The annual canoe journey by Whanganui Maori is a beautiful and spiritual one and hard to express in words, Lady Martha Taiaroa says.
She was on the first Tira Hoe Waka on the Whanganui River in 1989. This year she was one of about 250 participants, and made part of the journey by road. She especially loved all the waiata (singing). "It was beautiful, right from the start," she said.
About half of this year's waka (canoe) paddlers were young people. "They were very helpful. They helped with the bags, anything we wanted."
It was the first time for 13-year-old Rangituehu Twomey-Waitai, who especially enjoyed socialising with her friends.
The journey had a serious purpose though. Organiser Gerrard Albert said it was a training ground for young people, who graduated to tribal adulthood after paddling the whole two weeks. About 40 received ropes this year, in a special ceremony.
Lady Martha said young people could choose how much of all the wananga (learning experiences) they wanted to take in.
"If you don't make that day count, that's your own fault. You have got to listen, and you have got to go again [to reinforce it]."
This year the Tira Hoe Waka made stops at Ngapuwaiwaha, Ohinepane, Tawata, Whitianga, John Coull Hut, Tieke, Hiruharama, Matahiwi, Pungarehu, Kaiwhaiki, Pakaitore/Moutoa Gardens and Putiki. It started in Taumarunui and finished off by tidying up, singing and having photographs taken at Putiki Marae yesterday.
Mr Albert has been on each of every one of the canoe journeys, originally as a participant. He said this year the river was quite low after a month with little rain, but it was beautiful and all went well. Unsettled weather was no problem.
"A little bit of rain is a blessing, as far as we are concerned.
"We only get off the river if it is flooded and dangerous."
One of the highlights this year was the unveiling for Hohepa Te Umuroa at Hiruharama/Jerusalem last Monday. At journey's end yesterday, he said, participants would go to their respective homes "and take the wairua of the Tira with us".
The tribe is due to go on to Ratana Pa for the celebrations of prophet TW Ratana's birthday on Wednesday, and a cultural group is to perform at the opening of the Masters' Games. On February 28 a celebration of the 1995 occupation of Pakaitore/Moutoa Gardens takes place at the gardens.
This will be followed by a summit for young leaders in early March.
Mr Albert said it was time to make sure young leaders nurtured on the waka journeys had the opportunity to take their places.
"Those of us in our forties will now fall back and support them."