Twelve-year-old Maori girl Pai (Keisha Castle-Hughes) challenges the ancient traditions of her New Zealand community by wanting to become a candidate for village leader. Her ambition is vehemently opposed by her grandfather, who is also the local chief, but nurtured from the sidelines by her loving grandmother. The title refers to a tribal legend of the Ngati Kanohi, who live along the East Coast of New Zealand. In the legend, their founding father, Paikea, arrived from a far away island on the back of a whale. The movie’s story is a sometimes clumsy but gradually involving coming-of-age story about courage, sexism, past customs vs. contemporary social values and a community and family at odds within themselves. Director Niki Caro adapted the screenplay from the 1986 book of Witi Ihimaera, the first Maori to be published in New Zealand.