Paddle in Waka Tāngata highlight at Waikato River Festival

By Mānia Clarke-Mamanu

The general public got to traverse the Waikato River in Hamilton on a traditional transportation vessel and learn historical stories along the waterway. The rare opportunity was part of this month's Waikato River Festival.

Travelling the Waikato River like the tribal ancestors years before.

“This is for everyone,” said vessel guide Noenoe Kerr.

“Māori or non-Māori to see the benefits of tradition Māori canoe travel. To see its positive aspects and gain Māori knowledge about the Waikato region and Waikato river.”

“We want people to engage with the river,” said festival director Lee Ann Muntz.

“Let's take care of our ancestral waters to connect with it. It's also about establishing relationships with everyone and the river.”

Festivities for the river began earlier this month with prayer being offered at the river's source at Waikato Iti near Tūrangi. This is the second year for the event.       

“We have Māori art stalls, interactive weaving, poi making, Māori weaponry and carving workshops as well as traditional performances,” said Muntz

“Most of the exponents here have genealogical ties to the Tainui canoe.”

“One of the prominent proverbs I know for the Waikato River is - At every bend is a taniwha. Waikato of a hundred taniwha,” said Kerr.

“Māori view liken taniwha to guardians. In the past, at every bend of the river was a fortress belonging to the subtribes of Waikato. The taniwha or guardians of those Pa were the chiefs.”

A concert will be held at Port Waikato at the end of the month to close celebrations.