Ko Whakapūnaki te maunga
Whakapūnaki is the mountain
Ko Ruakituri, ko Hangaroa ngā awa
Ruakituri and Hangaroa are the rivers
Ko Ngāti Hinehika te hapū
Ngāti Hinehika is the sub-tribe
Ko Hinekōrako te tipua
Hinekōrako is the spiritual ancestor
Tīhe mauri ora!
Alas the breath of life!
THE mountain of Whakapūnaki towers some 1000 metres from the foothills of the Ruakituri valley inland from Manutūke and close to the settlements of Tiniroto and Te Reinga. Virtually all the land in and around the mountain is farmed or planted in pine. Working and living on this land is certainly not for the faint hearted but despite the ruggedness of this terrain, it was the home to Hinekōrako and her people of the Ngāti Hinehika sub-tribe.
According to the story, as told in Te Ao Hou (Issue 19, 1957), Ngāti Hinehika descended from a line of spiritual beings, part human and part super-natural, who inhabited Whakapūnaki and Te Reinga. The first six generations, from Īwhara to Hinekōrako, were not quite men and women as we understand them but a species of human-god, or water spirit. However, the human side got the upper hand when Hinekōrako fell in love and lived with Tānekino, bearing a son they named Taurenga.
Prior to the birth of their child, Hinekōrako told Tānekino that in order to break the spell of her supernatural world and for her to live freely in his human world, he would have to care for the child until he was old enough to care for himself. Without hesitation Tānekino promised Hinekōrako that he would do as she wished. The real test came sooner than he expected.
Tānekino and Hinekōrako, with their child, attended a meeting of the tribe on the marae. As often is the case with babies, when least expected, Taurenga, in the midst of the large gathering, did his business. In haste Tānekino called Hinekōrako to come quickly and clean the child. From the middle of the gathering Hinekōrako stood, picked up her baby and took him to the adjacent stream where she washed and fed him.
Tānekino then realised what he had done. He went to look for his wife and child and upon finding them begged Hinekōrako for her forgiveness but alas, it was too late. Hinekōrako wept over her son, stood up and handed the baby to Tānekino. She told him that since he had broken his promise, she was doomed to go back to her watery home under the Te Reinga Falls.
To this day Hinekōrako remains inside the falls watching over and helping her people whenever called upon. The descendants of Hinekōrako and Tānekino are called Ngāti Hinehika. The marae at Te Reinga immortalises the names of Hinekōrako on its dining room and her son Taurenga on the whare tipuna (meeting house).