A Māori legend tells how Pania left the sea people to marry Karitoki, a chieftain whose whare (house) was sited in an area now known as Sturm’s Gully on Napier’s Bluff Hill.
After Karitoki departed to fight in a long tribal war, Pania’s original family called to her at sunset and at dawn. Unable, finally, to resist their siren voices, she swam out to meet them. When she attempted to return to the shore, however, she was drawn down to the caverns of the sea. Angered by her divided loyalties, Moana-nui-a-kiwa, lord of the sea, transformed her into a rocky shelf. Lying off the Napier breakwater, the beautiful sea creature is immortalised as Pania’s Reef.
The statue of Pania of the Reef was presented to the city in 1954 by the Thirty Thousand Club. Vic Wallis, a member for almost 40 years, and Horace Cottrell, another member and enthusiastic supporter, conceived the idea of perpetuating the Māori legend after hearing the story from F A Bennett, the first Bishop of Aotearoa (New Zealand)