Sky High Wine & Food Festival Slice of Heaven
While cultural concerts are important it also covers diverse experiences like guided walks; hot pools; eco-tourism; history; food, jet boats, and marae or luxury accommodation and include traditional and contemporary Maori life.
Northland was the first New Zealand area settled by Europeans: whalers arrived at the end of the 18th century, while missionaries arrived in 1814. Most importantly it is also the place where the Treaty of Waitangi, was first signed between the English Queen Victoria and many Maori chiefs in 1840.
Living in this long skinny land means I’ve been able to visit many Maori tourism enterprises – too many to include in this story but here’s a taste for you to consider. Let’s start at the birthplace of ‘modern’ New Zealand – the Waitangi Treaty Grounds; it’s our nation’s most important historic site with guided tours and cultural performances night and day.
It’s been years since I last visited and my memory of walking up a grassy slope to a white house and flag pole, alone on the top of the small rise, now presents a different picture as the native bush has grown, and it was through this, with its birdsong, I walked earlier this year.
Their guided tours and activities include “Introducing the Birthplace of our Nation” through to a fun workshop with native flax, and “Living with Nature’ which explores New Zealand’s native plants and trees and their relationship to Maori legend.
I valued hearing personal stories and historical accounts from people whose ancestors had been involved in shaping our nation back in those early days and, talking to other travellers, it seems hearing these stories are popular. ‘I love how they take it out of history books and tell me about their ancestors’ an American tourist tells me.
There during our annual celebrations of the Treaty (February 6th) I enjoyed seeing Ngatokimatawhaorua, one of the world’s largest carved war canoes, and many other waka, as well as experiencing all the other events, music and food.
The Bay of Islands is home to the Ngapuhi tribe and while there I spent time with Taiamai Tours who provide waka (traditional canoe) experiences. They share their ancient histories and stories as you learn traditional paddling techniques, chants and
Maori culture, unique to New Zealand, may be the fastest growing part of our tourism
market and is the second reason visitors give for travelling here. Surveys tell us our natural landscape is number one and luckily for travellers, many Maori tourism
experiences combine those top two reasons.
the replica 17th century village and seeing the arts and crafts, visitors love it.
An evening visit, the Starlight Tour, includes a traditional welcome (powhiri) and hangi and ends with a spine tingling cultural performance and guided tour through the lit village.
Te Hana also has accommodation where manuhiri (guests) sleep on separate mattresses arranged inside the carpeted wharenui (meeting hall). As with all communal sleeping, and the usual snoring, many of you may need to takes earplugs. I’ve been told “a quiet marae is a sad marae”, and using that standard . . . I’ve never slept on a ‘sad’ marae!
Further south, Rotorua Maori have been welcoming tourists for about 165 years and whenever I arrive I’m reminded it’s different. New Zealand is part of the Pacific Ring of Fire and here steam billows from cracks in the ground and the air smells like old eggs and I love the pungent geothermal mist!
On my recent trip I stayed at the fabulous Pounamu Lodge on the sheltered western edge of Lake Tarawera. There is something magical about sitting around the table with great food and good conversation: hearing family stories.
And, when the family history includes Guide Sophie Hinerangi - who was guiding people to the pink and white terraces before the 1886 Tarawera eruption – it’s no wonder local knowledge and being proud of guiding is evident when David and Karen Walmsley are your hosts. A home-away-from-home is what they aim for but they provide much more than that in this luxury lodge.
Purpose built to accommodate up to four guests, and overlooking Mount Tarawera and the lake, this home has been designed with many Maori architectural features and looking up at it from the lake I was impressed at its wharenui (meeting house) shape.
They offer guided tours, following in the footsteps of Karen’s ancestors along or across the lake. I did the Lake Tarawera Water Taxi Eco-Tour to the hot water beach and a hot pool set in native bush – fancy a picnic while soaking in that pool – I can well-recommend that!. You can choose from hiking to the Tarawera Falls, or retracing an historic boat trip taken the day before the eruption that changed the landscape forever.
Soaking in the hot pool and exploring the lakes hot water beach (where you can even cook your just-caught trout in the hot sand) were highlights for me. I also enjoyed seeing the Buried Village and the site of Guide Sophie’s little house where so many people sheltered from the eruptions debris – they all survived but sadly many others died.
Karen also took me to Te Whakaweraweratanga O Te Ope Taua A Wahiao Village which is usually, and thankfully, shortened to “Whakarewarewa or Whaka” by the home people.
People have lived in this harsh environment for over three hundred years, using the gushing geysers, steam vents, and boiling water to provide cooking and bathing facilities.
Interpretation and storytelling such as the boutique Pounamu Lodge provide are combining the best of New Zealand’s spectacular landscape with Maori stories and legends - and
started and now nearly all our sports teams wear the silver fern.’ Many kiwi think it should be on our flag too.
Over a cup of tea or coffee in his home, his friendly, family focused tour is just the place to ask everything you were too afraid to ask about Maori and Maori life today!
In Christchurch, the South Islands largest city, is Ko Tane at Willowbank, which gives you yet another chance to see Maori culture. A conch shell blows, a chill runs down my spine and the evening starts. Walking in the park as we pause to listen to how manuka wood is used to smoke fish and we’re suddenly startled. Maori warriors run from behind us, their cries sound threatening. A women beside me screams and her husband laughs nervously. They challenge us – do we come in peace or war? When our designated ‘chief’ accepts the challenge, the women karanga, (calls of welcome) and we continue into the model village where soon we’re watching a haka performed by young men and women.
‘That is scary’ an Australian woman says, ‘You see it on TV but you don’t know it’s so loud.’ Her husband replies ‘Did you see how red the guys’ chests and thighs were? They really slap them hard.’
The women, in swaying flax skirts, also dance with poi - their graceful movements and intricate hand actions making the balls twirl rhythmically. Then it’s our turn. We’re not good students; most of us tangle the poi around our own, and each other’s arms: as well as this show, one of the reasons I always recommend Willowbank is that you can see kiwi up close - not behind glass.
My first time on a gondola was in Queenstown – and in those days the view was as great as it still is today and now, as well as other things, at the top you can also experience the Kiwi Haka Show and their traditional Maori songs, dances and stories.
After a formal, traditional welcoming ceremony guests are taken through a journey that demonstrates and explains the use of poi, weaponry and the haka.
Did you know the haka is not a ‘war dance’ and is usually danced without weapons in contrast to war dances (tutu ngaruhu or peruperu) which are danced with spears, clubs, or other weapons - Kiwi Haka shows you both.
All over New Zealand new haka are performed every year and express a variety of emotions such as joy, anger, and sorrow, or comment on social issues: here at Skyline it’s used to retell Maori history – I recommend you complete the 30 min show by staying for a meal.
No matter where you are travelling, from Rakiura (Stewart Island) the anchor of Maui’s canoe in the south up to Cape Reinga, the-leaping-offplace at the top of the North Island where the spirits of the dead leave for Hawaiiki, Maori tourism initiatives can be experienced.
Maori Television also has a masterchef type show, and with all the great Maori food around, I suspect yet even more cultural and food tourism activities will be added to stories such as this.