Ever wanted to paddle a waka? A new summertime festival might provide the chance

Look out over Auckland's Harbour today and what do you see?

Hustle and bustle as vehicles hurtle across the Harbour Bridge, suburbs getting bigger all the time, never-ending activity at the Ports of Auckland and boats of every shape and size either moored or making their way in and out of the Hauraki Gulf.

Long before this, waka - traditional Maori canoes - flocked to the pristine Waitemata Harbour as people came to its fertile shores to trade, fish and garden. Rich in natural resources, the region was named Tamaki Makaurau " desired by many lovers " but it also earned another epithet: Tamaki Herenga Waka or Tamaki, the gatherer of canoes.

It's a name not much heard in recent years, but this will change with the introduction of a new festival called Tamaki Herenga Waka. The inaugural festival is next weekend, Anniversary Weekend, at Queens Wharf and on the water.

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A celebration of Auckland's unique Maori history, heritage and contemporary culture, it complements other Anniversary Weekend activities and is a collaborative effort, involving Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development (Ateed), 19 Tamaki Makaurau mana whenua (local tribes) and the Tamaki Herenga Waka Trust.

Hauauru Rawiri, trust head and chairman of the mana whenua steering group, says it's all about inviting Aucklanders - of all ages, ethnicities and cultures - to experience traditional and contemporary Maori culture.

"I'm excited about the opportunity to share our culture and inspire others," he says. "If you want to build a multicultural city - as we do in Auckland - you invite others into your world to learn and see first-hand what's going on. There's a whole range of activities plus the chance to reflect on a history of Auckland many might not have heard of."

So what can we expect to see and do at Tamaki Herenga Waka?

Given the name, no surprise to learn there'll be plenty of chances to see waka, including the waka taua (traditional war canoe) Te Kotuiti on the Waitemata.

It is thought to be the only active waka taua in the region.

On Saturday, get yourself a spot on the western side of Princes Wharf to see men's and women's teams from Tamaki Makaurau mana whenua and mataawaka(Maori living in Auckland who aren't mana whenua) compete in waka races in the NZ Maritime Museum basin.

Hauauru says the winner of the inaugural event gets to carry the mana and "bragging rights" for the next 12 months, but he expects the title will be hotly contested and paddlers will improve with time.

Throughout the weekend, from Queens Wharf, you can experience a free 45-minute ride on waka hourua (double-hulled, ocean-going sailing waka) Haunui and Aotearoa One. Trips are free, but tickets, from the festival information tent in The Cloud, are required. On Sunday, you can sign-up to paddle a waka (after a completing a dry-land paddle drill).

Sailing on Te Kotuiti, affiliated with Ngati Paoa, is usually by invitation only but there's a rare chance for men - sorry, it's guys only aboard waka taua - to experience what it feels like to crew such a vessel. "We are asking for a $100 koha because we want to be able to support our waka ama champions to get to the 2016 champs on the Sunshine Coast," says Hauauru. "We have some very fine paddlers, but, too often, they don't go to international competitions because the costs are too restrictive. This provides an opportunity for us to help out."

He's conscious of the fact women, too, might want to sail a waka, they've arranged for waka tangata - the people's canoe - to be available.

"Waka epitomise the spirit of this festival. Waka represent our heritage - how we navigated to Aotearoa and the indigenous knowledge we held to make that journey. They give Maori a sense of identity. They also represent our more recent history, around 150 years ago, when Auckland Anniversary Weekend started with inter-tribal waka races. Saturday's races will rejuvenate that and indeed many of the paddlers will be descendants of the tribes who took part in those historic races."

Don't forget, you can also check out the NZ Maritime Museum and ocean-going voyaging galleries.

Other free and family-friendly events include the chance to learn about and try raranga (weaving), Te Reo Maori (Maori language), poi and rakau (stick) games, potaka (spinning tops) and see traditional whakawai (weaponry) demonstrations.

Because Tamaki Herenga Waka blends the traditional with the contemporary, more customary amusements are joined by the modern. An extensive musical programme with performances by musicians such as Rob Ruha, Tama Waipara, Seth Haapu, Sammy J, Majic Paora, the Modern Maori Quartet, Leon Wharekura, Maisey Rika, and Whirimako Black is scheduled with those performances complimented by DJ sets, kapa haka and appearances by emerging Maori musicians.

A storytelling corner includes mana whenua representatives telling their iwi stories but also video showing a mix of older and newer Tamaki Makarau stories.

Auckland carving collective Whaotapu will be on site throughout the weekend; on Saturday, graf artists Bobby Hung and Kairau Bradley paint two art towers and, on Monday, Charles and Janine Williams run waka art workshops (see sidebar).

The 90-minute Te Kai Maori culinary experience features chefs Grant Kitchen, Tu Fearn (Harbourside) and Nancye Pirini (Novotel Auckland Airport Hotel) in a cooking demonstration about indigenous ingredients and contemporary Maori kai.

Best of all? You get to eat what they create.

Honing the hangi

Photo / Michael Bradley
Photo / Michael Bradley

Head Chef Grant Kitchen says when most of us think of hangi, we think of digging holes in the ground, heating the stones and then lowering the food in baskets into the ground to cook. But he reckons there's an easier way and says his cooking demonstration will "take the hassle out of hangi" by showing how the smoky and earthen flavours can be achieved in the oven at home.

He'll prepare a baked chicken and potato dish with a piko piko (young fern shoots) and horopito (native pepper tree) jus which, he says, tastes as good as a traditional hangi-cooked meal.

Fellow chef Nancye Pirini is taking a fresh approach to steamed pudding by cooking a steamed polenta dessert with chantilly cream and creme anglaise, while Tu Fearn will make pork, prawn and puha dumplings.

"I think traditional Maori food has been seen as plain and boring but heavily smoked - either in a hangi or boil-up - to give it some flavour," says Grant. "This shows how we can take some traditional ingredients, give them a fresh spin and cook it all in the oven at home."

Need to know

What:

Inaugural Tamaki Herenga Waka Festival

Where:

Queens Wharf and on the water

When:

Saturday January 30-Monday February 1

Cost:

Free entry

Info: