Our story begins in the mid 1300s, when the Arawa canoe arrived at Maketu on the Bay of Plenty coastline.  A young Te Arawa man, Ihenga, is said to have discovered Rotorua.  He was out hunting for delicacies for his pregnant wife, when one of his dogs disappeared chasing a kiwi.  The dog returned some time later with his coat wet and regurgitated a meal of half digested fish. Ihenga realised he was near water, so he searched until he discovered Lake Rotoiti and later, Lake Rotorua.

Local Maori have hosted visitors as far back as the 1800s, when people from all over the world came to see the Pink and White Terraces at Lake Rotomahana. Known as the eighth wonder of the world because of the elaborate beauty of these natural sinter formations, the Pink and White Terraces were destroyed in 1886 when Mount Tarawera erupted.

The loss of 150 lives and devastation of the surrounding area, meant the people of the nearby villages moved away to rebuild their lives.  The people of Whakarewarewa invited them to settle in the geothermal valley where they continued to host and guide visitors.  Both their descendents and the people of Rotorua continue this proud tradition today…

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Guide Maggie papakura

Rotorua is home to many interesting personalities and one of the most renowned is former Maori tour guide Maggie Papakura.

Born Margaret Pattison Thom in 1873, Maggie was the daughter of an English storekeeper and a high-born Ngati Wahiao woman. Her family taught her the genealogies, history and customs of her tribe, and her schooling, including tuition from an English governess, gave her the language skills and confidence to move easily between the Pakeha and Maori worlds.

On leaving school Maggie moved to Whakarewarewa – the ancestral home of her people. She became an accomplished hostess, entertainer and storyteller, and her services as a guide were sought after.

When asked by a visitor if she had a Maori surname, Maggie looked at a nearby geyser called Papakura and responded “My name is Papakura.” From then on she was known as guide Maggie Papakura.

Maggie married Francis Joseph Dennan in 1891 and went to live in the Wairarapa. Her only child William was born later that year, and she returned to Whakarewarewa with him after her husband left to work in the Taupo district. They never reunited and she continued her guiding career. In 1910 Maggie led a cultural group to London, where she met Richard Staples-Browne. They married in 1912 and she moved to Oxford. She remained there after they divorced in 1924, and was buried there following her death in April 1930 from a ruptured artery.

A year later a memorial was erected to her at Whakarewarewa, and this remains in the village today. Today, Maggie’s descendants still live at Whakarewarewa, continuing the guiding tradition and keeping their culture alive.


Hatupatu was a boy who lived on Mokoia Island with his family. One day he went inland hunting birds with his brothers. In the depths of the woods near the Waikato River he was captured by a terrifying female creature, Kurangaituku —“Kura-of-the-Claws”— who was feathered like a bird, and armed with very long sharp talons.

Hatupatu was taken to a cave near the top of a rocky mountain above the Waikato River, where Kurangaituku lived with her pet lizards and birds. One day when Kurangaituku was out in search of food he killed her lizards, freed the birds and fled from the cave.

One of her birds, however, flew off in search of its mistress, crying, “O Kura’, O Kura’, Hatupatu has gone!” The witch heard the bird and quickly raced back to her cave. Seeing what Hatupatu had done, she set out in a fury to get her revenge. It wasn’t long before the birdwoman caught up to the fleeing Hatupatu but before she could sink her claws into him he repeated a chant, taught to him by his elders and the great Arawa chief Ngtoroirangi, “Matiti, Matata!”. A great boulder in front of him split open.

Hatupatu leaped in and the rock closed behind him. Kurangaituku was just a split second too late and left tearing at the boulder with her claws. He was safe…for now.

When Hatupatu finally emerged from his rock shelter, Kurangaituku was keeping a watchful eye. He fled northward over the plains and hills toward Lake Rotorua. Just at the foot of Pohaturoa hill, which makes a green background for the steam clouds from the geysers and hot springs of Whakarewarewa, Hatupatu came to a great boiling pool of white churning mud, called Whangapipiro. He leapt across it safely and went racing on.

But Kurangaituku, not realising the hot pools were there until it was too late, tried to wade through the mud and down she sank – the boiling, heaving mud closing over her fierce feathered head. The gleeful Hatupatu went on to Sulphur Point on the southern shores of Lake Rotorua. He rested and decorated his head with a wreath of leaves, before plunging into the lake and swimming toward his home on Mokoia Island.

As he landed he threw down his wreath, which took root and became pohutukawa trees on the shore of the island.


Lake Rotoiti’s full name, Te Rotoiti-kite-a-Ihenga, ‘The narrow lake seen by Ihenga’, links it to Ihenga, the early Te Arawa ancestor who is credited with exploring the lakes district. The naming of both lakes Rotorua and Rotoiti is one of the most frequently told stories of the early period of exploration. Ihenga was a great traveller and one of the first men to live in and explore Rotorua.

While searching the forest inland from Maketu for delicacies for his pregnant wife, his dog ran ahead of him but returned in a distressed condition. Lying down, the dog disgorged some fish and Ihenga realised that there had to be water close by. On his next trip into the area he pressed ahead much further and in doing so discovered two lakes.

The first body of water he encountered looked quite small so he named it Rotoiti, which loosely translates to small lake. The next lake he came across he named Rotorua, which roughly means second lake. It wasn’t until he explored Lake Rotoiti further that he realised he originally came across only a small section of the lake. As it turned out, Lake Rotoiti wasn’t so small after all.