Walk in the footsteps of Rotorua’s famous lovers Hinemoa and Tūtānekai at sacred Mokoia Island – a place steeped in cultural history and home to endangered wildlife.
Mokoia Island sits in the heart of Lake Rotorua, 134 hectares in size and 170 meters above the lake surface - an iconic landmark dating back to 1350 A.D.
Mokoia Island Trust caretaker and Katoa Lake Rotorua
guide Tony Pecotic says Mokoia is a living island for Te Arawa as the iwi (tribe) still sees it as kainga (home), with many tapu (sacred) sites including nine fortified villages, an ancient statue of fertility called Matuatonga, Hinemoa’s Pool and buried relatives.
“The 1823 musket wars drove everyone to the mainland after Northland’s Hongi Hika led his tribe to Lake Rotorua, hauling canoes overland for 12 days to surround and attack Te Arawa on Mokoia Island.
“This made our people realise, with guns introduced to New Zealand, the island was no longer safe.”
Pecotic says Mokoia Island is now a tourism site, Māori Mau Taiaha Wananga (Māori martial arts school) and a wildlife sanctuary, with the Trust collaborating closely with the Department of Conservation (DoC) to protect endangered birds in the predator free environment, including kōkako, kiwi, tui, weka, toutouwai (North Island robin) and tieke (saddleback). There are also indigenous spotted skinks and native plants and trees such as kawakawa, totara, rimu, pohutakawa and water rose.
One of the stories capturing hearts in this significant place is that of Māori lovers Hinemoa and Tūtānekai, a story so popular, one of New Zealand’s national songs Pōkarekare Ana is about the pair. Rotorua also named two intersecting city streets in their honour. Today, some 12 generations later, many hundreds of their descendants live in the Rotorua region.
The story is that Hinemoa and Tūtānekai fell in love, but her family resisted the marriage, as Hinemoa was beautiful and high-born, while he was of lower social status. Hinemoa would listen each night to the flute music of Tūtānekai as the sounds drifted across from his home on Mokoia Island.
When Hinemoa’s family tried to prevent her leaving, she strung together six empty gourds for flotation and swam three kilometres naked across to Mokoia Island at night, guided by the sound of the music. Tūtānekai found Hinemoa warming herself in a hot pool on the island. Their marriage was eventually the source of strong bonds among their kin.
Visitors to Mokoia Island can still see the famous Hinemoa’s Pool, which is naturally geothermally heated.
To have the modern day experience of lakeside geothermal bathing like Hinemoa, Polynesian Spa’s
Deluxe Spa is perfect for soaking in hot mineral pools on the shores of Lake Rotorua.
At Polynesian Spa, waters from two natural springs are fed into 28 mineral pools. The slightly acidic Priest Spring relieves tired muscles, aches and pains while the alkaline waters of the Rachel Spring nourishes skin.
Mokoia Island is private land owned by the Mokoia Island Trust, comprised of four Te Arawa iwi (tribes) as kaitiaki (guardians) - Ngāti Whakaue, Ngāti Rangiwewehi, Ngāti Rangiteaorere and Ngāti Uenukukopako.