The Legend of Pounamu

She was taken from the sea. He was run into the ground.

This tale of a taniwha named Poutini and his taking of Waitaiki has been passed down by generations. Ngāi Tahu children grew up knowing of Tamaahua and his pursuit of his wife down through the islands. They learned how this legend shaped the natural environment, and why we cherish and protect our resources today.

He roimata tuturu

“My sorrow has been left in the stone”

Poutini the taniwha swims up and down the west coast of the South Island, protecting both the people and the mauri of Pounamu.

Many of the oral histories of Pounamu revolve around Poutini coming across a woman bathing in the northern seas of the Bay Of Plenty. This beautiful woman, Waitaiki, enchanted the taniwha, who kidnapped her and fled south with his prize.

Waitaiki’s husband, the chief Tamaahua, discovered she was missing. Aided by a tekateka he tracked them south. During Poutini’s flight the taniwha lit fires to keep Waitaiki warm. Amidst the charred remains of each fire, Tamaahua found precious stone.

The continued pursuit of his love was determined and unrelenting. Fearing the strength of his pursuer the taniwha took sanctuary on the West Coast of the South Island, eventually stopping in Milford Sound.

Realising that Tamaahua would not rest until he reclaimed Waitaiki, Poutini decided the only way to keep her forever was to turn the woman into his essence. The taniwha transformed Waitaiki into Pounamu, laid her in down within the riverbeds of the Arahura River and slipped downstream past the waiting Tamaahua.

When the chief discovered his wife turned to stone in the riverbed he let out a tangi - a tremendous song of grief. If you listen closely in New Zealand’s deep south you may still hear it echo through the mountains.