Results from a five-day camp for young Māori on the Whanganui River are "absolutely phenomenal", Water Safety New Zealand CEO Jonty Mills says.

He attended one day of the Te Taitimu Trust's annual five-day camp, on January 23. This year the Hawke's Bay-based trust took 130 young Māori people paddling from Whakahoro to Pipiriki, with a night at Kaiwhaiki Marae and a brief stop at Rātana Pā to end their journey.

The trust aims to help at-risk youth with whanaungatanga, wellbeing and life skills - and this camp had a heavy emphasis on water safety.

Kia maanu, kia ora/Stay afloat, stay alive was the theme - applying to emotional resilience as well as water skills.


The rangatahi (young people) were guided by Whanganui river education providers Ki Tai. They were accompanied by staff, companions and experts such as educator Rob Hewitt, who survived three nights lost at sea as the result of a diving mishap.

The camp was supported by the Kimiora Trust and Water Safety New Zealand. CEO Jonty Mills said it was important, because though Māori have a strong cultural connection to water, for the last 10 years they have made up 25 per cent of New Zealand drownings - despite being only 14 per cent of the total population.

Many Māori drownings happen when people are in the water without intending it. Others get into trouble while diving for kai moana.

"Many of our hard to reach families don't have the ability to spend much time in the rivers and moana as they used to 100 years ago," Te Taitimu Trust founder Zack Makaore said.