Northland has always been the perfect place to learn about New Zealand.
There's Tāne Mahuta, the famous kauri of the Waipoua Forest which lies at the southern edge of the Hokianga, and the Waitangi Treaty Grounds which speaks to the coming together of Māori and Pākehā cultures.
Now we also have Manea Footprints of Kupe which tells of the first chapter of the human story of Aotearoa.
The $9.6 million cultural and education centre which celebrates Kupe's voyage to the Hokianga and his journeys across Aotearoa was officially opened on December 9.
Located opposite Opononi beach, against a backdrop of stunning sand dunes and sea, it's the ideal place to learn about the story of the Polynesian explorer who discovered this country more than 1000 years ago.
The centre features authentic cultural engagement and offers the opportunity to learn about Māori customs and protocols, and engage with storytelling, waiata [song] and karakia [prayer].
A 75-minute interactive guided tour, led by Kupe's descendants, starts as visitors are led around the "creations pathway" and through carvings of atua [gods].
These include the great Ngahue, who was a contemporary of Kupe and one of the first Polynesian explorers to reach New Zealand shores.
The tour takes in a formal pōwhiri, welcoming visitors to the space and inside the whare taonga [house of treasures].
A 20-minute live theatre performance and 4D movie brings to life Kupe's epic journey, his unique connection to Hokianga, and the dramatic return voyages of his progenies.
A series of digital stations reveal more details of Kupe's story and can be viewed at leisure.
Kiri Atkinson-Cream, from New Zealand Māori Tourism, has described the experience as special because it brings visitors into the story, rather than merely telling it to them.
It's hoped the centre will celebrate our sense of place, and our past, present and future and ensure the stories of our tūpuna [ancestors] are shared and remembered.
The story belongs to all New Zealanders, she said.
"It's a game changer in the way we go about sharing culture," she said.
"It's about including people and bringing them into the story, rather than performing at them."
Carver [Toi Whakairo] Will Ngakuru is the sculptor behind the beautiful carvings on site.
The project was the brainchild of Te Hua o te Kawariki Trust, the governing body of Manea Footprints of Kupe who represent the people of four neighbouring local marae.
Trust chairman and senior kaumātua John Klaricich said by virtue of whakapapa, they represent 32 odd generations of relationship with this place they consider extraordinarily unique.
"We are proud of the ancestral connections we have with this place, proud of our ancestors who bequeathed us such a rich heritage of traditions, places, artwork, songs and most importantly, examples of selfhood and identity for us to follow."
* Manea Footprints of Kupe centre, 41 Hokianga Harbour Drive, Opononi.
Open Monday to Sunday from 9am to 3pm.
* $65 adult / $120 family / $12 child / free under 5. Private tours and pre-arranged group bookings of 10-60 people are available.
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