Professor Paora Tapsell refers to Northland as "the unrealised jewel of our nation".
And he warmly recalls touring the North to collect information for the national website www.maorimaps.com launched last Saturday.
Dr Tapsell, 50, (Ngati Whakaue, Ngati Raukawa) is professor of Maori studies at Otago University. During the past five years, he has led a research team made up of photographer Krzysztof Pfeiffer, kaumatua Renata Tane and Ike Reti, and volunteers who set out to document all of the tribal marae.
"Northland has by far the largest number of marae for land area in the country," he told the Advocate yesterday.
"We counted 750 marae throughout Aotearoa. I visited 180 of them in Northland and I know we missed a few, but Maori Maps is a work in progress."
Maori Maps' goal is to reconnect Maori rangatahi (youth) with their ancestral links and whakapapa.
Dr Tapsell said young Maori needed to realise they belonged to a gang set up more than 1000 years ago. There was space for them in it and marae provided the entry for them to belong.
"Reconnection with marae will enable Maori to flourish," he said.
In the North, the Maori Maps team had visited marae where old people recalled when the whole community ate food grown around the marae and visiting a centre like Kaikohe was like "going to the big smoke".
"The DNA of tangata whenua then, was that of the land. Now we are homogenised, eating bananas from Ecuador. Country kids are racing off to the cities hoping for a job on Maori TV. The old people said if they don't come home the marae will die."
Dr Tapsell recalled visiting a Northland east coast marae during a whanau reunion near Christmas.
"There was no cellphone coverage and it was great to see young people chatting and swapping cellphone and Facebook connections," he said.
"Marae are about people. The marae reunion was the point of contact for three generations of them."
Pictures and information on the website take the visitor only as far as the kuwaha (marae gateway), respecting that marae are homes. But the website provides connections so marae members can invite people to see more information on their personal facebook or knowmyplace links
"We provide those links so marae can blog each other and exchange information," Dr Tapsell said.
Maori Maps also has a taonga field which provides online links to sources such as the Alexander Turnbull Library where people might find early pictures and information about their marae.
The Northland section of Maori Maps is accessible in te reo Maori. It is working to extend this service to the rest of the country.