An exciting new tourism product that takes a step up from the conventional Maori tourism model will be unveiled in Whakatane tomorrow.
The Mataatua Visitor Experience has been developed around the story of Mataatua wharenui, the majestically carved meeting house the Ngati Awa iwi originally opened in Whakatane in 1875.
In 1879, the house was acquired by the Government and sent to represent New Zealand at international expositions in Sydney, Melbourne, London and Dunedin. Mataatua spent over a century away before being returned to Ngati Awa in 1996 as part of the Eastern Bay of Plenty iwi's Treaty of Waitangi settlement. After a painstaking 15-year restoration, the house was reopened on September 17 last year.
Mataatua Visitor Experience general manager William Stewart said tomorrow's launch heralded a new chapter in the story of "the house that came home".
"It is a completely unique story of a living treasure that has travelled the world and come home to its people. It is also a story with an incredibly strong connection to Australia and the UK - two of our key tourism markets.
"Remember also that Mataatua represented New Zealand at the most significant international expositions of the late 19th century, so it connects us all as New Zealanders, too. It is a national icon that all Kiwis can be proud of."
Mr Stewart said the project team had worked hard to deliver a product as different as possible to the "conventional Maori tourism model".
"We are an hour away from Rotorua, the undisputed cultural tourism capital of New Zealand, so we knew we had to provide an experience unique to what is typically offered there.
"So that ruled out a product built on the traditional 'haka and hangi' performance-based model. Our relations in Te Arawa are the kings of that particular brand of tourism and it would be incredibly naive, and quite silly, of us to think we could realistically compete with them at something they are so good at.
"We quickly realised that we had to build a multi-layered experience with as many platforms as possible to engage the visitor beyond what they see and hear.
"We want them to leave us feeling they have an emotional, or even spiritual, connection with the house, its story and its people. That is the depth of experience we are aiming for."
In a fusion of tradition and technology, Mataatua also boasts a point of difference in the impressive Hiko: Legends Carved in Light digital experience that brings the stories behind the ancient carvings of Mataatua to life.
"Hiko is not merely another 'light show', it is a world-class digi-cultural spectacle that uses the latest in video mapping projection technology to bring the ancestral legends of Mataatua to life before your eyes," said Mr Stewart.
"We are not just the first Maori cultural operator to utilise this technology, it is a first for the whole industry and this reinforces and highlights the absolute uniqueness of the overall Mataatua experience."