By FINDLAY BUCHANAN, 22 Jan 2019
The mighty East Cape Region is an untouched wonder in the North Island. While it represents one of the first regions discovered by Captain Cook, it’s one of the least influenced by the throes of colonisation. Still today, the vast coastline is defined by the heart of its local iwi (Ngati Porou) and is largely hinged on agriculture, with few alternative avenues of business. The area has a rich heritage: referenced in the famous Maori myth Maui and the sun, and more recently, it was the setting for acclaimed New Zealand films Boy and Whale Rider. Now, a new tourism organisation - Maunga Hikurangi - plans to tell its story in a bid to attract tourists, boost commerce, and invite distant Ngati Porou back into the community. We chat with creative director Timothy Livingston to discuss the possible tension between tourism growth and cultural preservation on the East Cape.
Maunga Hikurangi offers guided tours to the sacred mountain of Hikurangi through a variety of packages, a four-wheel drive day tour up the mountain to geize at the historic carvings, a sunrise tour, and a helicopter tour to the summit of Maunga Hikurangi. Further, the programme invites community to engage with Ngati Porou culture as a means of educating the public on the significance of local iwi and surrounding land.
“A big part of tourism on the east cape is to bring back visitors. There is about 75,000 members of the iwi but only 1,000 live in Ruatoria," Livingston says.
“We are doing it in such a way that keeps the numbers limited and creating an intimate experience. Up until recently noone has been allowed up the Hikurangi – it’s been very sacred.”
Since Maunga Hikurangi was previously sacrosanct, the process of deciding who is allowed to go up, as well as how the guides run the tours was much deliberated.
“Currently, we have five or six packages from the basic end to the high end, they are still a work in progress, we haven’t done our first visit or tourist guide. We are taking bookings and have partnered with Air NZ to help promote the experiences."
“It’s a very slow and steady process, i’ve been working on it since March last year to get the brand together and ensure that everyone is happy about it.”
Additionally, Maunga Hikurangi hopes to limit the environmental vicissitudes of tourism.
Livingstone says, “Part of our experience, which is still in development is replanting around the pou. We will enable our guests to pick a plant from the native nursery, then we will give them an RFID or some kind of chip that will allow them to GPS to navigate their plant.”
He adds that in many areas of Hikurangi it is quite bear at the moment, and is in need of native planting. Thus, he hopes those who engage in the programme can add to the native regeneration.
“When I talked to one of the aunties about Hikurangi, they were like, she needs a new Korowai, she needs to be recovered and regenerated. It is a bit bare at the moment. We see that as a way to engage our guests with the environment and to give something back.”
Further, Livingstone hopes the campaign will be a catalyst for broader industrial growth. He says it could enable people to build cafes and create further hiking and hunting businesses. This idea is supported by some strong commercial partnerships with Ngati Porou, most notably Air New Zealand, who penned an agreement in April last year to generate further economic and social growth in Gisborne.
In a media release, Te Runanganui o Ngati Porou Chief Executive Officer Herewini Te Koha said, "The agreement is significant from a commercial partnership perspective for Ngati Porou. We see a real alignment of values between Ngati Porou, Air New Zealand and its leadership.”
To do so, Air New Zealand has released a comprehensive list of plans to bolster the east coast: to market the tourism experience internationally, buy carbon credits off Ngati Porou from its forest estates on the east coast, actively support and assist Ngati Porou to expand commercial partnerships domestically and internationally – including providing business leads into supplier networks, supply resources to support Ngati Porou environmental and conservation efforts, and where commercially practical the airline will include the iwi's primary products in its own supply chain, among other schemes.
It's hoped that the East Coast will be able to provide a cultural experience like nothing else in New Zealand.