Volume 58 1949 > Volume 58, No. 1 > Legendary footprints on the Poutu Stream, Rotoaira, by R. A. L. Batley, p 47-50
LEGENDARY FOOTPRINTS ON THE POUTU STREAM, ROTOAIRA
AMONGST R. T. Batley's papers there are many native legends centred around the Tongariro region. This story concerns Ngatoroirangi of the Arawa canoe who planted the first Maori foot on Tongariro.
Ngatoroirangi lived on an island in the Bay of Plenty. Seeing the snows of Tongariro glistening in the south he was determined to stamp upon them and destroy them. He travelled southward and climbed to the top of the mountain where he trod upon the snow to no avail. Overcome by the cold he cried out in anguish to his sisters Pupu and Hoata who heard him from their home, more than a hundred miles distant. Carrying torches of sacred flame they travelled to his assistance, touching off the volcanoes and puia along their route. Ngatoroirangi was rescued by his sisters and they reached their island home safely except for Ngatoroirangi's toes that had been claimed by the frost of Tongariro.
The Poutu stream, a considerable body of water, flows from Rotoaira into the upper Waikato River, and Ngatoroirangi and his sisters were obliged to cross this stream. In 1882, R. T. Batley guided by an old native, Wi Maihi, visited part of the Poutu stream called Karika where Ngatoroirangi and his sisters were supposed to have crossed. Here he was shown their legendary footprints in the sandstone on the bank of the stream. At this point, where the Poutu runs deep between precipitous rocks, an active man could almost jump across, though in other places the stream is considerably more than a chain in width.
Several years ago I received a letter from Mr. R. J. Loughnan of Christchurch regarding these legendary footprints. Mr. Loughnan states that R. T. Batley was the only white man to have seen these footprints and that when he - 48 was dying he had given the writer a rough plan of the locality and had asked him to take down a detailed description that would enable the footprints to be found.
The following is the description supplied to Mr. Loughnan by R. T. Batley:—
“The spot is where the river takes a fall into a weird-like gulch, through blocks of sandstone rocks and precipitous banks, some trees growing in crevices above the stream itself. Footprints possibly about two miles from lake (Rotoaira) located by following parallel with little swampy gully, taking the side nearest Tokaanu. There is no mistaking the fall and the sandstone gulch and the peculiar formation like an old bedwarming pan jutting out from the perpendicular bank. The ledge to explore is only a small place between the bank of the stream and a little bluff at the back. There is, if I remember rightly, an open fern-covered space between the footprints and the little swamp where it joins the river. Wi Maihi was in full view of me as I stood on the opposite bank above him. The way we went was from the old Poutu kainga along the old track to Tokaanu at the base of Pihanga till we headed round the little swampy gully and made a diagonal line to the river through the fern. I must have crossed the river either through or above the fall but I cannot now remember, but of this I am certain, I was on the opposite side to where the footprints are and in full view of the spot. It is almost certain the footprints are again covered with fern and mosses but they can be found.”
In January, 1946, Mr. Loughnan visited the spot with Mr. and Mrs. J. Whittle of Moawhango. They found the gulch without difficulty, but owing to the steepness of the banks were unable to approach to within less than twenty feet of the river's surface. During March of the present year I also visited the spot with an interested party and succeeded in making a descent on both sides of the river, to the rocks on the water's edge.
Owing to the undergrowth the footprints were not in view, but there is no doubt that this is the only place where a crossing of the Poutu could be made. An interesting discovery was that of a Maori canoe, approximately twenty-six feet in length, that was wedged between rocks across the stream.- 49
A further letter from Mr. R. J. Loughnan, dated 19th January, 1949, states that there are two footprints on the ledge. Of these, Ngatoroirangi's footprint is further from the stream, and is much larger than normal as he was of gigantic stature. The footprint has no toes because Ngatoro' suffered frostbite on Tongariro! Pupu's footprint, a few feet away, is much smaller and imperfect. The curious formation of sandstone suggesting a warming pan stuck out by its handle was called the ipu (dish) of Pupu.
NOTE: I was speaking to Mr. V. Ford, storekeeper, of Tokaanu, who informed me that the canoe was the last one on Rotoaira and that it disappeared from the lake some years ago.- 50
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