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Eco Tourism

Ecotourism or Kaitiakitanga

Ecotourism or Kaitiakitanga

Ecotourism isn’t about doing something because we are going to spend time with visitors, or because it is the current focus of so many. Ecotourism is about the way we live our lives everyday and sharing that with visitors when they join us. We live our lives according to the principles of kaitiakitanga – a way of managing the environment based on the traditional Maori view. In 2007, in our capacity as guardians of our family farm, we realised a vision and created the Hakikino Conservation Reserve and Nursery.


Kaitiakitanga means guardianship, protection or preservation. We believe that there is a deep relationship between people and the natural world. Customary practices maintain the balance between nature and our people and ensure that resources are managed sustainably.

The idea for Waimarama Maori Tours started with the desire to protect Hakikino, the place the 14th-century fortress stood, and the surrounding area which was on the family farm in Waimarama. We wanted to bring back the original environment of our homelands by replanting and replenishing the land. We wanted once again to hear the voice to the forest. It will be as it was when our ancestors first came to live here.

Hakikino had been home to Maori as far back as the 14th century. Wider family members when returning home would go and visit Hakikino, and local Maori schools and organizations requested visits and a telling of the history. The local tour operators heard of this and tours for international visitors were conducted on an ad hoc basis. It was time to formalize the process. Waimarama was becoming a tourist destination, and Robert MacDonald as the Chairman of the family farm and a trustee of the family incorporation wanted to lead the Maori tourism initiative, not merely be overrun by it. He said, ‘The only way to keep Hakikino and the history of the area safe was to make its existence known, and expose it to the world. In this way, it would not be forgotten.’

Waimarama Maori Tours was born from this as a way to conserve and protect the area and manage the flow of people. It was decided that the mission and business strategy should include meaningful employment for the local community and provide the necessary training for our people to be able to participate in tourism and other businesses.

After many meetings and archaelogical consultations, a comprehensive renovation project was launched at and around the site of the ancient Fortress remnants of Hakikino. This included the creation of a native tree nursery, extensive replanting of native bush, and the protection of native eel in the site’s waterways. Stockades were built according to ancient customs. Sacred wood carvings and ceremonial artefacts were specially created and added to the site. The necessary infrastructure of bio-toilets, roads and walking paths (we quarried bentonyte from the farm) were introduced. And throughout the project, the Maori and Pakeha community was involved, and offered time and expertise when needed.

Utilizing the Department of Conservation Nga Whenua Rahui programme which exists to help protect the natural integrity of Maori land, the family graciously removed 60 Hectares (approximately 150 acres) of land from the family farming operation and the Hakikino Conservation Reserve and Nursery was officially created.

To staff the business required going out into our wider family to find those who still practiced the old traditional arts and crafts and were still involved in our traditional ways. We created and ran several Cadet training programmes to expose the young ones to the knowledge and we held Whananga (training programmes) to get others involved. All of these were open to anyone interested in becoming a guide but also anyone with interest in our ways. It gave everyone a reason to know the stories of our ancestors and to be involved in our traditional customs.

Ma ahau e ki mai, e wareware ahau

Tell me & I will forget

Whakaahuatia mai, ka mahara ahau

Show me & I will remember

Engari, kia ura ahau, e mahara ahau

But involve me and I will understand

It was important to always remain true to who we were and continue the life lived at Hakikino with our people. For this reason, the site is used regularly for educational purposes and family gatherings, and the tourism aspect is only a small part of what we do at Hakikino. It has always been an important part because our mission is to further the understanding of our culture and ensure that Hakikino is protected and conserved for all people to enjoy.

And after the hard work, and the laying of the foundation, we have had visitors coming from all across the globe and enjoying in the sharing of our lives.

As the kaitiaki of Waimarama, we have worked to conserve the natural heritage of our ancestral lands, address environmental problems and reclaim our traditional knowledge. Most important to us has been the future and the continued life of the Hakikino Conservation Reserve and tourism. The Maori traditions enable this to flow as well.

It is customary that when an elder is ready to move on, then and only then does another step forward. Now that the next generation has taken on the mantle, we know that the sustainability of what has been created is secure.

The Nursery

Our overriding purpose is to return the voice to the forest. The owners of the farm facilitated the building and staffing of a nursery on site. The Nursery has been set up with the primary purpose of providing native plants for the conservation and restoration at the Hakikino Conservation Reserve. The Nursery sources seeds from the local Bush area and propagates those seeds for future planting. Approximately 50,000 plants have to date been planted around the base of Hakikino.

Outside contracts for seedlings are encouraged. The motivation for the Nursery is the protection of indigenous ecosystems on this Maori land.

The Eels

Eels are New Zealand’s biggest endemic fish, which means these species are found nowhere else in the world and they have lived in NZ for about 80 million years. They mature at about 30 years of age, and can live to be over 80 years old.

In autumn and winter, some of the mature adult eels living at Hakikino will swim 6,500 kilometres north into the Pacific Ocean near Tonga and Samoa to breed. Adults have never been known to return, so it is presumed they die at the spawning grounds.

The larvae float on the ocean surface and are swept along the ocean currents that return to New Zealand and they head upstream into the waterways throughout New Zealand. Many return to Hakikino where they will remain for twenty or thirty years before they set off on this incredible journey as their ancestors did.

Maori studied eels intensively to determine life cycles, ages, habitat and migration patterns. This knowledge helped them determine how many eels could be taken for food before depleting numbers to ensure they were maintained at a sustainable species level.

Eeling would occur at special times of the month and year according to a range of environmental indicators e.g. lunar cycles. Farming and ‘reseeding’ were common practices. This meant restocking waterways or holding eels in specially built enclosures. ‘Blind trenches’ were dug close to migration passages during the migrating season. This tricked the eel into thinking it was entering a normal stream. Once the trenches were filled with eel they were blocked off and the eels harvested.

The eels at the Hakikino reserve are not harvested. They are left to come and go of their own will and showcased as part of our unique eco-tours.

Environmental Sustainability and Responsible Eco-Tourism Measures – Kaitiakitanga

We are very conscious of the importance of ensuring that the Hakikino Conservation Reserve is managed in an environmentally sustainable and responsible way.

  • The Reserve protects more than 60 hectares (approximately 150 acres) of sacred land.
  • The farm livestock of sheep and cattle are excluded from the Reserve to ensure that the native tree seedlings can grow without being detrimentally affected by the livestock.
  • We have implemented a multi-year native tree planting programme. More than 100,000 native trees will be planted on the Reserve.
  • The seeds for these new native trees are eco-sourced to ensure that the new plantings will be consistent with the original vegetation for this area.
  • Our protected Reserve area includes a wetland and pond habitat as a safe home for the now endangered native long-fin eel. We are protecting these eels to allow them to breed and thereby help the species to survive.
  • We are re-establishing the native flaxes (harakeke), which were most important to early Maori as a source of strong fibre for clothing, sandals, mats, cordage, fishing nets, sails, rafts, its medicinal purposes, and the nectar, which was an important food for birds and a sweetener for food.
  • We source our water for the toilets and other cleaning requirements from a rain fed roof collection system.
  • The septic system for our toilets is a natural eco-friendly bio-decomposing system, which does not have any impact on local streams and waterways, and is used to water the native plantings.
  • Our cleaning products are eco-friendly and plant based, and our paper products are from recycled paper where possible.
  • We maintain a recycling system for plastic and paper containers and products.
  • We have used locally sourced bentonite and lime for the farm roads.
  • The use of car pooling for staff and buses for large groups help improve our transport and fossil fuel efficiency.
  • We use solar panels to generate the electricity needed on site.
  • We continuously work with our suppliers to reduce their packaging and other unnecessary energy inputs.
  • We regularly update our staff on the importance of their own contribution to sustainable environmental management.
  • We hold annual training programmes for our staff and our community about eco-responsibility and sustainability.
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