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ihenga and the patupaiarehe

Ngāti Ohomairangi

Long ago the summit of Ngongotahā called Te Tūāhu a te Atua (The Altar of the God) was the home of a mysterious people called the Patupaiarehe.  They were thought to be an iwi atua or people of supernatural powers. To some they were known as the ‘fairy people’.
They lived close to the very highest part of the mountain so not many people had seen them in real life.  Those who had, gave lots of different descriptions about what they looked like. Some said they were light-skinned like Pakeha people, and others that they had kiri pūwhero (reddish skin) and their hair had the red or golden tinge, called uru-kehu. Some had black eyes, and some blue.
They were a peaceful people and not war-loving or angry.
Although they lived high on the maunga, the Patupaiarehe sometimes came down to Lake Rotorua to catch inanga and to collect water because there was no fresh spring near their pā.  The Patupaiarehe women would gather the water they needed from the a spring under the northern cliffs of the maunga, near the side of the Kauae spur, an ancient sacred burial place for Ngāti Whakaue.  This is where Īhenga first came across a Patupaiarehe woman who had been filling her tahā (calabash bowl) with water to take back to her home.
When Īhenga came to the bank of the stream he saw a curl of smoke rising near the summit of the great maunga far above him.  Some people say the smoke he saw was fairy mist. This made Īhenga very curious about who was living so high on the mountain so he climbed his way through the thick fern of the lower slopes and into the forest.  The tough climb made him very thirsty and so he looked for a spring to drink from but could not find one. He kept climbing until he stumbled onto an amazing sight: the home of the Patupaiarehe.
He asked for some water and a beautiful young woman gave him a drink out of a tahā.  These people were very interested in Īhenga and pressed around him, touching his skin and asking questions.  Īhenga became worried by their interest and thought they may want to kill and eat him so he broke away from them and fled down the maunga as quickly as he could.  
The people chased him but he was faster than all of them except for the beautiful young woman who had given him the drink of water.  She wished to catch him and make him her husband. She threw off her clothes so that she could run faster and Īhenga began to think she may indeed catch him, and if she did, he may never see his wife again!  
Just at that moment, he came up with a clever trick.  He took some of the kōkōwai (red ochre mixed with shark oil) he kept in the small pūtea (bag) he carried and smeared it quickly all over his body. The hāunga (bad smell) of the shark-oil was so awful that the young woman stopped chasing Īhenga and he was able to run all the way back to the shores of the lake where his wife was patiently waiting for him.

This story has been endorsed by Norma Sturley, Ngāti Whakaue Kōeke.

Qualities: identity, relationships

Did you know?

There are a number of other places where Patupaiarehe were thought to live (and some people believe they still do).  

You can see a Waka Huia episode on the Patupaiarehe of Ngāti Maniapoto here:

Here’s a tip:

Want to find more information about the Patupaiarehe or Īhenga?  If you are not sure how to search for reliable information about these or other New Zealand topics, you could try visiting Many Answers.  Here is an entry on Many Answers about how to find information on Māori myths and legends:


Many Answers is part of Any Questions which is a safe, free service that lets you chat to a real librarian between 1pm and 6pm every weekday.  They won’t do your homework for you but they will help point you in the right direction and make sure you are finding correct information!

More to read:

From Rotorua Library:

Ngā whetū Matariki i whānakotia, by Miriama Kamo

Taniwha, giants and supernatural creatures: He taniwha, he tipua, he patupaiarehe, by Alexander Wyclif

The seven stars of Matariki, by Toni Rolleston-Cummins

Te Huihui o Matariki, by Toni Rolleston-Cummins


This entry is related to these other entries:

Koro & Moko Fishing, Part Four: Īhenga and Hinetekakara


Fairy Folk Tale of the Maori, Chapter II, by James Cowan, 1925

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