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Journey to Te Hiku o te Ika

Journey to Te Hiku o te Ika

By Edwina Merito
Fri, 16 Dec 2016

Auckland Museum has a long standing scientific connection with the land and marine environments of the Far North — the rohe of Ngāti Kuri. This goes back to the days of one of the Museum's early directors, Thomas Cheeseman, an avid botanist who keenly studied the area. 

In October a very special wananga was organised for a group of researchers and curators from Auckland Museum, NIWA, Landcare Research and Canterbury Museum to visit with Ngāti Kuri to set priorities for a mutually beneficial relationship and help guide research in the area. Edwina Merito, the manager of He Korahi Māori at Auckland Museum, documents the experience.

26 Whiringi-ā-nuku

We are on a haerenga up to the Far North in response to the karanga from Ngāti Kuri to see how we, Auckland Museum, can support ‘Te Whakakitenga’, Ngāti Kuri’s vision to be self-sufficient, strong and thriving. With us are our research partners - Canterbury Museum, Landcare Research and NIWA.

We arrive and are welcomed at Waiora Marae in Ngataki. Kaumatua Wayne Petera lays down the wero - “How will each of you, as organisations, and as individuals, contribute to our vision?”

Kaumatua Wayne Petera speaking at the Waiora Marae in Ngataki

Tāmaki Paenga Hira - Auckland War Memorial Museum.

He also challenges us to use Ngāti Kuri reo such as tai tamariki for mokopuna. We already know the correct ancestral name for the Three Kings Islands is Manawatawhi, and the Kermedec Islands is Rangitāhua.

There are more than 50 people here today. Among the tangata whenua are not only the hau kainga but also uri that haven’t returned for a long time. Other local government agencies are here as well (including the local constabulary). For some, this is their first time being welcomed and staying on a marae.

We are all about to embark on a journey together over the next few days. During whakawhanaungatanga we find out more about where people are from. We learn about our connections to one another, find new whānaunga, and I discover that my iwi of Ngāti Awa from the Eastern Bay of Plenty is strongly connected to Ngāti Kuri as they were domiciled in this area for about 200 years.

27 Whiringi-ā-nuku

The next day, we travel across Te Hiku o Te Ika, heading to the pūpūharakeke sanctuary. Te Hiku o Te Ika is the tail of the fish, the most northern lands of Aotearoa, and is the ancestral rohe of Ngāti Kuri. We pass Ngāti Kuri farms, avocado orchards and the headquarters of Ngāti Kuri, also known as ‘the Pentagon’.

Ngāti Kuri have completed their Treaty Settlement but according to Harry Burkhardt, Chair of the Ngāti Kuri Trust Board, "It wasn’t even close to what was taken. But our koroua said, whatever happens, make sure you get Te Rerenga Wairua. And we did so we are moving forward."

The view that greets us on our first stop is breathtaking. We are looking out across the bay which Po, the Ariki of Kurahaupo, nearly missed before his navigator Pi told him to turnaround whereupon they finally landed in Aotearoa.

Ngāti Kuri ancestral rohe looking toward Parengarenga Harbour

Tāmaki Paenga Hira - Auckland War Memorial Museum.

We can see the ancestral Ngāti Kuri sites; Mokaikai and Pae Totara pa sites; Tohoraha maunga and o Tu, Tokerau (Great Exhibition Bay), Parengarenga Harbour and Ohao Point.

Ngāti Kuri ancestral rohe, Ohao Point

Tāmaki Paenga Hira - Auckland War Memorial Museum.

Our convoy is in four wheel drives with the kaumatua in the lead, and the next stop is Mokaikai Reserve. As we walk up the dirt road, the view that hits us is stunning. Someone says, "This is where paradise starts and stops." There’s no way to argue with that.

Mokaikai Reserve

Tāmaki Paenga Hira - Auckland War Memorial Museum.

Mokaikai Reserve

Tāmaki Paenga Hira - Auckland War Memorial Museum.

Examining a pūpūharakeke shell

Tāmaki Paenga Hira - Auckland War Memorial Museum.

Lying on the ground is a small pūpūharakeke shell. It is unique to the area and has a special status, considered a kaitiaki by Ngāti Kuri. When pūpūharakeke are alive and you stand on them, they make a squealing sound. Ngāti Kuri recalled that because of this they were the first line of defense, because if the enemy was coming, you could hear them first!

Korero from Ngāti Kuri kaumatua sets up the framework for the scientists to easily obtain more information. Speakers weave easily in and out from one discipline to another.

Science researcher Paul Schofield from Canterbury Museum is explaining differences between pūpūharakeke depending on where they are found. This one is smaller with a thicker lip.

Ewen Cameron, our Botany curator at Auckland Museum, talks about the native plants endemic to the serpentine soil of the area - tanekaha and a special koromiko are examples. He finds a small leaf, karamu, that was described by Thomas Cheeseman, a botanist and former director of Auckland Museum, in around 1890.

Taking a look at the native plants

Tāmaki Paenga Hira - Auckland War Memorial Museum.

Our botanists are like kids in a candy shop within this micro forest. They are not alone though; Wendy Nelson, a Marine Biologist at NIWA, says the area is a bio-diversity hot spot for seaweeds and marine organisms because of the mix of cold and warmer waters and currents.

Matt Rayner, the curator at Land Vertebrates, says these cliffs would have previously been heaving with rich offshore seabird diversity, but as elsewhere, predators have been devastating. We have been talking previously about pest control within the rohe, which would potentially allow the reintroduction of the tītī and the oi. Matt also says there could also be albatross breeding on Manawatahi, unique to Aotearoa. Aotearoa is the world centre of seabird diversity; of the world’s 300 species, at least 10 percent breed only in Aotearoa and as a feeding zone, it is ground central.

Dr Peter Bellingham of Landcare Research adds that seabirds bring huge amounts of nutrients to the soil. He mentions that on local islands, these birds also did the tilling of the soil, and it wasn’t by accident that the Ngāti Kuri ancestors laid their gardens there. Not only was the soil nutrient rich, they knew the birds were going to do the work for them. This opportunity is about restoring old ways of life.

"The value to us," says Wayne Petera, "isn’t in the commercial value; it’s about sharing the knowledge of this environment with our people because they don’t know about it. How do we enthuse our people and let them be physically in touch with the whenua? That is the maximum impact [we are looking to make], and it needs to be moderated by good information."

Another kaumata agrees. "We could have a life of plants and nature instead of milking cows, mining minerals and plundering the sea. We could take advantage of this and actually [create] biodiversity."

That to me says it all – it is the cue for how museums as centres of learning and research can help try to find solutions to live sustainably, following our ancestors footprints.

Moving on to Kapo Wairua, also known as Spirits Bay, we stop for lunch, then head over to the beach to yet another stunning scene. I take a dip and the water is crystal clear, easily spotting fish zipping by.

Kapo Wairua (Spirits Bay)

Tāmaki Paenga Hira - Auckland War Memorial Museum.

Our senses are on overload and yet there's more to come. Our next stop is Te Rerenga Wairua; the tail of the Kuri Moana, and the last part of Te Ara Wairua. It’s a very spiritual and tapu place. While Cape Reinga is also iconic and well known, the cultural and spiritual significance isn’t very well represented, according to Harry Burkhardt.

I’m keen to hear more about how it could be improved, but as anybody who has been there knows, the view takes your breath away. We are very lucky today - we can see Manawatawhi clearly in the distance.

Te Rerenga Wairua/Cape Reinga

Tāmaki Paenga Hira - Auckland War Memorial Museum.

View of Manawatawhi in the distance

Tāmaki Paenga Hira - Auckland War Memorial Museum.

Today has been epic and we are all feeling privileged to be able to visit these special places, and to hear the korero from Ngāti Kuri kaumatua.

28 Whiringi-ā-nuku

The manuhiri talking about the environment, taonga Māori collections, and research at Auckland Museum.

Tāmaki Paenga Hira - Auckland War Memorial Museum.

On the final day we, the manuhiri, take the lead. Auckland Museum, Canterbury Museum, Landcare Research and NIWA are presenting to Ngāti Kuri about the natural and marine environments, taonga Māori collections, and research at Auckland Museum.

Ngāti Kuri are sharp, and quickly get onto Te Tiriti o Waitangi, and the application of kaitiakitanga. Here, as elsewhere among Māoridom, Te Tiriti is a living concept, underpinning the context of daily life. Rights and responsibilities shouldn’t be muddled, and Ngāti Kuri is clear about their role as kaitiaki.

Matt Rayner is passionate about seabirds, and he expands on his korero from yesterday. Te Hiku o te Ika is a unique and special place for seabirds. But the sustainability of these birds isn’t just dependent on one place. Birds travel great distances to feed and breed here, and Matt shows us travel patterns which extend to the Pacific and up into Northern Continents. This impresses upon everyone how the sustainability of the environment in all of these places is critical.

Wendy Nelson from NIWA says the oceans around the top of the North Island have the richest seaweed persity in all of New Zealand. Wendy isn't exactly sure why that is, but she is keen to collect and record what is there.

Paul Schofield, from Canterbury Museum, describes research taking place on Rangitāhua, demonstrating how much effort is needed to help inform us about what is happening to the environment. Paul also talks about birds on Manawatawhi, including the written record that has been developed for over 100 years showing the impact of climate change and the decline of birds, such as the tītī.

For Manawatawhi, Ewan Cameron describes significant botanical research that has taken place there over a long period of time, and the opportunity we have to update records from some years ago. Peter Bellingham, a Landcare Research ecologist, explains that the three forest plots put on Manawatawhi 70 years ago help to show that regeneration on those islands is occurring. There is however poor dispersal of large-seeded plants there due to, until recently, the absence of kūkupa.

Collectively, the scientific research provides a comprehensive reference point, and an opportunity to share knowledge and resources to work closely together.

George Haimona talks about researching the significant taonga Māori collections held by Auckland Museum. These include not only carved objects but also korowai, tools, jewellery, archives and photographs. There is an opportunity to identify tāonga relating to Ngāti Kuri through research, and to gather and share information so it is available for future generations. The Museum is also in the process of digitizing to make as many of our collections as possible available online.

"The information that we are providing," says Ngāti Kuri, "will provide a baseline and fill out the narratives." In turn, plans can be progressively developed. But the key, as it was often referenced throughout, will be the ability to create and implement a succession plan.

When we arrived, one of the first questions asked was how do we capture the interest of our young people. It’s a collective responsibility, not just for Ngāti Kuri but for all of us.

Strong cultural, conservation and survival themes have run throughout the past few days, interwoven in the stories told by Ngāti Kuri, as compelling as if they had happened yesterday. Peter Bellingham expresses that Ngāti Kuri have taken us on a journey, encapsulating us in their experiences, and have brought the landscape alive.

We wrap up our time here with making pingao putiputi with Whaea Betsy, and practicing Māori Tai Chi with Romana Potts. Our journey to Te Hiku o te Ika has been surreal; the manaakitanga extended to us and knowledge shared in an experience none of us will ever forget. There is a lot of work now to be done, and lists of the next steps are being written up.

Sandi Ringham (Ngāti Kuri) who we have been working with to arrange this haerenga has brought her mum Caroline Hempel-Ringham (pictured below) home to their papa kāinga for the first time in over 60 years. Sandi has shared in her own words her experience in another blog post.

Kāti ake i konei,

aku mihi nui ki a koutou katoa

Edwina Merito, Ngāti Awa, Ngāti Pūkeko

Tāmaki Paenga Hira, Auckland War Memorial Museum

Sandi Ringham (Ngāti Kuri) and her mum Caroline Hempel-Ringham

Tāmaki Paenga Hira - Auckland War Memorial Museum.

Whaea Betsy collecting pingao

Tāmaki Paenga Hira - Auckland War Memorial Museum.

Whaea Betsy making pingao putiputi

Tāmaki Paenga Hira - Auckland War Memorial Museum.

Wendy Nelson and Nicola Railton making pingao putiputi

Tāmaki Paenga Hira - Auckland War Memorial Museum.

Mai Aperahama, Wendy Nelson and David Reeves

Tāmaki Paenga Hira - Auckland War Memorial Museum.

Saying our goodbyes

Tāmaki Paenga Hira - Auckland War Memorial Museum.

E noho ra Ngāti Kuri

Tāmaki Paenga Hira - Auckland War Memorial Museum.


Tāmaki Paenga Hira - Auckland War Memorial Museum.

Glossary of Māori terms

haerenga - trip

hau kainga - home people

kaitiaki - guardian

kaitiakitanga - guardianship

karanga - call out/summons

kaumatua - elder/s

koroua - elder

korowai - cloak

kūkupa - NZ pigeon

manaakitanga - hospitality / generosity

manuhiri - visitors

mokopuna - grandchild/children

Ōi - mutton bird

papa kāinga - home base

pūpūharakeke - flax snails

rohe - district

tangata whenua - hosts/locals

tapu - sacred

Te Hiku o te Ika - Far North

Te Rerenga Wairua - Cape Reinga

Tītī - mutton bird

uri - descendants

wero - challenge

whakawhanaungatanga - process of establishing relationships

whānaunga - relations

Whiringi-ā-nuku - October

  • Post by: Edwina Merito

    Edwina supports Auckland Museum to implement He Korahi Māori - a Māori dimension, the bicultural foundation and cultural philosophy leading the future vision for the Museum.

    Edwina descends from Ngāti Pūkeko and Ngāti Awa of the Eastern Bay of Plenty.