Some of the Rotorua's most frequent reoffenders have signed up to be on a new course using tikanga Māori to help turn their lives around.

Five men are set to start Pūwhakamua when it officially launches next weekend and the course's co-ordinator, Billy Macfarlane, is on the hunt for five more.

He said the course will not pay "lip service" to Māori culture.

"They're not just going to learn a waiata and a haka. It will be in-depth cultural learning."

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Macfarlane, a former criminal who turned his life around while serving a 14-year prison sentence for bankrolling a major methamphetamine ring, will launch the course on Saturday, May 19, at Apumoana Marae.

The course, which is designed for 10 men, has the backing of kaumātua, police, lawyers and community leaders and will see participants take part in six months of intense cultural learning that aims to take the men back to their cultural roots to address their offending.

The course is an intense six-month programme followed by six months of support and mentoring.

All participants will engage in te reo classes for two hours twice a week, fitness training, whaikōrero (formal speaking) classes and community work. Participants would spend at least 265 hours on the programme.

"I know people will say, 'Oh, another bloody Māori thing,' but we have the highest stats."

He said Rotorua Māori men aged 20 to 29 were the worst offenders and 75 per cent of those men had gang affiliations.

"So yeah, it looks like a Māori thing because it is. I can't save all of Rotorua, but I can do something for Māori."

Macfarlane is running the course off his own bat - meaning it doesn't have any official government support or funding.

He's set up a Givealittle page and is asking for contributions and is grateful to have received a donation from Ngāti Whakaue's financial arm, Pukeroa Oruawhata, to get the ball rolling.

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However, he is a long way off finding the $42,000 he estimates is needed to run the course.

"But I don't want to make this kaupapa about money ... if I have to do it for free I will because this is my passion."

Macfarlane said he'd been overwhelmed with people wanting their family members to be involved.

"But family are always ready. They [the men] have to be. You can't force them to do it or it won't work."

He said some of those he was working with to be on the course were "life-time offenders" facing long jail terms.

"But they want to change."

He tried last week to get another man on the course who is currently in custody awaiting sentencing by speaking at his bail application in the Rotorua District Court.

Macfarlane said he respectfully accepted the judge's decision to not allow the man out. But he said the judge made some positive comments about the intentions of the course.

Macfarlane said time was running out for those wanting to take part and anyone keen needed to act now because they couldn't join the course after it started.

"Come on whānau, if you have got someone it will be too late in two weeks."

* To donate: givealittle.co.nz/cause/tikanga-Maori-offender-rehabilitation-program.

Pūwhakamua entails
* 75 hours in tikanga wānanga
* 100 hours in te reo classes
* 35 hours' community service
* 25 hours' learning formal Maori speaking (whaikorero).
* At least 30 hours engaged in group fitness activities

Expected results
* 60 per cent of participants will stop offending for at least one year following the programme
* Half of participants will be regularly involved in community activities for at least one year
* Half of participants will gain either fulltime employment or enter studies within three months of completion
* All participants will attend follow-up sessions for six months after completion