The Legend of Te Houtaewa
Champion of Te Oneroa‐a‐Tōhē
E kore e mau i a koe, he wae kai pakiaka.
A foot accustomed to running over roots makes the speediest runner.
North of Kaitaia is Te Hiku o Te Ika a Maui (the tail of the fish of Maui) – the narrowest part of New Zealand. In some places from the road, you can see the sandhills on both sides of the island. On the west coast Te Oneroa‐a‐Tōhē (the Ninety Mile Beach), washed by the Tasman Sea, stretches in a smooth unbroken curve from Scott Point in the north to Ahipara in the south ‐ a distance of some 75 miles (120 kms). The three main iwi (tribes) of the Far North are Ngāti Kuri, Te Aupōuri and Te Rarawa. Ngāti Kuri and Te Aupōuri live near the tip of New Zealand, from Te Rerenga Wairua(Cape Reinga - the leaping place of the spirits) and in the wind‐beaten country around Te Kao; Te Rarawa at Ahipara.
The story of Te Houtaewa is part of the history of these tribes, and took place about 1830. In the Far North Te Houtaewa is a legendary figure, especially renowned for his exceptional health and endurance, for his speed of running, and his tenacity as an athlete.
The legend goes that Te Houtaewa, who, after being asked by his mother to fetch Kumara from the local gardens in Te Kao for a hangi, instead, ran the great distance of Te Oneroa‐a‐Tōhē to Ahipara, filling his Kumara baskets at the foothills of Whangatauatia. This angered the local Te Rarawa people who gave chase to take back their Kumara, but Te Houtaewa outwitted his foe on every occasion, disabling two of those in pursuit in the process. After this, no one was so foolhardy as to challenge him further, although his raiding of the Kumara pit was the reason for significant mamae(pain) experienced by Te Rarawa and fuelled the whawhai(conflict) between the tribes.Te Houtaewa returned to his waiting mother with Kumara in two kete(baskets), and such was his strength that his journey home took only a little longer than it took to prepare the hangi.
Over the years there was much whawhai but payback eventually occurred and Te Houtaewa was shot and killed at Houhora Harbour by Te Kiroa (Te Rarawa) and his legs were taken as a means of capturing his mana(prestige) ‐ his agility, swiftness and prowess as a runner.
Honouring the Legend
The main purpose for establishing Te Houtaewa Challenge in 2003 was to honour the legend of Te Houtaewa and symbolically return the Kumara to Te Rarawa as a means of healing old wounds; addressing the mamae; and restoring the peace between the two tribes. The physical act of returning the Kumara was introduced into the race by the ultra‐marathon runners carrying a Kumara from Waka‐te‐haua (Maunganui Bluff) back to the Paripari Domain Ahipara (finish line) at the foot of Whangatauatia. This was given the blessing of the kaumatua (elders) and so this symbolic gesture is celebrated every year.
Over the years the 60km ultra-‐marathon has been extended to include an ultra-‐marathon relay (5 team running 12 km each), a 42km marathon, a 21km half marathon, and a 6 km charity walk where each year the proceeds are given to a different far north community organisation. To further enhance the challenge and all things Te Ao Māori(the Māori World), we provide Rongoā MāoriMedicine (traditional māori medicine) and Romiromi and Mirimiri (holistic māori massage) and an event that brings the whole community together.
The present Te Houtaewa Challenge is a way of coming face to face with the current challenges facing Māori and serves to promote health and wellbeing through weaving the past with the present through story and Rongoā Māori.Achieving health and fitness by celebrating Māori athleticism highlights the importance of the sea and the beach through sharing kai moana(seafood)and the paramount significance of whakawhanaungatanga (the process of establishing relationships and shared experiences which provides a sense of belonging,acceptance and peace).
And each year, the journey begins again and the legend of Te Houtaewa and all that he brings, continues to live on.