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The Legend of Lake Tikitapu – The Blue Lake

Hatupatu’s story has taken us far from the road that leads to the twin lakes of Tikitapu and Rotokakahi.  First we come to Tikitapu, the lake of blue waters, divided by the high ridge which was known as Te Ahi-manawa – the place where the heart was cooked.  Many years ago a sorcerer was caught on this ridge, standing naked before his alter fire, in the very act of chanting his evil incantations.  He was slain and his body eaten, but his heart was offered to the God Maru on his own alter fire.

The contrasting colour of the waters of the adjacent lakes will always fascinate those who see them, yet it is said that in the dawn of time a famous log drifted on both lakes, passing from one to the other through a subterranean passage.  They are lakes of mystery and enchantment, and first we must tell the story of Kataore, the monster of Tikitapu.

In his young days this monster Taniwha lived at Rotoehu, was quiet and well mannered and had become something of a pet to the people there.  Being of an adventurous disposition, he migrated to Lake Tikitapu and was welcomed by a chief who lived on the western shore in a gully under the shadow of Moerangi.  A pet Taniwha was a novelty, for the Rotorua District was noted for the ravages of these legendary beasts of prey. Kataore was harmless and seldom seen, for the well trodden track between Te Wairoa and Rotorua was on the Eastern shore of the lake, far removed from Moerangi, where Kataore had his lair.

Some years after the taniwha came to Tikitapu, disturbing rumours began to spread abroad.  There were mysterious disappearances as lonely travellers passed by the lake on their way from Rotorua.  And indeed there was cause for alarm.  Like many other young and loveable animal, Kataore’s nature had changed as he grew up.  Silently he would steal through the forest, and as the traveller passed the lake and entered the forest path where the trees met overhead and a dim green light filtered through the leafy canopy, the taniwha crept silently between the trees.  With a single gulp of its cavernous jaws the traveller would disappear into a capacious maw.  For a little while the birds would cease singing, until the satisfied monster crept back to its lair on the sides of Moerangi.

Suspicion crystallised into certainty. The enraged tribe’s people of Tarawera, Okareka, Te Wairoa and Rotorua determined an action when they heard the sad fate of the highborn Tuhi-karaparapa, who, on her way from Tarawera to Ohinemutu to marry the young chief Reretoi, was overtaken by the monster near the lake and devoured.

At last Kataore had overreached himself. He had swallowed the chief’s daughter and several of her attendants, but others escaped and spread the news of the disaster.

Reretoi was overcome with grief, but the lust for vengeance burned strongly in his breast.  At his call there rallied to his aid the 140 bold warriors who had already assisted in the destruction of the taniwha Pekehaua at Te Awahou, and other monsters of the hot lakes.  They quickly formed a war party and marched to Tikitapu, skirting the lake and arriving at the slopes of Moerangi.

There was much debate among the members of the avenging party that night, but before they went to sleep the plan of attack had been decided.  At the first light of dawn the tohunga who accompanied the expedition chanted the sacred Karakia that had power against all taniwha.  While they were at their work the others gathered flax and plaited strong ropes.

As the sun rose higher they could see the darker shape of a cave on the precipitous mountainside. “It must be there that the monster has his lair,” Reretoi exclaimed.  As one man they crept cautiously forward and took up position close to the mouth of the cave. It was very still, and above the murmuring of the waves on the beach below and the sound of the fluttering fantails among the trees, they heard deep muffled breathing.

“It must be Kataore,’ Retetoi whispered in the ear of his friend Pikata.  Yes, this was Pikata the taniwha-slayer who had descended with the trap into the cold waters of Awahou.  Taking the nooses of the ropes in their hands the two young men crept into the cave, while their friends held firmly to the other end. Once inside they peered into the darkness.  At first they could see nothing but two bright circles full of light like incandescent greenstone.

These were the eyes of Kataore, gleaming like fire, but his body was still and the fearful spines that ran along his back drooped down his scaly flanks.  The incantations of the tohunga had sapped the taniwha’s power.

Reretoi and Pikata advanced cautiously and manged to slip the noose over the vast head.  Running lightly, they sprang through the cave entrance.  As they appeared, the young men hauled on the ropes.  They took the strain, drawing the taniwha out of the cave, quickly at first and then more slowly.  Kataore was roused. The spines were erected and the very air seemed to quiver with his roaring.  It was enough to make the stoutest warrior quail, but Reretoi and Pikata’s 140 were chosen men.  They wound the ropes around the tree trunks and pulled the nooses tightly around the monster’s neck.  Presently his strength began to fail and the murderous blows of his great tail grew feeble. At a signal some of the men sprang forward and attacked Kataore with mere, tewhatewha and kotiate until the life went out of him and he lay prone among the battered trees.

With sharp cutting tools of bone and greenstone they stripped his flesh, some of which was cooked at once, and the rest potted and distributed amongst the tribes which had suffered from his depredations, while the pitiful remains of those he had swallowed were buried. His heart was cut out and cooked and eaten by the tohunga between the Blue and Green Lakes, on the ridge Te Ahi-manawa.

 That is the story of Kataore, the scourge of Tikitapu.  It is a tale of bloodshed and strife and sorrow, which continued long after his death, for the joy of the victorious war party from Ohinemutu was matched only by the sorrow of Tangaroa-mihi, the owner of Kataore. The taniwha had always deceived his owner, pretending to be docile and affectionate, and Tangaroa believed that the slaying of his defenceless taniwha was an act of aggression, which could be wiped out only by long and bloody warfare against Te Arawa.

There is another half-forgotten tale of the Blue Lake, which is enshrined in its name – Tikitapu – the scared greenstone neck ornament. It is a story far removed from the uncanny memories of taniwha...just the simple mistake of the daughter of a highborn chief, who swam in the lake and lost a treasured heirloom looped through flax cord and hung around her neck.  What frenzied searching there must have been for the loss of that hallowed possession, the sacred tiki of her tribe.  The blue waters of Tikitapu still hide the tapu – scared tiki – necklace that was lost so long ago.

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