Māori tribes of New Zealand''s Far North region each year relive the legend of their famous Māori ancestor named Te Houtaewa.
According to an ancient Māori story, Te Houtaewa - the fastest athlete of his day - out-ran all his enemies as they pursued him the length of New Zealand''s renowned Ninety Mile Beach.
Each March, the great run is marked by the Te Houtaewa Challenge when athletes from around the world compete on the beach in a 60km ultra marathon, a 42km marathon and a series of associated events for runners, walkers and Māori canoeists.
The Te Houtaewa Challenge is the world’s only marathon run entirely on a beach track. It has attracted global interest since being featured in a book on ‘extreme runs’.
The event also combines with arts and crafts, and food festivals celebrating traditional Māori art forms including ta moko (tattoo), whakairo (wood, stone and bone carving), raranga (weaving), pottery and painting.
Legend of Te Houtaewa
The story behind the challenge revolves around Te Houtaewa who was the fastest runner of his day, and played many pranks on his people’s enemies.
One morning, when his mother wanted kumara for the hangi (earth oven), she asked Te Houtaewa to go to the gardens at Te Kao, a short distance away.
Te Houtaewa agreed to fetch the kumara and told his mother to prepare the hangi; but, instead of going to the local gardens, Te Houtaewa set off for Ahipara where he wanted to annoy some Te Rarawa people.
Carrying two large baskets (kete) for the kumara, Te Houtaewa ran like a hare over the hard sands of Te Oneroa a Tohe (90 Mile Beach), completing the journey in the few hours it takes to heat a good hangi.
On reaching Ahipara, Te Houtaewa went straight to the kumara pataka (storehouse for sweet potatoes) located at the foot of the hill Wangatauatia.
While Te Houtaewa was filling his baskets with kumara, he was spotted stealing the kai (food) and immediately recognised: "It is he, Te Houtaewa. Catch him, and we will make him a slave to work for us."
Te Houtaewa stood up with one kete in each hand. Looking around he saw a line of people blocking his way to the beach. Quickly he ran in the opposite direction up hill; not knowing his intentions, the people ran after him.
As Te Houtaewa ran, the blockade which had been formed against him was broken and the ranks were opened. He turned and waited for the oncoming host then, as his pursuers drew close, he rushed back down the hill sending his opponents sprawling as he headed for the beach.
The Te Rarawa people were so astonished that they forgot to reform their barricade and, before they could do anything to stop him, Te Houtaewa - still bearing his baskets of kumara - had reached the beach and the road home.
Angry at being fooled by Te Houtaewa, the Te Rarawa people sent their best runners after him. But Te Houtaewa continued to speed along the hard sand, even though he was slowing down under his heavy load.
"Yes, he must be tiring, carrying those heavy baskets of kumara," his pursuers thought as two of their fastest runners separated from the band and drew close to the wily thief.
Te Houtaewa put down his baskets of kumara and prepared again to face the enemy. On each occasion he outwitted his foe.
When he reached home, Te Houtaewa found his mother waiting with the hangi, ready. She did not know what her extraordinary son had been doing during the time he had been away.