A Dutch student who took part in Waitangi Day commemorations says it was an "incredible experience" to paddle on the sea in a fleet of waka after only having paddled on canals in her home country.

Every year students from Njord Royal Student Rowing Club at Leiden University in the Netherlands — the guardians of the only waka in the Northern Hemisphere — travel to Waitangi to take part in the festivities and increase their knowledge of tikanga Māori.

The Dutch waka, which is called Te Hono ki Aotearoa (the Link to New Zealand) and was built by Sir Hekenukumai Puhipi, is on permanent loan to the Dutch national ethnology museum in Leiden.

This year's Dutch delegation included Chris Buijvoets, a medical student who chairs the rowing club's Waka Gezelschap (group).


"For me it was really amazing to paddle in an all-girls waka, and it was incredible to paddle on the sea for the first time, to experience what the waves and currents do to the waka," she said.

"It was also very nice to paddle with so many waka together, to feel their mana, their spirit. You don't experience that every day."

Her week-long stay in Northland had not just taught her a lot more about tikanga Māori but also about the history of the Dutch waka.

She had become involved in the waka group after initially joining the university rowing club and being intrigued by Māori culture.

Despite the cultural differences, she said she had felt at home at the waka camp at Haruru Falls.

"In Māori culture you're part of something bigger than just you as an individual. If you're part of an iwi that means you're there for each other. People in the western world have forgotten that."

Buijvoets said she also felt at home with Māori attitudes to time because she struggled at home with the Dutch obsession with punctuality and schedules.

She was joined at Waitangi by fellow Dutch student Emilio Harris-Mostert and Ella Weehuizen, who is from Russell but is of Dutch descent and joined the waka group while she was studying in Leiden.


As well as paddling in the Waitangi Day waka fleet all three took part in Monday's ceremony for the investiture of Sir Hekenukumai.

Next year the Dutch are expected to send a much bigger delegation to mark the 180th anniversary of the Treaty of Waitangi, as well as the 80th birthday of the great waka Ngātokimatawhaorua and the 10th birthday of their own waka.

Buijvoets said she was keen to return but would have to finish her studies first, which would take another three years if all went well.

During her trip to New Zealand she had also been to the South Island to see the land her countryman Abel Tasman set eyes on more than 375 years ago.