In the beginning, there was darkness. Papatuanuku, the Earth Mother, cuddled up against Rangiori, the Sky Father, and in between them lived there many children. It was then that Tanemahuta, the strongest among their offspring, decided to separate his mother from his father and bring light into the world. Rangiori and Papatuanuku, however, loved each other so much, that they cried and cried and cried, and their tears filled the rivers and the streams of this new world. In order to stop his parents from crying, Tanemahuta went to clad his mother Papatuanuku in all the beauty of the forests, the flowers and the birds, thus becoming the God of the Forest. …
Now sprinkle that story of Maori Creation with a pair of sparkling eyes, a vivid voice, lots of gesticulating arms & body language, and you will get to meet wonderful Ngahuia Tahau, my dear friend & Maori guide, to welcome you and draw you into her world of wonders: The many stories that this extraordinary people is able to tell and share with its visitors. I just find myself forever mesmerised by the beauty of Maori songs & stories, especially where they relate to interpreting the very land we see and walk on as we travel around Aotearoa New Zealand.
Ngahuia, who runs her own eco-cultural Maori tourism business, “A Fusion of Maori Culture & Education” and who is really clever at designing apps for Maori tourism businesses (!) and I have met all those years ago when I first travelled, lived and worked in her beautiful home country. Ever since taking my entire family out on a storytelling visit of her people, including us weaving with Harakeke, enjoying a traditional Hangi earth oven meal as well as listening to lots and lots of nature-based stories, we have truly and dearly become friends. You may therefore only imagine the happiness of us being reunited again after all these years, sharing an almost sister-like bond right from the start: “It is all in the mindset”, Ngahuia would laugh and look at me with her big eyes, good-natured humour and sparkling personality. And also: “I am guiding on the Tongariro Crossing now! Come with me on this unique day walk, Elena!”
Let me tell you why the Tongariro Crossing is so much more worthwhile with a cultural interpreter & personal storytelling guide such as Ngahuia.
Being on the Tongariro Crossing with literally hundreds of other people around you, and especially after walking in the solitary beauty of my recent Heaphy Track adventure, you need to find ways to still make it special. One such way to get more out of this walk is from having all these valuable pieces of information & interpretation of what you see and experience. And it is not just that. By the end of the day, you feel like you have actually made a first Maori friend in this land. Ngahuia is such a force of nature. She will just win your heart and conquer your mind in no time, filling it with all the beauty and intricate storytelling of her own people.
I am forever fascinated. “Uuuauuu”, is what I keep saying to Ngahuia, tugging at her sleeve and stopping mid-sentence in the conversation we are having. “Look at that !!!” She smiles in an almost casual way, yet I can see that the natural beauty of this place, unlike anywhere else on this planet Earth, also gets to here time and time again. “Let me tell you another story”, is what she would then say, her eyes glistening with the spirit of times immemorial & literally tons of stories to be told about her people. The Great Migration. The seven wakas, or canoes, that the Maori people first came on and settled in Aotearoa New Zealand. Their descendants, the tribes, the different protocols, the hapu and the iwi and all the mana, or esteem, that went into their creation and traditions over time. The stories on the mountain gods and their struggles, mirrored in the earthquakes and volcanic eruptions that to Maori people have helped shaping their belief system and allowed them to make sense of what they saw and felt in the landscape surrounding them. It really is most fascinating. I recommend all of you to go and live & listen to the eternal wisdom of this people here.
Check out even more stunning nature photography from Tongariro National Park here:
Disclaimer: I have been invited by Ngahuia to join her on the guided Tongariro Crossing in New Zealand’s Tongariro National Park. All opinions are my own.