A number of the Rotorua lakes were named by Ihenga, a grandson of the captain of the Arawa canoe Tamatekapua.

Lake Rotorua is the largest lake in the district and the most productive trout fishery in New Zealand. With the city of Rotorua on its shores, it is much valued and used by locals and tourists alike.

History & Legends  

Sitting in the centre of Lake Rotorua is Mokoia Island - probably New Zealand's best-known lake island, and is closely associated with one of the best-known Māori legends, that of Hinemoa and Tutanekai.

Today Mokoia Island is a sanctuary to endangered birds and wildlife.

 

Hinemoa and Tutanekai

At one time there lived a beautiful and high ranking young maiden by the name of Hinemoa, the daughter of a very influential chief at the time. They lived at Owhata on the eastern shores of Lake Rotorua. Because of her rank, Hinemoa was declared puhi (tapu or sacred). A husband would be chosen for her when she reached maturity by the elders in her hapu (tribe) and her family. Many people came from far and wide to seek the hand of Hinemoa whose beauty and grace were well known. However none of the suitors gained the approval of the tribe.

On Mokoia Island in the centre of Lake Rotorua lived a family of several brothers. Tutanekai was the youngest of them. Their mother had had an affair with Tuwharetoa who hailed from another tribe and Tutanekai was born. Her husband raised Tutanekai as his own son.

Each of the elder brothers had declared their love for Hinemoa and set out to win her hand however none of them won approval from Hinemoa's people. During meetings to discuss matters of state regarding the tribe, many young chiefs saw Hinemoa and fell in love with her. Such was the fate of Tutanekai who knew because of his lowly birth would never win approval from Hinemoa's people. Tutanekai was extremely handsome and excelled at the games of the time which Maori used to develop co-ordination and skills for battle. They were played at gatherings such as this. It was Tutanekai's prowess at these games and his good looks which caught Hinemoa's eye. She fell in love with Tutanekai also and at each subsequent tribal meeting they would fall more deeply for one another. They were able only to convey their feelings through furtive glances on longing and never once had the opportunity to speak with one another.

It was a sad state of affairs, as neither could see any way their love would ever be requited. Tutanekai would sit on the shores of Mokoia Island and play sad music on his flute. The music would waft, on still evenings, across the lake to where Hinemoa sat also aching with passion. She was filled with sadness and her people began to suspect this was the case, and in order to prevent her sneaking away to her secret love, they pulled all the canoes up on to the shore, so they were too heavy for her to move alone.

Night after night she listened to the strains of her would-be lover until she could take no more. It was then she decided, if she could not use a canoe, she would have to swim. The next night, she told her people she was going to watch the evening entertainment, but in fact she headed for the lakefront, after collecting six calabashes from the cooking house. She rested at the rock Iri iri kapua (which can still be seen at Owhata) while she made the calabashes into waterwings.

She then slipped into the water at a beach called Wairerewai and swam for Mokoia. It was of course very dark, so she was reliant upon the sound of the flute played by her sweetheart Tutanekai. She rested at a large stump in the lake briefly, and carried onward guided by the music. She finally made it to Mokoia Island, but had become so cold during her swim, she headed straight for the hot pool Waikimihia, near Tutanekai's house.

Once she had warmed herself, Hinemoa began to think about how she might alert Tutanekai to her arrival. It so happened at this time Tutanekai became thirsty, so he sent his slave down to fetch a calabash of water. The slave had to pass quite close to where Hinemoa sat warming herself. As he passed the pool, a gruff voice called out to him 'Mo wai te wai?' (For whom is the water?) The slave answered; Mo Tutanekai' (For Tutanekai). 'Give it to me' demanded Hinemoa, and as soon as the slave did so she smashed the calabash on the side of the pool. When the slave returned to Tutanekai and told him what had happened, Tutanekai made him go again. Again Hinemoa challenged the slave and once again smashed the calabash.

This time Tutanekai became angry and decided to go down to the pool himself. He took his mere (greenstone weapon) and headed for the pool. Once there, he challenged whoever was in the pool to show themselves. No one moved. Hinemoa had moved under a hanging rock which provided some protection and stayed as still as a mouse. Tutanekai felt around the edge of the rock, found Hinemoa and pulled her clear. 'Who are you?' he cried. She answered, 'It is I, Hinemoa, who has come to you'. Tutanekai couldn't believe his ears. And when she stepped out of the water, he was sure he had never seen such a beautiful woman. Tutanekai took off his cloak and wrapped it about Hinemoa and they returned to his house to sleep.

The next morning the people of the village (pa) rose to prepare the morning meal and remarked that this day Tutanekai was sleeping late. He always rose first. After a while, his father began to think him ill so sent a slave to check on him. The slave went to Tutanekai's whare (house) and as he peeked in saw four feet instead of two poking out from beneath the covers. The slave ran back to report this to his master and was sent back to investigate further. It was then he recognised Hinemoa. Such was his surprise, he began to call out 'It is Hinemoa. It is Hinemoa who lies with Tutanekai'.

The brothers would not believe the slave, and nor did any other, but in the commotion, Tutanekai indeed stepped from his house with Hinemoa on his arm. It was then, the people noticed canoes heading toward the island, and knowing it would be Hinemoa's family, they feared war and anticipated Hinemoa would be taken from Tutanekai forever. However, upon arrival there was much rejoicing between the two tribes, and lasting peace was forged. 

 

 

Fishing

With high summer temperatures the trout are forced to congregate in large numbers at cold water stream mouths from December to the end of February.

The predominant species of fish found in Lake Rotorua are rainbow and brown trout, and small amounts of brook trout.
Although fish are taken through the winter, the most productive period is when the lake water temperatures are highest. From March onwards the fish disperse throughout the lake. From April onwards, large numbers of fish run the main spawning streams of the Utuhina, Ngongotaha and Waiteti.

With so many good fishing places around Lake Rotorua a daylight visit to familiarise yourself with the surroundings is a good idea.