Long before Columbus reached the shores of America, or Marco Polo travelled to the Far East, the Polynesian people voyaged out over the waters of the Pacific in outrigger canoes (waka haurua), to find new lands.
Travelling across the ocean, guided by the stars, currents and birds, the Polynesian voyagers made some of the most remarkable journeys mankind has ever known.
Oral tradition tells of a great migration from the homeland, Hawaiiki the golden, in which seven vast canoes brought the Māori people to New Zealand.
The Ngāi Tahu tribe trace their descent from Paikea, who, escaping from the treachery of his brother, Ruatapu, jumped into the sea and was saved by a whale, riding on its back from mid-ocean to the East Coast of the North Island (Te Ika a Māui).
Paikea fathered Tahupōtiki, who was the founding ancestor of Ngāi Tahu. Eventually the Ngāi Tahu moved to Te Waka O Aoraki (the South Island) and intermarried with the Ngāti Māmoe and Waitaha peoples, over time becoming the dominant tribal group of the entire South Island.
Ngāi Tahu were often involved in skirmishes with other tribal groups, but they were also skilful at making strategic marriages which led them to establish kin links across tribes and eventually form a huge network of relationships throughout Māoridom. Through these extended relationships, Ngāi Tahu became rich and powerful, establishing a trade in pounamu (greenstone) throughout both islands.