Aoraki, or Mt Cook, is the sacred mountain (maunga) of Ngai Tahu.
When Raki (the Sky) and Papatuanuku (the Earth), came together to create the world, both had already been married before and had children. At that time the Gods existed in the midst of a great sea of nothingness.
Aoraki (Cloud in the Sky), eldest son of Raki, and his brothers brought the great waka, Te Waka o Aoraki, down from the heavens to visit their stepmother Papatuanuku after their father had left their mother, Pokoharua-te-po.
When they saw Raki and Papatuanuku together, and realized that they would not be able to persuade their father to return, the brothers decided to go back to the heavens to comfort their mother.
Aoraki went to make his karakia (prayer chant) before making the voyage back into the heavens, but unfortunately he made a mistake. The waka failed to rise, becoming stranded as the wind blew and the seas rose, overturning the waka and tipping the brothers into the water.
The brothers, climbing onto the upturned canoe, waited for someone to rescue them. Time passed, their hair turned white, and they turned to stone, becoming Te Tiritiri O Moana (the Southern Alps), with Aoraki being the highest peak. Because of this, Ngai Tahu named the South Island “Te Waka o Aoraki”, although it is more widely known as “Te Wai O Pounamu” (Waters of Greenstone).
Ownership of the maunga was returned to Ngai Tahu as part of the Waitangi Treaty settlement. It was then gifted to the people of New Zealand and is now a National Park.