Who is Ngātoroirangi?
Ngātoroirangi is the navigator and high priest of the Te Arawa canoe that landed in Aotearoa, New Zealand in the 14th Century. Ngātoroirangi journeyed from Te Awa o te Atua in the Bay of Plenty across the Kaingaroa plains to the Taupō area and claimed much of the surrounding lands for his descendants. He did not remain long in the Central North Island and eventually made his way back to the east coast and settled on Mōtiti Island.
What is a 'tūāhu'?
Tūāhu (altar) were hallowed places and were in some cases unmarked locations used in connection with sacred ceremonies. In some cases tūāhu were marked by a heap of stones or blocks of stone set upright, partially embedded in the earth. Tūāhu were often used for the performance of high-class ceremonies pertaining to birth, war, sickness, land claims and the teaching of sacred knowledge.
About Te 'Tūāhu o Ngātoroirangi'.
This tūāhu is one of several erected by Ngātoroirangi in the Taupō region and may be the oldest known local artefact. It once stood upright on the side of the main road, Lake Terrace, opposite the end of Ruapehu Street.
The rock was taken from its original position when the highway was widened and put into a Māori whare (hut) on Mere Road. Later Henry Hill relocated the stone to his garden on the corner of Mere and Taharepa Roads; but when he passed away his brother Howard had the stone moved to his property. When Howard died, Mrs Nimmo bought the property and inherited the stone which was then used as a shaky backdoor step until she had a nasty fall. The stone was discarded in the garden.
Understanding the significance of the stone, Trevor Hosking, a Historic Places representitive rescued the altar stone and because Taupō had no museum in 1963, he organised a truck to take it to Auckland Museum for safe keeping.
In 2010, nearly 50 years later Trevor asked Taupō Museum Mananger, Karen Williams to begin a conversation with Auckland Museum about bringing the altar stone back to Taupō. The following year, in 2011 a small party of Ngāti Tūwharetoa and Taupō District Council staff travelled to Auckland to bring the tūāhu back to Ngāti Tūwharetoa and the Taupō Museum.
Identification of 'Te Tūāhu o Ngātoroirangi'.
In 2010, Michael Rosenberg (Geologist), Saskia van Manen (Geophysicist) and Gill Jolly (Head of Volcanology Department) provided an identification and provenance summary of the altar stone.
"...This is now identified as a conglomerate of silica-cemented volcanic pebbles. The altar stone rock closely resembles silica-cemented conglomerate that forms a shore platform and shallow reef along the Taupō Lake short (south of Highway 1, opposite the end of Taharepa Road) where hot springs flow out into the lake. In our opinion, the altar stone was shaped from rock excavated from an outcrop on the north-eastern shore of Tapuaeharuru Bay, Lake Taupō."
(M. Rosenberg, S van Manen, G Jolly, Personal Communications, January 14, 2010)