Whatonga was one of three recognised Chiefs on board the Kurahaupo Waka, which journeyed across the Pacific Ocean to Aotearoa, New Zealand possibly as early as the 12th Century.  The Ngāti Tara and Rangitāne people trace their descent from Whatonga.

Whatonga settled near Cape Kidnappers in Hawkes Bay and built a house there for his family which he called ‘Heretaunga’. He was a great explorer traversing the Lower North Island.  On one expedition Whatonga sailed along the Wairarapa Coast to Te Whanganui a Tara (Wellington) and across to the Wairau Region at the top of the South Island.  Eventually Whatonga sailed up the West Coast of the Lower North Island entering the mouth of the Manawatū River.  Whatonga paddled on upstream where he encountered vast forests and bountiful food resources which he viewed from a high point on the Tararua Range just south of the Manawatū Gorge.  These forests both east and west of the Tararua and Ruahine Ranges, he named ‘Te Tapere nui o Whatonga’, meaning ‘the great District (or food basket) of Whatonga’.
These expanses of forests east of the Tararua and Ruahine Ranges were later to be referred to as the ‘Forty’ or ‘Seventy Bush’ by early European Settlers.

This expedition by Whatonga triggered an expansion and migratory phase for the Ngai Tara people who made their way south from Heretaunga to Central and Southern Hawkes Bay, the Wairarapa and to Te Whanganui a Tara.  It then followed the Rangitāne people who went on to settle in Central and Southern Hawkes Bay, the Wairarapa, Manawatū, Horowhenua and Wellington Regions of the North Island and the Wairau Region in the South Island.

Whatonga is the father of Tara who is the eponymous ancestor of the Ngai Tara people and grandfather to Rangitāne (also known as Tānenuiarangi) from whom all Rangitāne descend.  The lower reach of Kapiti Island was the boundary line between the two tribes, giving rise to the full name for Kapiti Island, Te waewae Kapiti o Tara raua ko Rangitāne.

“Ko te iwi ratou o Heretaunga tae noa ki Wairarapa, Whanganui a Tara, Porirua, Otaki, Manawatu, Tāmaki Nui-ā-Rua, Ruahine ko Rangitāne.”  

“The people who owned Heretaunga down to Wairarapa, Wellington, Porirua, Otaki, Manawatū, Dannevirke and Ruahine were Rangitāne.”


Art and Pattern Work on Whatonga

This artwork of Whatonga stands 6.2m high, 1.5m across and 1.2m deep and as it is made of steel it shall be able to withstand the elements.

The artwork features intricate pattern work, called mangōpare (shark head pattern), which depicts the sailing history of Whatonga. The theme for the choice of this pattern was the Rangitāne whakatauaki (proverb):

“Tini whetū ki te rangi, ko Rangitāne nui ki te whenua”

Like the myriads of stars in the sky, great Rangitāne on the earth

The pattern also denotes male and female elements which in this case represent the ancestors of the Rangitāne people.


The main pattern over the body of the artwork is a kowhaiwhai known as mangōpare (hammer head shark).  

It depicts the sea voyaging elements of Whatonga’s story and how shark meat was used to sustain waka crews on long journeys.


There are two small human figures on the hips of Whatonga that represent Watonga sons:  Taraika and Tautoki from whom Tānenuiarangi also known as Rangitāne descend.

Many ceremonial paddles as well as waka steering paddles had carved upoko or heads on the upper ends to indicate they were the property of someone of special rank or importance.


Ngutu kaka, another pattern used on the artwork, was used to show both the wild fowl harvested by Rangitāne tupuna and to symbolise the Ashhurst community as a stakeholder in the Gorge project. It is distinguished from the other patterns used by the egg shaped portions below the koru in the kowhaiwhai.

This is one of the stakeholder emblems incorporated in the pattern work, some are small like this one whilst others are quite large andvery obvious. Within the pattern work the logos of all of the Manawatū Gorge biodiversity project stakeholder emblems can be found.  There are seven stakeholders, and one non stakeholder emblem. Can you find their logos?


Gallery from the blessing – 11 April 2014