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New online booking platform to give trampers access to cultural hotspots

Pakihi swingbridge on the Motu Trails - a track found near Iramoko Marae in Whakatane. Photo: Strike Photography/Tourism New Zealand.

Fancy a hike followed by a hangi? That’s the premise of Book A Marae, where trampers can gain a cultural experience by overnighting on remote marae.

More than 20 marae in the North Island are set to throw open their doors next year, giving trampers rare access to cultural hotspots.

The marae are part of a new online booking platform, similar to Airbnb, called Book A Marae, due to be launched in late summer.

Co-founder Breviss Wolfgramm (Te Arawa) says Book A Marae will give hiking groups and others the opportunity to visit out-of-the-way locations and experience New Zealand in a completely different way.

Iramoko Marae, nestled in the hills of Manawahe near Matatā, is a marae listed on the platform.

“It’s a beautiful coastal marae with off-road access via a dirt road,” says Wolfgramm. “Driving up to the marae grounds, you can see all the way out to Moutohorā Island and Whakaari/White Island, as well as miles down the East Coast.”

The marae is less than an hour’s drive to numerous day walks at Lake Okataina Scenic Reserve and is perfectly positioned for hikers of Ngā Tapuwae o Toi, a 16km loop track that takes in pā sites, native forest, coastal views and seabird colonies.

“The thing to understand is that every marae is unique. Each one is different – from their location to the stories and the cultural knowledge they keep. We think of them as a tūpuna (an ancestor) because of all the mana they hold,” says Wolfgramm.

Another marae on the platform includes Harataunga Marae in Kennedy Bay on the east coast of the Coromandel, which belongs to Ngāti Porou ki Harataunga ki Mataora. Others are located in Tūrangi, Hastings, Wairarapa and Auckland and are affiliated to the iwi of those regions. 

One of the listings is a marae in Rarotonga in the Cook Islands.

The plan, says Wolfgramm, is to expand the platform every six months by bringing on another 20 marae. 

In the pipeline are 10 Ngāpuhi marae located at the top of the North Island and six spread across Picton and Whakatu (Nelson). Wolfgramm expects to have 180 marae listed on Book A Marae within three years.

“Every marae will offer something different. Some might curate a three-day, self-guided hike through native forest that includes a dip in a natural hot pool and finishes with a hangi for dinner. Others might bring in specialist Māori conservation guides or offer weaving lessons at night after a group hike is finished.”

Co-founders Wolfgramm and Hyrum Sunnex (Maniapoto, Ngāpuhi) finalised the Book A Marae concept this year and were ready to launch when COVID-19 hit and stalled their plans. They’re now in the last stage of firming up funding.

Sunnex says: “The goal is to give Māori communities a way to tap into the tourism sector and revitalise marae while creating jobs and career opportunities.”

Book A Marae will also give communities a way to share cultural knowledge and expertise with domestic and international travellers.

“For some groups, this platform will give them their first taste of Māori culture,” says Wolfgramm. “Why not make it authentic, accessible and set in some of the country’s most spectacular locations?”