On the South Island of New Zealand, the Mahuika Comet impact would have been a dramatic event. Within 50 km of the southern coastline, it would have appeared as a fireball ten times larger than the sun, blown over 90% of the tree cover, and ignited grass and trees (Marcus et al. 2005). However, these effects would have ceased within 100 km of the coast. Steel & Snow (1992) believe that local Maori legends and place names refer to a comet event such as this one. They base their hypothesis on the legend of the “Fires of Tamatea” (or Tamaatea). Local ethnographic evidence is best chronicled in the Southland and Otago regions, centred on the town of Tapanui. Here there appears to be evidence for an airburst that flattened trees in a manner similar to the Tunguska event.
The remains of fallen trees are aligned radially away from the point of explosion out to a distance of 40–80 km. Local Maori legends in the area tell about the falling of the skies, raging winds, and mysterious and massive firestorms from space. Tapanui, itself, translates as ‘the big explosion,’ while Waipahi means ‘the place of the exploding fire’. Place names such as Waitepeka, Kaka Point, and Oweka contain the southern Maori word ka, which means fire. The local Maori also attribute the demise of the Moas, as well as their culture, to an extraterrestrial event. The extinction of the Moa is remembered as Manu Whakatau, ‘the bird felled by strange fire’.