When Tamoe Ngata could not find the book she wanted in the library, the librarian suggested she write it herself.

So she did.

Her book, Mauao, Caught By the Dawn, was launched yesterday at Wairoa Marae in Bethlehem, with more than 50 people in attendance including local kaumātua and Lotto Powerball millionaire Lou Te Keeti, as well as the book's backer, bestselling author and NZME columnist Tommy Kapai.

Ngata, who is Heritage New Zealand's Māori heritage adviser, had no idea how to publish a book when she began the project more than a year ago,


"When the librarian said I should write, she probably did not know that I am the sort of person that if you say that to, I will. I went home that night and thought, 'Right, I can write the story, and I can paint the pictures, but how do I get a book published'. So I went to Tommy, and asked if he could give me some ideas and he simply said, 'I will do it'. He is that sort of person, who just gets things done."

The book tells the story of Mauao in both te reo and English, and is illustrated by Ngata's dye paintings. It is an oral tradition she grew up with, and that she tells often in schools where she and her husband teach kapa haka.

"Mauao dominates the skyline from almost every [angle] in the Tauranga region and is of huge importance to local Māori. It is the most significant landmark in Tauranga due to its cultural and spiritual significance, and physical presence. Its story — and I think it is important to call it an oral tradition not a legend — is what connects the different iwi of Tauranga Moana — particularly local iwi groups Ngāi Te Rangi, Ngāti Ranginui and Ngāti Pūkenga who claim an ancestral connection as well as Waitaha iwi."

Ngata said retelling the story of Mauao — which means caught by the dawn — is essential so people feel connected to where they live and come from. It is a story that fascinates children, she says, but many adults do not know it.

Author and historian Tamoe Ngata. Photo / Andrew Warner
Author and historian Tamoe Ngata. Photo / Andrew Warner

The book tells the story of how there were three mountains that lived in the Hautere forest overlooking Tauranga Moana. One was Otānewainuku who still stands there today.

There was also the female mountain Puwhenua, a beautiful hill. The other was a maunga pononga or a nameless mountain.

The nameless mountain was in love with Puwhenua. But her heart already belonged to Otānewainuku. The nameless one decided to end it all by drowning himself in the Pacific Ocean, Te Moananui a Kiwa.

Calling on the patupaiarehe, the people with magical powers, the nameless one asked them to weave a rope and then haul him down towards the ocean.


Chanting, they began to haul the nameless one slowly towards the sea, marking out the valley where the Waimapu River now flows. The name means 'weeping waters' and is so named after this journey to the sea.

By the time they reached the ocean it was very close to daybreak. The sun rose, fixing the nameless one to that place.

The patupaiarehe fled back to the forests but not before giving the name Mauao to this mountain which marks the entrance of Tauranga Moana.

The artwork is depicted with coloured dyes with pinks and purples dominating.

Ngata, 35, from Ngāti Kahu hapu, was born in Gisborne but moved to Tauranga when she was 4. She and her brother and two sisters grew up in a house near Wairoa Marae where her father was an orator and her mother sang. Her brother did all the carvings in the marae's meeting house.

"We were brought up with te ao Māori underpinning our life and values — we all spoke reo at home, and the marae was our hub. I love this sense of connection to the wider hapū and I think it is part of Māori culture that many non-Māori could value too."

Now a mother herself to Taukehu Tiria, 4, and Te Kaiawha, 18 months, she and her husband speak reo at home with the kids, and teach it in schools along with kapa haka.

She has been roadtesting the 28-page book, reading it to children at St Mary's Catholic school, as well as with children at the kōhanga reo on the marae.

Ngata has been passionate about the story of Mauao not just since her own childhood but in her work too as heritage adviser.

She was instrumental in getting Mauao formally recognised and registered as wāhi tapu, writing a report on its rich history which formed part of the proposal in 2009.

Ngata says the registration was important to reaffirm its significance in history.

Her report detailed the physical evidence of the history of Māori occupation on Mauao that is shown clearly on the slopes of the maunga to this day — most notably distinctive archaeological features that include a series of terraces that run up to the summit, as well as pits and middens on the lower slopes of the mountain.

Ngata says all these different elements and pā together used to comprise Maunganui Pā, which one archaeologist described as 'Super Pā'.

She said there was a great number of people living within its boundaries with a high level of social organisation, making it remarkable historically in New Zealand.

Having been instrumental in Mauao achieving wāhi tapu status ensuring this rich heritage will be preserved and enjoyed by future generations, she says her book is another step in her life's journey of helping share a sense of place and identity with locals.

"It is more than a story, it is taking pride in one's history, where you live, in one's language and culture, in one's whakapapa and ultimately pride in oneself. With some young Māori saying they feel disconnected, I feel it is key to feel a sense of pride in one's culture and place from a young age. I had that and I was lucky. It is beautiful, and I just want to share that."

Beautiful it is, the book is exquisitely illustrated and presented, sure to be loved by children now and in the future.

About Mauao

In pre-European times, Mauao was the scene of bloody battles among Māori tribes.

The first wharf at Mount Maunganui was a little stone jetty built at the foot of Mauao some time between 1888 and 1895 when a new wharf was built. In 1898 funds were raised and tenders called to form a track to the summit.

The harbour's first pilot lived in a tent on the lower slope of Mauao. A pilot house was built in 1866.

The Crown handed the Mauao historic reserve back to tangata whenua in 2007.

In 2009, Mauao was registered as a wāhi tapu site by the New Zealand Historic Places Trust.

Caring for Mauao today is the Mauao Project Steering Group comprising city councillors, a Historic Places Trust representative, a DoC member and iwi representatives from Ngāi Te Rangi, Ngāti Ranginui, Ngāti Pūkenga and Waitaha.

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