Lou Te Keeti's favourite place in the world is his urupa/cemetery.

It is on the hill overlooking his house and the Wairoa River. He walks there every morning "to relax, talk to my loved ones and think about things. I always come back refreshed".

He is even looking forward to the day he doesn't come back. He's not afraid of death. He's had "a good life".

With four children and seven mokopuna, he has, at times, been "poor as", and lives modestly. With good budgeting, he and wife Val have managed to get by.

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"There were no luxuries, but we always had a roof and we always had kai, which we've been grateful for, as it is more than many people have."

Since the Tauranga kaumatua scooped $10.3m in Lotto Powerball on July 8, he still walks to the urupa each morning.

Now he's not as keen to go to his final resting place so soon. "I hope I will be blessed with a few more years on the earth to use the money to do some good things."

Imagine what you would do

What would you do if you won $10m in Lotto?

It's a question that most Kiwis have asked themselves. Lotto lures players with the fairytale scenario of deserving people winning big.

From Wilson the dog, who takes a winning ticket to a homeless man, and orphaned children who find gold buried in the back garden, Lotto's marketers urge us to "imagine".

What would you do? Would you go public? What would you buy? How much would you give away? Who would you give it to?

It has only been a week since Te Keeti revealed his identity to NZME.

He has already given $300,000 away to local charities - Waipuna Hospice, the Heart Foundation and Diabetes Help Tauranga.

He's set up trusts to help his whanau "be comfortable for the rest of their lives".

He's already had contractors in to look at tarsealing the rugged stone road to the cemetery.

He's bought a new 12-seater minibus for the kaumatua of the marae to travel together comfortably "wherever they need to go".

The urupa at Wairoa marae is a favourite place for Te Keeti. Photo / Jaden McLeod
The urupa at Wairoa marae is a favourite place for Te Keeti. Photo / Jaden McLeod

He has a "fighting fund" to reopen Treaty negotiations for his family's wai claim.

He's had hundreds of messages from wellwishers from all around the world. He's had requests for money from people he's never met.

He's had a flat white with Gareth Morgan, and been involved in his first media scrum.

Today, Tauranga's newest millionaire reflects on the week that was since he went public about his win.

"The question I get asked most is why I told everyone about my win. At first I was sure I would keep it anonymous but, anyone who knows Tauranga, knows how word travels in this town. I started to notice people winking at me in the street."

At a Tauranga Moana Iwi protest march against Hauraki's claims in the region, the rumour mill was running hot about who the winner was.

"I thought 'Wow this is Tauranga's worst-kept secret'. I decided there was so much I wanted to do for my people with the money that there was no point in hiding my face. It's not about elevating myself, not at all. This is not about me, it's about what the win can do for my people."

Whole hapu happy

If people were winking at him before, now they are openly smiling and coming up to shake his hand.

He's had good wishes from the Bay's movers and shakers - from heads of industry, lawyers, chief executives, politicians, philanthropists and fellow millionaires.

"And the odd joker, too, telling me a sob story."

Lou Te Keeti and his wife Val share a love of horses. Photo / Jaden McLeod
Lou Te Keeti and his wife Val share a love of horses. Photo / Jaden McLeod

The dedicated kaumatua and beloved koro, who has had a double hip replacement, and who this month was rushed to hospital with a heart "flutter" on the day he saw the millions hit his bank account, is showing no signs of slowing down.

He's busier than ever. His phone rings non-stop. He has spent the week rushing from one meeting to the next with an ever-growing to-do list.

It's a new pace that is worrying his cousin; a fellow kaumatua and kuia on Wairoa Marae.

Sitting on the paepae (shaded bench), cousin Maxine [Ngaronoa] Rewiti-Ngata, 70, calls herself his "minder".

"I as the woman kuia, should not be telling a kaumatua koroua what to do. Lou is Lou and he's the big kahuna. I respect that. But that is not going to stop me reining him in as he needs to slow down."

Rewiti-Ngata said she was "shocked" when Te Keeti came to visit her with the news that he had just won $10.3m.

"I was shocked. Lou was so calm. I would be swinging from the trees, but here was Lou all organised with his big list, telling me who was getting what, plans for the marae, plans for the whanau and hapu."

She said the whole hapu was happy for Te Keeti.

Since the win, repairs to the much-loved but well-worn marae, kohanga reo and the social club, all on Ngati Kahu land, were already under way.

Left to right: Lou Te Keeti with cousins Nessie Anna Kuka, Geraldine Hinemoa Reweti and Maxine [Ngaronoa] Rewiti-Ngata. Photo / Jaden McLeod
Left to right: Lou Te Keeti with cousins Nessie Anna Kuka, Geraldine Hinemoa Reweti and Maxine [Ngaronoa] Rewiti-Ngata. Photo / Jaden McLeod

"We have been blessed. We are a very humble people and a small hapu on just 300 acres. The rest [of the land] was taken. It has been a struggle for some of our people eking out a living."

Lou Te Keeti always had moemoea (dreams), says Reweti-Ngata. "He's moving so fast because he's been dreaming of doing these things for his hapu for a long time, but never had the money to do so.

"He had it all mapped out in his head for years before the win. It's a sign of who he is that he thinks beyond himself, and even beyond his hapu to do what he can for Maori people with the money."

She takes her "minder" role seriously. Although she refers to herself and Lou as the "younger elders", she says she has to remind him to slow down.

"We need Lou to take care of Lou too, and not rush too much. Try telling him that though," she laughs.

Te Keeti's busy schedule since the win is something that is also worrying wife Val, who is still "overwhelmed" by the win. She's putting her foot down that he "takes a breather" next week, and spends time with his wife and family at home.

Te Keeti agrees. "If anything Val has told me she feels a little bit isolated, a bit lonely. It's because she has seen less of me this week.

"I am extremely conscious of what she is feeling and, for myself, I am thinking that next week I am going to devote to her."

Even with his new-found wealth and demands, Te Keeti has not changed his routine.
He rises every day at 6.30am to catch up on emails and watch the news. He wakes Val at 8am bringing her a coffee.

Lou Te Keeti (left) meets The Opportunites Party founder Gareth Morgan in Tauranga. Photo / Alan Gibson
Lou Te Keeti (left) meets The Opportunites Party founder Gareth Morgan in Tauranga. Photo / Alan Gibson

"She wouldn't be happy about it if I woke her up at 6.30am."

He then goes outside for his morning walk up the hill to the urupa, and completes his "morning tasks" which include checking on and feeding the animals on his farmlet - sheep, ducks, chooks and the horses.

It takes him an hour to get around all the animals, followed by one or two of the family dogs.

Later in the morning, he might drive up the dirt roads across hapu land from the marae eastwards, towards Bethlehem and the Ngati Kahu housing village which Te Keeti has been instrumental in developing.

"We've been able to house families in six four-bed houses, and there's six two-bed houses for kaumatua. The idea is that the elders keep an eye on younger people and vice versa."

He sits on the deck in the sun for a while for a korero with his cousins, Rewiti-Ngata, as well as Geraldine Hinemoa Reweti, 91 and Nessie Anna Kuka, 88, where the talk of the day is still Lou's win.

"We're still talking about it - we will still be talking about it tomorrow," says Reweti, a former teacher who Te Keeti says only retired at 88.

"Not that I have had much rest, there is always work to be done, especially with Lou around."

Rewiti-Ngata laughs that the women always have to tell him to focus on one thing at a time.

"Woman can do lots of things at once, but men need to be kept on track."

Te Keeti doesn't rest long in the sunshine. He's zooming back to the marae for a meeting, and then on to town. Some days Val doesn't see him back until evening.

"We try and have lunch together. At 3pm she will do her tasks. She lets the chooks and the ducks out for a run around until 5pm. She is always busy too around the home."

Not far from home

Val and Te Keeti have lived for decades in their humble homestead just 150m from their tupuna in the urupa.

"The kids won't have far to visit me when I'm gone."

The cemetery is more than 100 years old Te Keeti believes, with many unmarked graves.

Te Keeti removes his cap and walks among the newer headstones that have been growing in number since the 1940s, some holding people who lived a long life, some who were "taken too soon".

He wanders pensively among the graves caressing the headstones and whispering karakia.

Some headstones have statues of angels or guardians. A black saddle for a keen horseman who died in his 40s.

A young father killed in a workplace accident at just 24. An empty bottle of brown ale. A skull. Insignia from the Head Hunter motorbike gang and the words "Respect". On another, a windmill turning in the breeze.

When he walks back down from the cemetery, Te Keeti puts his cap back on and calls his horses. They canter towards him.

He and Val share a love of horses. They have two brood mares, a Tavistock and a Charge Forward.

"The Tavistock is booked in for breeding soon with a stallion at Cambridge."

He talks lovingly to the horse, patting her and stroking her nose. "You're off to see your boyfriend soon, see if you will bring back a baby."

One baby that the mare did produce, a white foal, is still in the paddock. He was due to be sold just before the Lotto win.

"I was really sad about it, Val and I had become really attached. I fell in love with him actually, but we needed to sell him to raise some cash. I felt gutted about it."

Since the win, Te Keeti said a little treat for him and Val is keeping the foal in the family.

The foal is roaming out in the paddock by the cemetery. Te Keeti has given him a name. Midas.

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