Putauaki, also known as Mount Edgecumbe, rises 820 meters three kilometers east of Kawerau, my home town. It is a substantial presence which casts a morning shadow on the town.
Its English name was given by Captain James Cook in 1769, possibly after Sergeant Edgecombe who was the sergeant of marines on the Endeavour. The mountain’s official name was changed back to Putauaki in 1925. The last substantial volcanic eruption occurred around 300 BCE.
It takes about 3 1/2 hours to walk to the top and back down and is a bit of a slog. The view from the top is worth it though. Every year a King of the Mountain race is run straight up the face. The record for the 8 km race of 45 minutes 31 seconds is held by Shay Williamson. The women’s record of 54.09 was set by local legend, Megan Edhouse in 1995 and still stands. There is also a Prince and Princess race that crosses the foothills that Our Darling Girl ran in a couple of times.
This tribal legend is often told to school children in the Ngati Tuwharetoa area. It is part of the collective tribal knowledge of Ngati Tuwharetoa, and cements the people to their mountains.
Long ago when the world was young, two mountains grew up near the Kawerau area. One was Putauaki, the other was Ruawahi who found Putauaki attractive and often sighed. The two fell in love and spent their days together in happiness. Putauaki and Ruawahia had a son called Whatiura and this made their union complete.
Time passed and the three lived in happiness. Slowly however, the two lovers became more distant. Other mountains surrounded the rohe, some distant, some further away. Ruawahia would gaze at Tongariro. Putauaki noticed that Ruawahia was losing interest in him. She constantly complained and her moods changed. Putauaki was annoyed and decided to leave.
Meanwhile, Whakaari (White Island) showed an interest in Putauaki and would often gaze in his direction. Putauaki, realising that Whakaari was interested in him wondered how he could make the journey to the sea. Ruawahia realised that Putauaki was interested in Whakaari and became angry.
In those times, it was possible for mountains to move, providing the move was done during the night. One night as Ruawahia slept, Putauaki set off for the coast. He moved slowly, so Ruawahia would not wake. Unbeknown to Putauaki, Whatiura was following. Whatiura made a noise and his father realised that his son was behind.
Putauaki tried to persuade Whatiura to return to Ruawahia. Unfortunately, Whatiura did not return. At daybreak, Putauaki realised he was in Kawerau. Ruawahia noticed that Putauaki had left her side. Ruawahia roared, shook and burst into tears. The tears filled the hole left by Putauaki, and today it is called Lake Tarawera.
The union between Putauaki and Whakaari was never to be. Ruawahia never recovered. That is the reason why the lake fills and flows down the Tarawera valley. Whakaari sends smoke signals, calling Putauaki to join her.