Battle of the Mountains Activities

Battle of the mountains

written and illustrated by Peter Gossage

published by Reed, 2005

In this book Gossage tells the traditional Maori myth of the battle between the mighty Tongariro mountain and three smaller mountains in the central North Island for the love of the beautiful female mountain Pihanga. Incorporating traditional Maori illustration featuring moko designs in his brightly coloured illustrations, Gossage shows the battle raging with volcanic lava and hurling rocks as weapons. Battle over, and Tongariro victorious, the myth explains to the reader why the geography of the central North Island is as it remains today, with the conquered mountains Taranaki, Tauhara and Putauaki retreating to where they stand now.

Please note that these activities are suggestions which have not yet been trialled. We welcome any feedback on how they play out in the classroom (see the feedback section).

Activity 1: MAORI ARTWORK (The Arts)
NZ Curriculum Level 1, 2 & 3

(see curriculum links at the end of the activity)

NZC Key Competencies
  • thinking
  • using language, symbols and text
Description The back pages of this book have templates of mountains that children can cut, colour and stick to make 3D mountains. This could be done as an activity in isolation, or it could be the starting point for children to create their own artwork, using Peter Gossage’s style in the book’s illustrations:

1. Look through the illustrations in the book. Discuss Gossage’s use of traditional Maori shapes and symbols to create his artwork. In particular, look at

  • his use of moko on the faces of the mountains
  • how he has created the nose and the eyes of the mountains
  • eye and mouth shape
  • how Gossage has shown emotion in the mountains faces

For example: angular lines and pointed teeth show anger

eyes turned down and soft lines show sadness

2. Allow children some time to practice these shapes and symbols using pencil, crayon and pastels.

3. When they feel confident at drawing koru, eye and mouth shapes, they can begin planning their own mountain artwork.

  • At Level 1, they may create one mountain only
  • At Levels 2 and 3, they may create a piece which overlaps several mountains – as can be seen on the book cover.

4. Use crayon, pastel or paint to add colour to the art work. Gossage used thin black lines to outline around each block of colour – these could be added later using a fine-tipped felt pen.

  • Paper
  • Pencils, crayons, pastels, paint
  • Black markers
Taking it further
  • Using print-making techniques to create similar art work (Visual Art)

Use lino or polystyrene to make templates, or try PVA glue prints (Visual Art)

  • Use KidPix to recreate the illustrations in the story and retell ‘The battle of the mountains’ as a slideshow (Visual Art)
Curriculum Links Visual Art
  • Share ideas about how and why their own and others’ works are made and their purpose, value and context (Level 1 & 2)
  • explore a variety of materials and tools and discover elements and selected principles (Level 1 & 2)
  • investigate visual ideas in response to a variety of motivations, observation, and imagination (Level 1)
  • investigate and develop visual ideas in response to a variety of motivations, observation and imagination (Level 2)
  • investigate the purpose of objects and images from past and present cultures and identify the contexts in which they were or are made, viewed and valued (Level 3)
  • explore some art-making conventions, applying knowledge of elements and selected principles through the use of materials and processes (Level 3)
  • develop and revisit visual ideas, in response to a variety of motivations, observation, and imagination, supported by the study of artists’ work (Level 3)
Applications for Level 4 and above At Level 3 and above, students should be encouraged to explore the cultural significance of Maori design, from the past and up to today. They may spend time researching the use of Maori design in art and comparing Gossage’s work to that of other New Zealand artists. What are the relationships between the production of art works and their contexts and influences? How are symbols used in Maori art to tell a story?
Links to other books in NZPBC Haere: Farewell, Jack, farewell

Taming the taniwha

– both books use traditional Maori motif

NZ Curriculum Level 1, 2 & 3

(see curriculum links at the end of the activity)

NZC Key Competencies
  • thinking
  • using language, symbols and text
  • relating to others
Activity 1. As you read through the story, write down the names of the mountains. After reading, ask:
  • Have you heard of any of these mountains?
  • Do you know where they are on the New Zealand map?

As a class, find the mountains on a New Zealand map. Establish that although the story is a myth, the mountains are real. The story was made up by Maori many generations ago to explain why the mountains are where they are today.

2. In groups, children could draw and paint New Zealand maps, showing the mountains and rivers in the story. They could make and place the mountains using the templates at the back of the book, or draw their own mountains on the map.

  • At Level 2 and 3, children could identify more geographic locations on their maps, eg. main cities and towns, islands, rivers, lakes and other mountains.

3. Talk about the importance of these mountains for Maori in particular.

  • At Level 1, discuss the associations that Maori have with a mountain. There may be some Maori students in the class who could talk about their mountain.
  • At Level 2, elaborate on the discussion – perhaps invite a Maori speaker to come and talk about their own heritage and their associations to the land. There may be some students who could do this too.
  • At Level 3, elaborate further. Look at newspaper clippings, watch video footage, or search online to find articles about land disputes in New Zealand (eg. seabed and foreshore legislation).

Find articles reflecting different relationships between people and the land, for example: forestry, farming, road construction, seabed and foreshore. Compare the different relationships.

Establish that for Maori, land is not just land, but a part of themselves and their heritage. It is very important to their identity.

  • New Zealand maps
  • Paper
  • Paint, felts, crayons
  • Invited guest (Maori speaker) – optional at Level 2
  • Internet access (Level 3)
Curriculum Links Social Science
  • understand how places in New Zealand are significant for individuals and groups (Level 1)
  • understand how cultural practices reflect and express people’s customs, traditions and values (Level 2)
  • understand how the status of Maori as tangata whenua is significant for communities in New Zealand (Level 2)
  • understand how people view and use places differently (Level 3)
  • understand how people make decisions about access to and use of resources (Level 3)
Applications for Level 4 and above At Level 4, encourage students to think about the reasons why culture and heritage is sustained and passed on, and the consequences of this for people. At Level 5, students should consider how the Treaty of Waitangi impacts on ownership and attachment to the land.
Links to other books in NZPBC The terrible taniwha of Timberditchthis story is about people’s relationship with the land, and about how mythical creatures warn us about dangerous places.

Activity 3: RETELLING (The Arts)
NZ Curriculum Level 1 & 2

(see curriculum links at the end of the activity)

NZC Key Competencies
  • thinking
  • using language, symbols and text
  • relating to others
Activity Establish that Peter Gossage (the author) didn’t make up this story – it is an ancient Maori myth which has been passed down over many generations. In this book, he is retelling the story in his own words.

In this activity, children will work in groups to create a play which retells the story of ‘The battle of the mountains’.

1. After reading the story a few times, identify as a class

  • the characters
  • the main parts of the story

Write or draw these up where everyone can see them.

2. With a partner, children practice oral retelling. Share some as a class.

This will help to get the story engrained and start children thinking about how they might begin structuring a play.

3. In groups, children work to create their own retelling play.

  • If time, they may like to make masks for their performances, using Maori symbols as in the book illustrations.
  • Children could use percussion instruments to create sound effects.

For example: drum beats when Taranaki blasts red-hot rocks at Tongariro, a cymbal crashing when they meet “with a deafening crash”.

4. Practice and perform the plays to an audience.

Taking it further
  • The mountain templates at the back of the book could also be used for retelling.
  • Video record the plays.
  • Read and dramatise some other Maori myths.
Curriculum Links The Arts


  • explore the elements of role, focus, action, tension, time and space through dramatic play (Level 1)
  • contribute and develop ideas in drama, using personal experience and imagination (Level 1)
  • share drama through informal presentation and respond to ways in which drama tells stories and conveys ideas in their own and others’ work (Level 1)
  • explore and use the elements of drama for different purposes (Level 2)
  • develop and sustain ideas in drama, based on personal experience and imagination (Level 2)
  • share drama through informal presentation and respond to elements of drama in their own and others’ work (Level 2)
Applications for Level 3 and above At Level 3 and above, students can begin to explore the use of techniques and relevant technologies to enhance their dramatic performance. For example, they might explore the use of costuming, lighting or sound effects to improve their performance. At Level 6, they will begin to explore a range of dramatic forms, for example, mime.