Paddling a waka on the Waikato River, and taking part in raranga weaving could soon be a reality as tourism group Aotearoa Experience looks to expand its annual Haka festival into a full-time venture.
The Haka Māori Cultural Experience is now an annual event at Hamilton Gardens on the banks of the river. It allows visitors to experience authentic Māori arts and culture and is part of the Waikato River Festival.
As part of the expansion, a Māori tourism centre is being planned, possibly in Peacocke opposite Hamilton Gardens. Waikato Tainui is in discussions with Hamilton City Council over the development of a centre, with the plans included in the Hamilton Gardens Masterplan, which requires sign-off from the new city council.
The Māori Tourism Centre will be used by groups such as Haka Māori Cultural Experience, which is run by Lee Ann Muntz.
Mrs Muntz said the centre, and expansion of what her group does from an annual to a daily event, would help put the spotlight on Māori history.
"It will allow visitors to interact with Māori culture, and not just view it," Mrs Muntz said.
"We want to anchor people in Hamilton and hold them here for more than one day, and from here they can then do a night tour out at Mount Maungatautari."
"We want them to wrap around our region and explore attractions there."
Mrs Muntz said the waka tours would be seasonal, but experiences including story telling tours, live performances, weaving and carving.
"The idea for the future is to have this new Māori Tourism Centre where visitors can experience a waka ride, before e-biking back to the centre via the river bike trail and then taking part in other activities and watching live performances."
"There would also be augmented and virtual reality experiences, along with interactive workshops."
Funding for the project is being worked through the Provincial Growth Fund, but Mrs Muntz said she was confident it would be secured.
"We are the guardians of the river on behalf of all the tribes, so while this is about tourism in the Waikato, it is also bringing attention to the fact that we have to look after our taonga, the Waikato River."
"The Waikato area is rich in cultural heritage and it is good to see that the city is now acknowledging our ancestral river. It is not just about activating this river, it is about looking after the health of the river as well."
Ms Muntz is confident that shovels will be in the ground soon for the new development, saying that the new council is supportive of expanding on the river.
Along with tourism developments on the Waikato River, the Waikato River Explorer group is looking to expand its operations by offering daily water taxis for Hamilton resident and visitors.