Monday, April 6, 2009

The Subtleties of Maori Tourism

When most people think of Maori tourism they think of kapa haka groups and song and dance performances; but Maori tourism has become a lot more sophisticated and it’s often much more subtle than that. The song and dance performances have an important role to play but there are enormous opportunities for Maori culture to be incorporated in a more understated manner. One company doing just that is Ngai Tahu Tourism, which now owns a wide range of tourism businesses from boating experiences to iconic guided walks, hot pools and eco-tourism adventures. I think immediately of their Dart River Jet Safaris, which whisk you 37 kilometres into the remote reaches of the Dart River in the deep-south and into the World Heritage Area of Mt Aspiring National Park at the base of the Southern Alps – and area frequented by early Maori hunting for highly-prized pounamu (greenstone). It is in the jet boat commentary that you get introduced to the Maori component of the venture – a commentary that talks of the mystery of the long lost treasure remembered by old Maori and recorded by the first European explorers; tales that tell of a sacred pounamu location known as Te Koroka.

Both Images Supplied by Dart River Safaris, Queenstown.
Up-river at Puia, passengers are told of the small temporary Ngai Tahu settlements that dotted the area; and of Puia, the site of a significant early Ngai Tahu settlement, which was used as the first stopping point from Te Koroka, further upstream. Early Maori would raft the stone downstream in mokihi (small rafts made from reeds) and stop at Puia to break the pounamu into more manageable pieces, which they would carry over the alpine passing, wearing nothing but paraerae (sandals) and tahau taupa (shin protectors) woven from the tough leaves of ti kouka (cabbage tree) to ward off the spiky Taramea (Spaniard Grass); and feather cloaks for warmth. The inaka pounamu (pale greenstone) from this region is very distinctive and was the most highly valued of all. It was transported to coastal settlements and fashioned into tools, weapons and jewellery and traded throughout New Zealand.
Te Koroka was eventually overtaken by more accessible West Coast pounamu sites and knowledge of 'the great rock taniwha with a tongue of pounamu spilling from its mouth’ was relegated to legend, although the story was preserved in the oral traditions of Ngai Tahu. It wasn’t until 1970 when a hunter named Tom Trevor found a boulder that he took back to Queenstown, that Te Koroka was rediscovered. That discovery was not made public until 1976 and investigations showed little had changed in the area since Ngai Tahu’s early visits. Today the area is protected by a topuni – a Maori custom where a person of chiefly status extands their mana (power and authority) and protection over an area or person. Entry to the sacred site is by written permit only – and a Dart River Jet Safari into the general locale is probably about as close as most people are ever going to get to it.

1 comment:

  1. I seriously have to do this next time I am in queenstown - cheers


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