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Taiamai Tour's Waka Experience

A powerful Maori cultural journey


Maori Challenge

Pictures of the Taiamai Tours Waka Experience





By Richard Moore

Bay of Islands Hotels
Bay of Islands Tours

Having travelled to many countries and witnessed an abundance of exciting things, I thought a waka trip up the Waitangi River in the Bay of Islands would be an interesting, but predictable, journey to make.

How wrong I was.

Together with a score of other people I joined Taiamai Tours for its Maori War Canoe adventure.

Being a photographer had its advantages and I was given the prime position perched up in one of the bows of the double-hulled waka where the most strenuous thing I had to do was try to shoot around the front paddlers.

My fellow travellers were not so fortunate and had to paddle in time with the chanted rhythm of the leader of our expedition Ropata Hohepa and his crew – Tiaki Te Haara, Dean Chambers, Wade Tamati and Hendrix Hura.

The mainly Dutch visitors took to the water like ducks on the Zuiderzee and clearly enjoyed exerting themselves to power the 50-foot waka onwards.

This is what inclusive tourism is all about, I thought, with people paying to get stuck in and experience something they will talk about for years to come. Me, I was along for the ride but did feel like encouraging them by joining in the rhythmic “hee” and “hah”. Then I thought better of that idea as they may well have thrown me overboard.

Our destination was a family marae a few kilometres up river and this is where things were going to get interesting.

Firstly we had to get off the canoe without falling into the water or getting our shoes wet. With the assistance of Ropata and Co we managed the former and, surprisingly, also kept our feet dry. It was then a short distance to a grassy area where our group was going to be challenged by Hone Mihaka, who leads Taiamai Tours with Judy Mihaka.

Hone has a considerable facial ta moko, or tattoo, and also the one of the biggest, brightest smiles you can imagine. He is passionate about Maori traditions and culture.

So the challenge was going to be full-on and whoever was going to receive it needed to know it was a serious part of Maori protocol and should not be taken lightly.

Once our leader was chosen – more like everyone stepping back a pace or two leaving poor Caspar out the front - Ropata gave him the heads up on what was expected.

Treat this seriously, look the challenger in the eyes and don’t smile. Then Ropata added and don’t take the patu (club) - that means you are accepting a fight.

Then it was on. Young Hendrix began the challenge, or wero, with a bounding appearance from inside the marae. In the background Hone lurked and then he stalked forward, patu in his right hand, a hatchet in the other.

Hone proffered the patu to Caspar who unthinkingly went to grasp it. Ropata hissed a warning and our leader quickly pulled his hand away.

On three more occasions Hone offered the club, tempting an acceptance of his challenge, but the Dutchman was not obliging him.

Then Hone backed away and lay the patu down. He pulled out leaves from behind his back and advanced to gently place the leaves on the ground. If Caspar accepted the leaves it showed the intent of his visit was peaceful.

I have to say this was the best challenge I have ever seen. It was full of menace and I could just picture it being delivered by Hone’s forbears to the first Europeans who arrived.

Just to reinforce the moment Hone then made slashing cuts – at a safe distance from Caspar – across his body and head. Then he ran back inside the marae while Judy Mihaka delivered a karanga, or call, to welcome us.

Inside the small earth-floored whare we sat on low benches and listened as Hone, Ropata and Hendrix spoke in Te Reo Maori.

They talked of their culture and traditions and in the close atmosphere in the dimly lit whare their voices took me away to another place where not understanding the language didn’t really matter. 

Our representative, Koro Carman from Footprints Waipoua, supported each speaker by singing a Maori waiata as part of the customary thanks.

We were welcomed to the Waitangi area and Hone spoke of his how his culture was very important to him and his family. He talked his father and ancestors and acknowledged young Hendrix who was spreading his wings and about to fly out to live in Melbourne.

Hone also told of his dream to improve the Maori economy in the North to help young people. He saw what they were doing as “a vessel to create opportunities for youth”.

Then, in English, Hone talked of a young man who had died tragically and explained that he had a real concern for young Maori today and the terrible toll suicide was taking.

Then two of the journalists got up and spoke about losing loved ones.

The feeling in the whare was very powerful and it was one of those moments when you realize that language barriers can be overcome when people share what is in their hearts.

Our visit was an astounding one and you can guarantee that the Dutch tourists will return home absolutely buzzing by the memorable exchanges – as did our party of journalists.

Northland is an amazing place to visit, but it is made even more special by Maori determined to revive traditions and show their true world to those who open up to it.


Taiamai Tours conducts heritage journeys and its waka experience provides a rare insight into ancient Maori customs. Contact Taiamai Tour's Judy Mihaka. Or phone (09) 405 9990 or visit the website www.taimaitours.co.nz.

Copyright Richard Moore 2018 | Contact Us