Growing the Puna haerenga

Picture this, if you will. Lush green bush and fanned ferns peppered with cicada and bird song, all underscored by the persistent rush of a nearby waterfall. Air, fresh from its dance with the rākau filling your lungs. It may not be your standard surroundings when you think of internships, but when it comes to mātauranga Māori, the best learning environments are more often than not the natural ones. So with that in mind, our Growing the Puna interns were offered the opportunity to get out in the taiao with our Pouārahi, Ranginui Rikirangi-Thomas, where they could reconnect, re-energise and reflect on our role as kaitiaki.

The day began at the Ōkere Falls, near Rotorua, where Ranginui shared kōrero, hītori and pūrākau pertaining to the significant sites that the roopu visited, beginning with Te Rotoiti-i-kite-ai-a-Īhenga, before progressing to its outlet which in turn flowed into the Ōkere river. While there, Ranginui shared his whakaaro about what kai can be gathered there and the uses, both traditional and current, of the awa.

In the spirit of learning through experience, the roopu then checked some eeling lines and hīnaki, that had been set earlier to see a variety of harvesting methods, before continuing on to where the river meets the sea in Maketū, following the whakapapa of the waterway.

Although the haerenga centred around understanding, listening to and connecting with the taiao – it wouldn’t be a Toi Tangata experience without some physical activity and nutritious kai too. After a beautiful kai at Māori owned restaurant, Our House Rotorua, the team relaxed and waited for the sun to go down.

Once the cloak of night had descended and the moon had risen, they journeyed out to Lake Rotoiti for a hunt through the ngahere where they came across possums, rabbits, glowworms and much to their surprise, wallabies! Braving the chill of the water, they then waded in up to their waists on the look out for freshwater koura. Their efforts were rewarded with a mere two koura. But not to be deterred, the team delved into what learnings they could glean from the experience and looking into the maramataka discovered that though it appeared to be a nice night, the phase of the moon indicated that it wasn’t an ideal time to be gathering kai – and insight that was reinforced by the empty eel traps earlier in the day. 

There were many learnings on the haerenga including the rich history of Te Waiariki, the implementation of maramataka, and the relevance and application of mātauranga Māori. The interns left with not only a closer relationship with each other, but a deeper understanding of kaitiakitanga and what it truly means to be guardians of our taiao as well as the importance of kaitiakitanga to allow us customary practices like mahinga kai.