> Skip to content
  • Published: 27 November 2008
  • ISBN: 9781742287089
  • Imprint: Penguin eBooks
  • Format: EBook

The Whale Rider

A classic novel that became a classic film.

An international bestseller that was made into a multiple award-winning film.

Eight-year-old Kahu craves her great-grandfather's love and attention. But he is focused on his duties as chief of a Maori tribe in Whangara, on the East Coast of New Zealand - a tribe that claims descent from the legendary 'whale rider'. In every generation since the whale rider, a male has inherited the title of chief. But now there is no male heir - there's only Kahu. She should be the next in line for the title, but her great-grandfather is blinded by tradition and sees no use for a girl.

Kahu will not be ignored. And in her struggle she has a unique ally: the whale rider himself, from whom she has inherited the ability to communicate with whales. Once that sacred gift is revealed, Kahu may be able to re-establish her people's ancestral connections, earn her great-grandfather's attention - and lead her tribe to a bold new future.

  • Published: 27 November 2008
  • ISBN: 9781742287089
  • Imprint: Penguin eBooks
  • Format: EBook

About the author

Witi Ihimaera

Three-time winner of the Wattie/Montana Book of the Year award, Katherine Mansfield fellow and playwright Witi Ihimaera is one of New Zealand’s most prolific and accomplished writers. Witi’s first novel, Tangi, won the Wattie Book of the Year Award in 1974, a feat he repeated with The Matriarch in 1986. His celebrated novel Bulibasha, King of the Gypsies, now adapted as the film Mahana, won the Montana Book of the Year award in 1995. Witi’s other novels and short story collections include The Whale Rider (also adapted as an internationally successful film); Dream Swimmer (sequel to the award-winning The Matriarch); Pounamu, Pounamu and Nights In The Gardens of Spain. In 2015 he published the first volume of his autobiography, Maori Boy.

Also by Witi Ihimaera

See all

Praise for The Whale Rider

Like his other books it explores Maori culture in contemporary New Zealand, in this case, the crisis that occurs when the first-born to whom traditions are entrusted turns out to be a girl. However there are significant differences between the book and film . . . The book or the film? I’m glad I had the vivid film images in my mind as I read, but I prefer the book.

Lisa Hill, ANZ Litlovers

a profoundly enchanting story that will hold [you] in its grip right up to its tender conclusion

Amanda Cuda, Curledup.com

how often does a book change your life? It would take some pretty powerful words to make something like that happen - but those are exactly the kind of words that make up Whale Rider. Whale Rider is a magical tale of survival, stubbornness and destiny. . . . You are in for a bit of an emotional rollercoaster with Whale Rider. As you follow Kahu and her family, you'll soon realize that they're not that different from you and your family. They struggle, fight, laugh, cry and have no idea how to make things perfect. . . . This is most definitely one of the most amazing books you will read in a really long time. Not only will you walk away feeling a little more cultured and inspired after reading Whale Rider, you won't have to give up a lot of time to do it. If you've been lucky enough to catch the movie version of Whale Rider you will notice quite a few differences, but you'll still be able to enjoy this very unique tale. (Five stars)


Discover more

Looking for ways into Witi Ihimaera's works?

Writing about the Māori world, both rural and urban, often knocking into the Pākehā status quo, Witi Ihimaera’s writing has always offered a broader view of what New Zealand literature could be – should be – about.

At Home With Penguin and Witi Ihimaera

We are proud to present the first of our At Home with Penguin video series, in which we ask some of NZ’s most wonderful authors to talk about life in lockdown – kicking off with Witi Ihimaera on The Whale Rider, neighbourhood walks and why the peace of lockdown might NOT be good for writers’ creativity! With numerous short stories, novels, libretti, plays, memoirs – well over 20 books, plus many more Witi Ihimaera has edited or contributed to – where do you begin? Here is a handy guide from our Fiction Publisher, Harriet Allan: https://bit.ly/3bEL8ks

Teachers' notes