Hinemoa and Tutanekai – a Maori love story

Pohutu Geyser, New Zealand, 1938 all-round-the-box Australian label
Pohutu Geyser, New Zealand, 1938 all-round-the-box Australian label 120 x 55 mm

Exhibitor : Jerry Bell

Towards the centre of the southern part of New Zealand’s North island is the township and area of Rotorua. This area is officially described as an area of geothermal activity, but this description does not really do justice to the vast pools of boiling mud bubbling away 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, all emitting continuous jets of sulphurous steam, added to which is the 30-metre-tall Pohutu geyser, which erupts many times daily. 

Photo credit: The British Library on VisualHunt



A visitor really feels awed by the elements coming up through the earth, and it is quite scary. The whole area and township always has that rotten egg smell of hydrogen sulphide.

Beside Rotorua is a large lake, Lake Rotorua, caused by a volcanic eruption 200,000 years ago. Geothermal activity can also be experienced around the lake, and the water has a greeny blue colour caused by its high sulphur content.

In the middle of the lake is an island, Mokoia Island, which is the setting for a famous Maori love story.

Hinemoa box label, made in Finland
Hinemoa box label, made in Finland 1925-30, 55 x 37 mm



A Maori love story

In a village around the shores of the lake lived a young, noble born, girl, Hinemoa, daughter of a chief. Tribal tradition decreed that the tribe would choose her husband, but no one suitable had been found.

On Mokoia Island lived four brothers, one of whom was Tutanekai. In tribal gatherings, they had caught each other’s eye, but Tutanekai was considered far too lowly born to be suitable for Hinemoa. Hinemoa’s tribe, therefore,  took all the steps they could to prevent her from seeing Tutanekai, including removing all their canoes to a secret place to ensure that they could not meet.

A rare Japanese Maori label, issued around 1930, 53 x 34mm

However, Hinemoa was not to be denied. She was a resourceful young lady, and, although she could probably not swim, she strapped some empty gourds around her to give herself buoyancy, and managed, somehow, to make it out to the island through what would have been very cold water. A hot spring enabled her to warm up when she got to the island.

She waited for Tutanekai’s servant to come to a fresh water spring nearby to replenish his water supply, and, with her face covered, seized the container and broke it. When the servant came a second time, she repeated the action. This caused an angry Tutanekai himself to come and see what was going on, and Hinemoa revealed herself to him.

Japanese label depicting the Arawa Maori
Japanese label depicting the Arawa Maori, 1915-20, 34 x 55 mm


From that day on, they were inseparable, and the tribal approval was given to their union. Mokoia Island is now uninhabited and considered sacred by the Arawa Maori.

This is a true story, and descendants of Hinemoa and Tutanekai are reputed to live in Rotorua to this day. It is also a lovely story to find behind such a plain Finnish label.


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