By Jim Webber
18th November 2009

When I was a youngster the name Waikanae seemed entirely appropriate. “Wai” I knew was “water” and “kanae” were the little mullet that we used to catch in various ways — including chasing their shoals into the shallows and stranding them on the sand where their silvery scales left glittering patches. Thus Wai-Kanae.

Well, later on I learned that this might have been the correct interpretation up in Northland where there is another Waikanae that undoubtedly follows this interpretation since a large mullet figures in its story of origin.

But here, on the Kapiti Coast, not so — and it is part of a dramatic story.

It concerns one Hau, a traveller of note, who landed at Whanganui in search of his wife Wairaka who had shot through, as they say, with another man named Weku.

Hau trekked south, leaving a trail of place names in his wake. Turakina, Manawatu, Rangitikei, Hokio, Otaki. Then O-hau, the place of Hau, where he rested, and Waikanae — named, according to the story, for the way he glanced around looking for Wairaka:

“Wai-kanaenae — water of the sly glance” one might say, his gleaming eyes reminiscent of the flashing scales of the mullet.

At Paekakariki, perching place of the kakariki (parakeet), Hau again features in the story of his quest for the elusive Wairaka.

The place-name apparently already was in place when Hau arrived at a rocky barrier at the south end of the beach. In Reed’s “Dictionary of Maori Place Names” it is said that Hau drove his taiaha into the cliff, created a gap, walked through and found his wife.

There is another end to the story, recorded by John White in “Ancient History of the Maori”. It says that the indefatigable Hau went on to the foot of the Tararuas, naming place names in the Wairarapa as he went, and eventually found his wife Wairaka on the sea coast.

Was it time for a reconciliation? Alas, no. Hau had a special incantation for the occasion. He used it to turn Wairaka into a rock, where of course “she stands to this day . . . .”

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