Māori nurses, haka performers, te reo speakers make up a star line up for Miss NZ

By Jessica Tyson
Miss NZ 2013 Māori contestants. Top row L-R are Ngahuia Hona-Paku, Kiara O’Leary, Jasmine Clarke. Bottom row L-R are Zaley Tamihana-Brown, Talia Rhind and Myra-mei Clarke.

Miss New Zealand 2023 has launched this week and six of the 19 contestants are Māori and passionate about showcasing their culture.

Over the next five months, the contestants will take part in dance and modeling rehearsals, self-development workshops, charitable events, a marae stay and more to find the next Miss New Zealand.

The six who are Māori include Jasmine Clarke, Kiara O’Leary, Myra-mei Clarke, Ngahuia Hona-Paku, Talia Rhind and Zaley Tamihana-Brown.

Jasmine Clarke. Photo credit: David Rowe Photography

Jasmine Clarke - Te Arawa Ngāraranui, Ngāti Whakaue

Jasmine Clarke, 17, is one of the youngest contestants in the competition and holds the title of Miss Teen Rotorua 2022.

“I entered Miss New Zealand because pageantry is a new addition toward my passions and I hope to influence other wāhine and spread the words 'take all opportunities that are in front of you' because to me, life is too short to be waiting on the right chances.”

Clarke has just completed secondary school and has future goals to study cosmetology, business and rongoā to create her own Maori-based beauty brand. She plans to create beauty products that bring health benefits, relaxation and skin improvements naturally using Māori medicine.

“I hope to use my current titles to inspire young Māori that anything is possible if you put hard mahi and time into your goals.”

Clarke is also passionate about te reo Māori and Māori history.

“I believe that te reo and Māori history should be more recognised within schools and our tourists so that our younger generations are aware and proud of where they come from,” she says.

“Why I believe wāhine Māori make amazing beauty queens is because we all have our own stories to share. We all may be Māori but each wahine carries their own mana, hauora and mauri ora that makes each of us special from within.”

Kiara O’Leary. Photo source: Pixelcolorsnz

Kiara O’Leary – Te Arawa and Ngāpuhi Ngāti Whakaue

Kiara O’Leary’s first beauty pageant she entered was Miss Rotorua in 2019 where she placed first runner-up. She also competed in Miss Supermodel New Zealand 2023 and won Best in Evening Gown.

"I was offered the international position title to go to Egypt at the beginning of this year but I decided to allow another contestant the amazing opportunity so I could focus on my journey with Miss New Zealand."

O’Leary studied tourism and travelled to America in 2020 as part of her internship to work as a Disneyland attractions and activity cast member. She’s since been working with photographers for photoshoots, brands and local New Zealand businesses while being a full-time dental assistant.

O'Leary is proud to showcase her Māori culture in Miss New Zealand.

"I’ve learned different aspects of Māori culture and those different aspects have helped shape and guide who I am and how I identify as Māori."

Growing up, O'Leary was bullied by other children who told her she was "too white to be Māori".

"I want to inspire other young Māori that people's opinions are only their own. Never let that cloud your own headset and mentality...I love where I come from. I wish I learned to love and appreciate it earlier In life, but that’s how and why I inspire young wāhine and tāne to be themselves and have their own mindsets," she says.

“I’m ecstatic to be going into Miss New Zealand 2023 and I look forward to what the New Year will bring for us all.”

Myra-mei Clarke. Source: Miss New Zealand LTD

Myra-mei Clarke – Waikato, Ngāti Hine

Myra-mei Clarke is in her final year of secondary school and is passionate about performing arts, dance, fashion and modelling.

Clarke says she is family-orientated and enjoys uplifting and empowering women to reach their full potential.

“I entered Miss New Zealand because I am passionate for women empowerment and encouraging māiatanga for wāhine Māori. I also entered to build connections and relationships in the Industry,” she says.

Clarke is also proud to be a wahine Māori and grew up speaking fluent te reo Māori.

“I love embracing the culture,” she says.

Her goal in the future is to obtain a scholarship for a dance or modelling school overseas or in New Zealand.

“I think a wahine Māori would make an amazing beauty queen because she has the true indention beauty which showcases the native culture of Aotearoa.”

Ngahuia Hona-Paku. Source: Facebook

Ngahuia Hona-Paku – Te Arawa whānui, Ngāti Kahungunu

Ngahuia Hona-Paku last competed in the national beauty competition Miss Earth New Zealand 2021 where she placed second runner-up and was crowned the title of Miss Air New Zealand 2021.

She was born and raised in the living village of Whakarewarewa, Rotorua. Growing up, she was a penny diver and also worked as a concert performer. Now she works as a production manager and office manager for communications and marketing company Arataua Media.

“Being Māori is powerful. Not only do I carry myself, but I also carry my hapū and iwi and, for me, that is strength, that is power. Whakapapa has played a huge part in this area, being able to connect one’s self to people, land, water and knowing who you are.”

Hona-Paku says taking part in Miss New Zealand has opened a platform for her to share her story.

“In the hope it resonates with other rangatahi and encourages them to try new things and navigate new spaces. Just as our tūpuna navigated the stars, I try to navigate my place in this kaupapa.”

In her spare time, Hona-Paku loves to hike, exercise and do kapa haka. She will also be performing in Te Matatini in February.  

Talia Rhind. Source: Miss NZ LTD

Talia Rhind – Ngāi Te Rangi, Tainui

Talia Rhind, 23, works as a registered nurse in the neonatal intensive care unit at Auckland’s Starship Hospital and as a part-time swim instructor.

“As a Māori registered nurse, I have a passion for making sure our Māori whānau are feeling supported and that they have a voice around their pēpē’s care.”

Miss New Zealand is her first pageant where she hopes to inspire others helping people in her community.

“As Māori we have such a rich culture and traditions that as beauty queens we have the opportunity to share on a national and global stage,” she says.

“I hope that young Māori can see us and be inspired to make a difference in their communities. I hope that young Māori can see that even though you may not grow up in the culture or look a certain way, it doesn’t make you any less Māori.”

In her spare time, Rhind enjoys theatre, cooking and travel. She’s also learning te reo Māori, sign language and French.

Zaley Tamihana-Brown. Source: Facebook

Zaley Tamihana-Brown - Ngā Ariki Kaipūtahi, Te Aitanga-a-Māhaki, Rongowhakaata, Ngāi Tāmanuhiri, Ngāti Porou, Ngāi Tūhoe

Zaley Tamihana-Brown lives in Gisborne and is in her final year studying for a Bachelor of Nursing. She recently entered Miss Asia Pacific International New Zealand and represented Aotearoa at Miss Scuba International in Malaysia.

“Growing up, I was very shy and quiet, and participating in pageants has helped me gain confidence. My goal in Miss New Zealand is to build on the confidence that I have already gained from participating in other pageants.”

Tamihana-Brown grew up on a farm and enjoys being around animals and going horse riding. She also enjoys diving and eating kaimoana, even earning her certification in open-water diving. When she was younger, she used to compete at waka ama nationals and now paddles for fun. She says her proudest achievement is her education, having persevered through a lot of adversity in her youth.

“As a kid, I was subjected to many racial stereotypes and was often told that because I am Māori I probably wouldn’t finish school, become pregnant, or end up on the benefit. But I was determined to prove, not to others but to myself, that I am capable of achieving anything. I hope that rangatahi will see my journey and be encouraged to follow in my footsteps.”

She says she’s proud to be Māori because it has given her a sense of connectedness and belonging, “a sense of knowing that my tīpuna are guiding me, helping me, and walking alongside me as I navigate my way through life.”

“I am grateful to have been handed down knowledge of Māori tikanga and my whakapapa which keeps me grounded and gives me my sense of identity.”

This year the contestants will raise funds for the charitable trust Brave, which works towards sexual harm prevention and supporting those affected.

The Miss New Zealand 2023 final will be held in June in Auckland where the winner will go on to represent Aotearoa at Miss International in Japan.