Gisborne turned on a stunning day for us as we set off for a unique experience, a visit to the Pakowhai marae. Pakowhai is one of the centers for the Whanau a Kai iwi (tribe), located near the small village of Patutahi just outside of Gisborne, on the East Coast of New Zealand’s North Island. The Gisborne region has a high population of Maori, the indigenous Polynesian people of New Zealand.
Our local guide, Anne McGuire, is related to most of the Gisborne tribes and is able to arrange visits to places not normally frequented by travelers. Marae, such as the one at Pakowhai, are community centers for traditional Maori communities. They are both meeting places for those who still live in the rural area and points of returning for the many scattered members of tribes who now live throughout New Zealand and overseas. The Whanau a Kai people use their marae for funerals (tangi), meetings, social gatherings and as a learning center. They welcomed us on to Pakowhai, but it was our privilege to be there. This place is effectively a people’s community space, rather than an operation set up for tourists.
Our party was welcomed on to the marae in a traditional manner. We were called on to the marae by a karanga (chant) from one of the women of Whanau a Kai, to which our guide Anne answered on our behalf. We were then welcomed by a speech in Maori from Dave Hawea, a rangatira (chief) of Whanau a Kai. Dave’s speech was followed by a song (waiata) of support from the Whanau a Kai people. We replied with a speech from me (in Maori) and another from Larry (in English). My speech was supported by a Maori waiata, that Ann had taught our guests. Larry was backed by a fine number sung in his honor, composed by the guests to the tune of ‘Oh what a beautiful morning.’ Hosts and guests then greeted each othe with the traditional Maori hongi or pressing of noses.
After the formalities were completed Dave explained to us the significance and history of the wharenui (meeting house). We then had a delicious morning tea in the wharekai (dining room), followed by entertainment by the local cultural group. The combination of beautiful harmonic singing, rhythmic poi dances, and a rousing haka was truly uplifting.
Following our visit to the marae we went for a short scenic tour of the surrounding countryside. This led to further adventures as one of the buses broke down going up into the hills. Larry’s experiences of adventure in distant lands meant he was able to deal with this crisis effectively, ringing for another bus by cell phone. The interpid expeditioneers were pleased to fill in the time exploring the area.
Our fine day was completed with visits to the Eastwoodhill Arboretum and the Bushmere winery. Eastwoodhill is a place where many exotic species of trees have been grown in a delightful hill setting. Bushmere is a boutique winery producing a fine local range of wines. These two different botanical experiences were relaxing ways to finish off a day in which we experienced some of the essential experiences of Aotearoa.