PHO2010_0533.jpg Mount Taranaki. John Reginald Wall. Collection of Puke Ariki (PHO2010-0533).

In the past many magnificent mountain gods lived near the heart of Te Ika a Māui: Ruapehu, Tongariro, Ngāuruhoe, Taranaki, Tauhara... and the only female - little Pīhanga.

Pīhanga was a gracefully contoured mountain with bush robed flanks and a delicate nature. All the mountains wanted Pīhanga for their own - but particularly Tongariro and Taranaki.

The earth shook as the two fought. Lightening crashed, thunder rolled, ash and molten lava spumed from the mountains. In the fighting Tongariro lost his head, some say he deliberately broke it off to fling it at Taranaki, others say Taranaki sliced it off with a powerful blow. The top flew off and fell into the centre of Lake Taupō where it can be seen today as Motutāiko Island.

But Tongariro was the stronger of the two mountains. He defeated Taranaki, whose peak shuddered and sides convulsed. Tongariro gave a final departing kick to Taranaki's flanks and the defeated mountain dived underground. Toka-a-Rauhotu, a small stone of great mana, acted as a guide stone leading him to the coast. In his flight he carved the Whanganui River, forming the Ngāere swamp when he stopped to rest.

At the water's edge Toka-a-Rauhotu lead Taranaki beneath the sea and north-west up the coast. He surfaced briefly and glimpsed Pouākai, a beautiful range. He settled beside her, and the guide stone rested on his seaward side. Taranaki and Pouākai went on to have many children: wind and rain, plants and people, rocks and rivers.

In the central North Island Tongariro stands protectively over the little mountain Pīhanga, wrapping her in soft clouds of love as she lies nestled by the town of Tūrangi on the shores of Lake Taupō.

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