Charles Royal is at Muriwai's Houghtons Bush Camp, where he's looking for things to eat for an upcoming Matariki event.
For more than seven years the Rotorua chef has been involved in New Zealand-wide Matariki celebrations and is pleased to see it becoming more mainstream.
"Matariki to me is when everything comes to life in the bush. You've got the cooler temperatures, plenty of water and everything will be lush. Native vegetation loves winter."
Charles is an enthusiastic promoter of cooking traditional Maori kai and is confident a quick forage in the bush around the camp will provide ingredients for the start of a meal.
Before we even enter the bush canopy, he stops and points out a koromiko bush, a species of hebe.
"This was used in the old days, and now, for upset stomachs," he says pinching off a bunch of leaves.
"You put the central bud into boiling water and drink it as a tea. It reacts straight away, within 15 minutes. Even if you've got stomach pains from food poisoning, this will stop it."
Once in the dark cool of the bush, Charles stoops to pull a couple of fronds from a silver fern.
"There are 312 varieties of fern in New Zealand and seven of them are edible."
Kawakawa is next on the menu and Charles advises picking a hole-riddled leaf because "it must be good if the insects are eating it" and to harvest from the northern side of the plant so leaves will grow back faster.
"This is a natural blood thinner. When we have our kawakawa tea, just take one leaf, drop it into boiling water."
He says kawakawa has antiseptic properties and is the most widely used Maori medicine.
"I'm trying to show people who live in cities that you can still walk bush tracks and find food you can eat, though you need to know what is edible."
After just 20 minutes Charles has a large handful of ingredients to add to those he's been gathering for the past couple of months in preparation for Matariki.
"And the best thing is, I don't have to pay for it. Eating food from the bush is something we've lost over the years because of the convenience factor but there is so much good out there if you take the time to go looking."
Muriwai Matariki Magic:
A five-course menu featuring bush ingredients prepared by chef Charles Royal. Navigator and waka builder Hekenukumai Busby will share the story about his voyage aboard the waka Te Aurere. There will also be live music and film.
When: Saturday, June 23 at 7pm.
Where: Muriwai's Houghtons Bush Camp, 75 Motutara Road.
Further information: Tickets cost $85. Contact Barbara Quigley on 021 255 7951 or at Sand Dunz Cafe, Muriwai Beach, for further information.
The Matariki Wananga-a-Kai Food Forum:
Taste and learn how to prepare traditional Maori kai from chefs.
When: Tuesday, July 10 and Wednesday, July 11, 7.30pm-9pm.
Where: Mangere Arts Centre Nga Tohu o Uenuku, 63 Orly Ave, Mangere.
Further information: The event is free, limited seating available.
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