Tūhoe shares the secrets of Te Urewera
Tūhoe are welcoming visitors from around the world to learn the secrets of Te Urewera – but reckon Kiwis should be first in line.
Four years ago, the tribe assumed guardianship of Te Urewera, following the region’s change in legal status from a national park to a living entity.
Today, the 2127km2 area, which extends from the northern Hawke’s Bay to eastern the Bay of Plenty, is rugged, isolated country that’s home to approximately 2000 mostly Tūhoe people.
One of those people is Hinewai McManus. Formerly a DOC ranger, McManus, of Tūhoe descent, is now owner-operator of a guided walk business called Te Urewera Treks in Ngāpūtahi, near Ruatahuna.
She says very few New Zealanders venture to her part of the world, despite its wild beauty, untouched native forests and intricate network of uncrowded tramping tracks.
“We attract mostly overseas visitors – they come here because they’re passionate about the environment, have a keen interest in New Zealand’s indigenous culture, and often want to know about the spiritual side of Te Urewera and its people,” McManus says.
She says these visitors are typically from Germany, the Netherlands, Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom.
“Would you believe our domestic travellers, or manuhiri, are fewer than one per cent.”
Hinewai believes Kiwis are missing out.
“People within Aotearoa have misconceptions about Tūhoe. Sure, we’re a bit mysterious and broody, like the landscape around us, even a bit secretive, I guess. But we also have a deep sense of manaakitanga or caring for others.
“We’re great hosts and – with the return of Te Urewera in 2013 to iwi – we’re keen to open up this region to visitors in a way that hasn’t been done before.”
Hinewai says that means sharing tribal treasures like stories, culture and knowledge about where to find things of interest.
“New Zealanders know Lake Waikaremoana and that’s about it,” says McManus. “But this area is jam-packed with lakes, some with significant spiritual and cultural significance to our people.”
Lake Waikareiti, about seven kilometres north-east of Waikaremoana, is a great example.
“It’s a lake that’s home to six small islands. The largest of the six features a lake within it – a lake within a lake. It’s really extraordinary. And it’s incredibly easy to access. You can pretty much drive to the car park, get out of your car, take a two-hour return hike on a well-formed track and you’re there and back before you know it.
“For the more intrepid hiker, there are still many original tracks within Te Urewera that pre-date roads, but that have been largely forgotten about. One takes you all the way from Waikaremoana to Gisborne. Another will take you from Ruatahuna to Whakatane.”
Some of the information features in DOC pamphlets, says McManus. But some is locked away in the heads of Tūhoe who’ve picked it up by living in Te Urewera for generations.
“That’s why I always encourage visitors to talk to us; talk to the locals.
“There’s a lot of treasure in Te Urewera that, until now, has been untapped by outsiders. As Tūhoe, we’re looking to change that. It’s a whole new opportunity for us, for tourists to New Zealand and for Kiwis coming here from other parts of the country.”
How to unlock the secrets of Te Urewera
- Drop into one of the new Tūhoe information hubs located at Tane Atua, Waikaremoana and Ruatahuna (a hub in Waimana is due to open soon).
- Talk to hub staff to find out where to go and why – the region is divided into tribal areas (or rohe) and the hubs are considered the gateway to each rohe.
- Set aside time for a road trip to all three hubs – each one is distinct and has its own information and resources. Do the road trip in a couple of days or over time if you want to keep returning to, and exploring, the region.
- Tramp, fish, hunt or go horse riding with a local Tūhoe guide who can tell you about Te Urewera and the culture and ways of Tūhoe (Tūhoetanga).
- Ask your guide to tell you the ‘real’ story of how Te Urewera got its name (according to Hinewai, a lot has been written about the origin of the name, but the real, more gruesome version, is best told in person by a member of Tūhoe themselves).