New Zealand Birds’
(The Greytown Gallery)

65 Wood Street
Post Office Box 146
Greytown, 5742
New Zealand

Mobile: +64 (0)27 508 5078 [email protected]

Historical fantasy

Available from Amazon Te Tini o Toi cover

Te Tini o Toi, The Children of Toi, (book one), by Narena Olliver

Kurangaituku and Riroriro, (the grey warbler)

Giant bird woman, Kurangaituku

In the early mist of a spring morning at the beginning of the bird snaring season, Kurangaituku. a giant mist fairy, ‘like a tree in height,’ went out to spear pigeon and Kaka, for, like mortal men, she too lived on the birds of the forest. But she had no need to set snares or wield the thirty–foot–long tahere, for she depended upon the length and sharpness of her fingernails.


Now Hatupatu, a chief of rank, was also out spearing birds in the early morning and he saw the bronze–green gleam of a Kereru shining from a tufted totara tree. At the same time the giant mist fairy noticed the pigeon from the other side of the tree and she sent her long fingernails through the trunk to spear her prey upon them. It was then that Hatupatu saw their sharp points coming through the rough totara wood and closing upon the gentle pigeon which was not afraid of man — not half so much afraid as he himself of the great white giantess.


Easily Kurangaituku captured the frightened chief, for she had never in all her bird taking expeditions observed the face of man; and she took him through deep ways of the forest to her secluded home, which was ringing with the calls and cries of many birds she kept as pets to charm away her loneliness. Thus the great chief Hatupatu became the mokai of the mist fairy and was forced to live with the birds, her other pets; but he soon grew weary with longing to escape and return to his own people, and the wild free life of a brave man, unafraid of war. Yet he was afraid of his immortal captor and knew he must get free by strategy.


One day Kurangaituku asked him what kind of food he would like to eat, for she was kind to her pets and fed them well. “Birds,” he replied, “but only those that live in the forests of the sixth range of hills.” Now the sixth range lay afar off, its edges violet–blue in the deep of noon and sometimes blotted out with rain; even the trees which covered it lay in a haze of mist of smoky smear against the horizon — so far away were its bird–haunted hunting grounds. But he said this knowing that it would take his captor a long time to go there and back, and he needed hours in which to escape.


Now Kurangaituku would have done anything for her favourite mokai, so she set off at once, striding from range to range with the ease of an immortal, while Hatupatu began filling up holes and crannies in the house with knotted flax so that none of the birds might escape to fly after their owner and tell her of his going. But he had forgotten to block up one little hole; and as Hatupatu crept stealthily out, shutting all the birds in behind him, the tiny Riroriro saw the chink of light coming through the neglected hole, and in a moment squeezed her little body through, for excepting Titipounamu, the rifleman, Riroriro is the smallest among all the children of Tane.


Flying fast over hill and gully on her lilting evening flight, the grey messenger, like the shadow of a leaf, perched herself near the great stalking form of her mistress and sang excitedly: “Kurangai–tuku–e–ka riro a tana hanga! Riro! Riro! Riro!”


Returning at once, she was just in time to see Hatutapu disappearing behind a rock but she followed swiftly after him over the open ground of the pumice lands of Rotorua, and on and on they went, the man every now and then pausing to hide himself in the ground. At last he went into a lair he knew of near the boiling springs of Whakarewarewa, and the towering Kurangaituku stood poised for a moment on the edge until with a crash she fell in and was drowned in the scalding water.


Thus Hatupatu escaped, but still over hill and valley up long aisles of forest, and over the open manuka scrub where swings her cosy nest, the grey warbler is ever telling the mountain mist that her property is escaped and gone, gone, gone — “Riro — Riro — Riro.”


 —  from Maori Bird Lore, Murdoch Riley, Viking Sevenseas NZ Ltd, 2001.
Sub Species:

Other common names:  — 

Grey Gerygone, New Zealand Gerygone, New Zealand Gray Gerygone, New Zealand Grey Gerygone, New Zealand Gray Flyeater, New Zealand Grey Flyeater.

Description:  — 

Endemic bird

10 cm., 6.5 g., grey bird with conspicuous white tipped tail.

Where to find:  — 

Common and widespread.

Illustration description: — 


New Zealand Post

Reference(s): — 


Heather, B., & Robertson, H., Field Guide to the Birds of New Zealand, 2000.

Gordon, Mona, Children of Tane, 1938.

Page date & version: — 


Tuesday, 16 July 2019; ver2009v1