The story of Aoraki and his brothers has been passed down through many generations and has endured across both time and tribe. The story continues to be an important legend to New Zealand heritage.

Ngāi Tahu, the main iwi (tribe) of New Zealand's southern region, consider Aoraki as the most sacred of the ancestors that they had descended from. In fact, the relationship between Māori and the land begins in the ancient times of Aoraki and the creation of the South Island. 

Aoraki was the son of Rakinui, the sky father. Along with his brothers, Aoraki left the heavens in a canoe to visit Papatūānuku. Together they explored the earth and the seas, sailing their powerful Waka through the dark empty southern oceans. Shortly after, Aoraki and his brothers became hungry and began fishing. They were unsuccessful and as a result decided to return to the heavens, to the domain of their father Rakinui. Aoraki started the incantation to launch their massive waka into space, where they would be free of the earth’s surface and could be taken back to the heavens, but his courage wavered momentarily as he was distracted by the fearful cries of his crew. He faltered at this crucial stage, before completing the words to release them. 

The bodies of Aoraki and his brothers, all of them great Chiefs in their own rights, were eventually changed into mountains and together they form the Southern Alps. Aoraki, the eldest brother, stands the tallest amongst them. 

The canoe became the South Island and is known by Māori as Te Waka o Aoraki – The Canoe of Aoraki. Aoraki and his brothers thus became the first mountains in New Zealand. 

For many years there was only a stark and rocky landscape devoid of life, fresh water and other features required to sustain habitation. 

It was the deeds and actions of Aoraki’s relatives, whom later become the atua – demigods of Waitaha, Rapuwai, Kāti Hawea, Kāti Mamoe and Kāi Tahu, which eventually transformed the landscape. Various forms of life were introduced so that the fate of these sacred relatives, the original crew, would not be in vain. The land no longer barren and uninhabitable to human beings.