A shooting that took place on a Northland beach 250 years ago has been remembered in an emotional ceremony by descendants of the victim and the man who helped heal his wounds.

In 1769 Captain Cook's men opened fire on a large group of Māori gathered on the beach at Motuarohia Island in the Bay of Islands.

Among the wounded was Te Koukou, who was shot in the thigh.

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Tupaia, Cook's Tahitian navigator and interpreter, accompanied Te Koukou back to Waikare where he helped him heal.

That act of kindness was recognised last Friday, after the Tuia 250 flotilla was welcomed at Waitangi, when tohunga whakairo (expert carver) Te Warahi Hetaraka presented the fleet's Tahitian sailors with a rei puta (carved whale tooth).

Hetaraka said the rei puta, which he based on one worn by Te Koukou in a historical print, was ''a mark of thanks for Tupaia's help all those years ago''.

The handover to two Tahitian navigators from the waka Fa'afaite, Moeata Galenon and Titaua Teipoarii, took place on the beach in front of Te Tii Marae.

Tahitian navigators Moeata Galenon, left, and Titaua Teipoarii receive a carved whale tooth from Whangārei's Te Warahi Hetaraka in gratitude for an event 250 years ago. Photo / Tuia 250
Tahitian navigators Moeata Galenon, left, and Titaua Teipoarii receive a carved whale tooth from Whangārei's Te Warahi Hetaraka in gratitude for an event 250 years ago. Photo / Tuia 250

Also present were other descendants of Te Koukou, the rest of the Tahitian waka crew and Tuia 250 co-chair Hoturoa Barclay-Kerr.

"As well as celebrating a specific act of kindness 250 years ago, the taonga I presented also symbolises a deep connection between Māori and Tahitian people,'' Hetaraka said.

''We all come from the same origins, the same homeland of Hawaiki, so we were all brothers and sisters from the same whānau."

Hetaraka, who is based in Whangārei, said Tuia 250 was a step towards a more positive future.

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"Tuia 250 is about having honest conversations, rebalancing history and building a shared future based on dual heritage. For too long, the stories of Māori have been unheard, and we have lived in a monoculture. Tuia 250 is helping to change this,'' he said.

''We cannot change the pain of the past, but in acknowledging it honestly and openly, we can move forwards."

Galenon said Tupaia had been on the minds of the Fa'afaite crew long before the voyage started.

"We've been looking for some tohu (sign) from him. When we reach the shore of Aotearoa, we look for him. When we sail we look for him,'' Galenon said.

''It's so special for us to know this story because we didn't know ... Who would have thought that 250 years later, the descendants of those two men would meet eye to eye again.''

Tuia 250 commemorates 250 years since the first significant contact between Māori and Europeans. Central to the commemorations is a voyage by tall ships and double-hulled waka — including Fa'afaite — as used by Polynesians to explore and settle the Pacific Ocean.