© NZPocketGuide.com
© NZPocketGuide.com

A Real Maori Experience in Hawke’s Bay

© NZPocketGuide.com

259 Days on the Road

Driving over the majestically rolling green hills of Hawke’s Bay, a stunning view is revealed of a long beach looking out to an island. This is Waimarama. Not only a quiet seaside surf village (on a Monday morning, at least) but Waimarama is steeped in Maori cultures with a wealth of history. That’s what we’re going to be learning more about today with Robert from Waimarama Maori Tours.

We get that small town feel even from waiting at the Waimarama Store to meet Robert. The store owner likes to have a good yarn (“talk” in Kiwi) with his customers. When Robert arrives, he states: “Keith has been keeping you entertained?”

An authentic Maori experience

After introductions are made, we are joining Robert in his car to the first place he wants to show us. Conversation in the car just appears to flow like normal. There’s no rehearsed speech, no microphone, no awkwardness; it’s real. We’re just hanging out with a Maori dude who is sharing his culture with us.

He tells us how he has called the area of Waimarama “home” for all his life and how it’s important for people who grew up here to always know they have a home to come back too, as many of his tribe have left to earn a living in the cities – a necessity for those at the “lower end of the socio-economic spectrum”.

Waimarama Beach: Where the story begins

Being able to stroll, swim or surf on Waimarama Beach would also make “home” appealing to come home to. Robert takes us to one side of the long-stretching soft white sand beach with a slightly closer look at the offshore island, Motu-O-Kura. For another perspective of the beach, Robert then takes us to the southern end of the beach. It’s the perfect place to begin a tour named “Walk with the Ancestors”, as here is where Robert’s ancestor’s relationship with New Zealand began. He tells us the story of how his ancestors arrived on this beach around 800 years ago.

Making our way to the settlement of the ancestors

The Maori that landed on this beach all those years ago decided to stick around, establishing a settlement at the fortress of Hakikino: that’s our next stop.

As Robert drives us inland through valleys sectioned off into small paddocks of “happy cattle” that he owns, he passes his turn off to Hakikino to show us a great perspective of the 15th century settlement from afar. From the road, we can make out distinct man-made terraces circling a pointy hill raised in the middle of the valley. We imagine it is the perfect vantage point to overlook the land. We’re about to find out for ourselves.

Things turn adventurous

“This is where our tour turns into an adventure tour,” Robert laughs as we bounce from side to side on a gnarly gravel road going up the hill. We come to a stop of a wide terrace just underneath the peak of the hill. Indeed, the views are pretty sensational surrounded by a valley floor stretching out to more dramatic hills.

Learning the history of the stunning Waimarama Beach

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Tasting traditional Maori food… Much to our guide’s distaste

Hakikino itself is dotted with the New Zealand cabbage tree or “kouka” as we learn the Maori name for it. Robert shows us which part of the tree you would eat, pulling out some leak-like leaves from the centre of its leaf display. He kind of looks at us like we’re weirdos (which, to be fair, we are) as we start munching the stem of the kouka leaves. Sure, his ancestors might have eaten these leaves, but there’s much tastier stuff out there now… This springs up a conversation on how we tried a plant called kawakawa raw and it tasted pretty nasty.

“Well you don’t eat kawakawa like that!” Robert replies outraged. “Try some kawakawa tea at my house… and some ice cream.” Yep, the Maori sure eat a lot tastier things nowadays!

The powhiri

After the kouka tree eating incident, we are heading into a sheltered area where the walkway splits two seating areas apart. Robert explains that he is going to do a short “powhiri” now, as well as explaining why it is done when first bringing outsiders onto the land of his ancestors.

Robert stands on one side of the seating area as we sit facing him from the other side. He talks to his ancestors in the Maori language then translates what he has said to us in English. We can then either respond or casually come over to him to engage in a “hongi” – the touching of forehead and nose (done twice in Robert’s tribe).

Maori legends and stories

Now we sit with Robert in this ancient resting area used by his ancestors with Robert telling us a Maori legend – a love story, of course! Maori people have a great skill of telling engaging stories, it’s the way the history and legends have been passed down through generations. We’re stoked to be able to hear them from the Maori people themselves.

Carvings and wriggling eels

A short bush walk through the beautiful native vegetation of Hakikino brings us to a side of the hill hidden from sight from the road. A traditional-styled fenced off area with a spectacular carved archway leads to another sheltered seating area looking out to carved poles (pouwhenua) and other fenced areas which Robert explains more about. He tells us the stories of the carvings and how Maori have used the top of this hill to communicate to others via kite! He points out a place in the distance that used to be “like Hogwarts” – a school of sorcery, which leads onto a legend where three rocks on a nearby hill are people who have been turned to stone. Brutal!

We then walk down to an eel-filled pond where Robert feeds the eels for us to watch them wriggling in the waters below a wooden platform. This is not just a traditional food source for the Maori, but they are pretty fun to watch.

Rounding up the stories at the Waimarama Marae

The stories we have learned atop the beautiful, spiritual and relaxing hilltop of Hakikino come together in the tribe’s marae back toward Waimarama town. Vibrant and intricate paintings on the wall depict the stories of the ancestors. Little do we know that more pictorial representations are to come back at Robert’s house where his sister and brother-in-law are preparing some kawakawa tea!

Magnificent portraits and family heirlooms

We walk into his living room to see an entire wall covered in grand portraits of his family going back a couple of generation. His great-great grandfather has prime position on the wall, his face covered in moko (Maori tattoo). Beside, are his daughters, all with a different moko just below the lips, and so on. But, there is on more thing from Robert’s great-great grandfather that he shows us. He asks Robin to open a wooden box in front of the TV and unwrap its contents. A huge pounamu (greenstone) weapon lies on Robin’s lap. Robin has never held something so valuable in his life. Amazing!

All good afternoons end with kawakawa tea

After a truly authentic Maori experience unlike anything else we’ve experienced in New Zealand, we end the tour with, as promised, the kawakawa tea and ice cream. We now know how to pick the best leaves for kawakawa tea!

We feel there is so much more to say about this detailed and unique tour. (But then this blog post would never end). Trust us, it can only be a good thing!

Our day ends back at our accommodation at Archies Bunker in Napier where we meet up with a couple of friends living in Napier and get ready for tomorrow’s activity: paddle boarding in the morning and drinking Hawke’s Bay wine in the afternoon. Join us then!

Learning a Maori legend about a squid who lives in a cave

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