māhia Peninsula in the north, and the rugged hills ranged behind the coast to the south. Inland, you’ll see the snow cap of Ruapehu glimmering, and at Te Mata’s foot, you’ll see the bounty of the fertile Hawke’s Bay farms, orchards and vineyards grazing and growing before your eyes.

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