By Michael Botur

Getting your groceries to your car without a Pak N Save cardboard box? Not tough.

Running the well-lit Hatea Loop in comfortable shoes? Still not tough, sorry.

You know who had it genuinely tough? New Zealand's first settlers.


Arriving in the year 1200ish on handmade vessels which braved almost 3000 kilometres of ocean: that's tough.

Those first colonists landed, built shelter, explored, got to know where to find safe food to feed their people, and planted the crops they brought – yams, taro, kumara and gourds. The importance of nurturing crops is what the Maori festival of Matariki was all about; in mid-winter, the constellation Europeans call Pleiades (Mata Ariki – little eyes of God) heralds the start of a new season and a new year, like the Solstice. Old food stores would have been running thin in winter, but Matariki meant new crops could now be planted.

Traditionally, Matariki was a time to remember those who had died in the last year. Festivities and feasting took place. Crops could be pulled up or put in the ground with cold fingers fighting through frozen soil; seafood and birds could be collected by rugged people wearing flax shoes boldly scaling cliffs and braving the ocean without a wetsuit.

Would any of us have survived in ancient Maori times, or are we a bunch of softies/pansies today?

Just last week, I caught myself feeling like Bear Grylls for undertaking the monumental feat of scaling Whangarei's tallest mountain – dun dun dun! – without a cellphone.

Impressive? Not really. The mountain is more of a hill, a couple hundred metres high. Yes, I daringly left my cellphone at home, but there were tonnes of people around if I needed an emergency dose of some soothing Michael Bublé music. The track up Parihaka had been generously improved by Whangarei District Council. It was pampering, really.

Going up Parihaka I spotted many kumara pits where our nation's first people had to carefully cultivate kumara, positioning it close to the sun with basalt rocks to capture heat. They had to haul all foods up to their mountain fortress, actually – shellfish especially (the middens of shells are there today to remind modern-day pansies how spoiled we are.)

The years 1200-1900 would have been excruciatingly difficult for the early Maori and Pakeha, so when you're celebrating Matariki on the dancefloor, sipping a beverage and gobbling canapes, be thankful you didn't have to forge your own shoes, skin a moa to make your dress or wait weeks to brew that glass of champagne.

We're not going to stop being soft, but at least we can be mindful about it.