The Tairea is one of the famous waka in Ngai Tahu storytelling and recounts a pounamu creation legend.
The Tairea belonged to Tama Ahua, who lived at volcanic Tuhua (Mayor Island) in the Bay of Plenty with his three wives Hine Pounamu, Hine Aotea and Hine Tangiwai.
The wives deserted Tama Ahua and hurried away from Tuhua in Tama Ahua's Tairea waka, now captained by their new suitors. They set sail southward, eventually reaching Rangitoto (D'Urville Island) at the top of the South Island.
When Tama Ahua realised what had happened he set off in hot pursuit, aided by his slave Timuaki, hoping to win back his beloved wives. Using a magic dart to divine the path they had taken, he cast it high into the air until it stopped and pointed to Rangitoto. He immediately set sail but arrived only to find the blackened remains of their fire.
Casting the dart again, it pointed this time to Onetahua (near Motueka), but again he was too late. Once more the dart flew through the air, this time turning and showing the way down the Tai o Poutini, alighting at Pahautane (near Fox River), and then with another throw, at Kotorepi (Nine Mile Creek and beach).
The Tairea, meanwhile, was leaking badly and began to take on water as it passed by here (Punakaiki). The fugitives furiously baled out the leaking canoe but eventually were forced to make landfall at Kotorepi to effect urgent repairs. They then carried on under sail and paddle around to the next bay, Rapahoe, meaning the 'blade of the paddle'.
They pushed on southward aboard the Tairea, with Tama Ahua and Timuaki following days behind in their wake. When the Tairea reached the Makawhio River tragedy befell Hine Aotea, who was drowned and thereby turned to stone.
Onwards again till the waka made Piopiotahi (Milford Sound), where again they were struck by tragedy and Hine Tangiwai drowned and was also turned to stone.
Bereft, they turned the Tairea around and headed north again, until reaching the Arahura River, which they crossed and continued upstream to hide in case of pursuit. On they went till the mountains narrowed the valley and river into a dangerous rapid. Here the Tairea foundered and sank, drowning Hine Pounamu, along with the three captains. All were turned to stone.
Tama Ahua meanwhile, after following his dart to Makawhio, then Piopiotahi and back to Arahura, ventured up the river until he came upon the sail of his old waka clinging to the mountainside Whitiaketera. Looking into the deep pool below the rapids he saw the Tairea and its crew all turned to stone, including Hine Pounamu.
However, a certain karakia gave him the chance to restore his wife to life by making an offering to the atua, of birds cooked in the umu. Heading back downstream to find the birds, Tama Ahua instructed his slave to prepare the umu but the birds emerged overcooked. Worse than that, as Timuaki lifted them off the hot rocks he burnt his fingers and instinctively licked them, thereby immediately breaking the tapu and the karakia.
Distraught at having lost his only chance of reviving Hine Pounamu, Tama Ahua turned his rage on Timuaki, whom he turned into a small hill on the spot. The mountain alongside he named Tuhua as a memorial to his and Hine Pounamu's northern home, and the mountain opposite Whitiaketera he named Tara o Tama. Tama Ahua then returned to the north, leaving behind Hine Pounamu, who became the mother lode of pounamu in the Arahura.