Q & A WITH THE GUARDIAN & TOUR GUIDE OF MAUNGA HIKURANGI
BENEATH A STAR-LIT SKY IN RUATORIA AT THE BASE OF MAUNGA HIKURANGI, A WELL-LOVED LOCAL BEGINS HIS DAY.
What’s it like to be able to share this sacred mountain to so many people?
Each time I take a tour up the mountain, it’s like sharing a piece of me. I remember walking to school as a kid and our maunga (mountain), Maunga Hikurangi was the first thing I would see every morning. And when I grew up, travelled around NZ and the world, it’s the first thing I always looked for when I returned. This maunga always welcomes me home. It’s a part of who I am and always will be so being given the opportunity to share what I grew up with is so humbling and amazing.
How many times have you been up Maunga Hikurangi?
In total, I’ve been up Maunga Hikurangi hundreds of times and have reached the summit six times now.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
My favourite part of my job is the people I get to meet, sharing and exchanging stories with them. I like hearing about where they’re from, what they do, where in the world they have travelled and their favourite foods from their countries – this is me thinking with me puku (tummy)! After working over 15 years in Finance and looking at numbers and spreadsheets all day, I’d say working on our maunga is the best office in the world.
Does the novelty of your role ever wear off?
No, absolutely not. I love it every time I go up there. On every visit, there’s always something different to see. The sun rises from different angles depending on the time of the year and the cloud formations are ever-changing. I love the clear night skies and the amazing views of the stars, and the beautiful light that precedes the dawning of each new day – it’s incredible each and every time.
What’s your morning routine like?
For the Sunrise Tour, I begin my day at 3 am during the summer and in the winter, I get up at 4 am. I do most of the prep work the night before – reviewing safety equipment, vehicles and gear checks. The last thing I do before I head out is fill the thermos and flasks so that our guests have a hot drink at the top. And I always have a cup of coffee for that caffeine boost to kick in ahead of meeting our guests.
Which of the nine Māori carvings do you connect with the most and why?
Māui – because we, all whakapapa, descend back to him.
From which countries have you hosted visitors from?
So far, a majority of our guests have been from Germany, Australia and the Netherlands. We’ve also had visitors from the UK, the US, South America, France, Spain, Australia, China, Japan and a doctor from Egypt. We’ve also had loads of New Zealanders visit and our own Ngati Porou whānau (families) wanting to connect with their maunga.
Who’s been your youngest visitor to date and your eldest?
We had a baby with a guest some time ago and our eldest visitor was 81. She had visited the East Cape Lighthouse but really wanted to do our tour. We also had a request from a 90-year old but unfortunately, the weather didn’t go our way that day.
Have you had any spiritual moments on the mountain?
I was up there doing some maintenance work on a clear day and all of a sudden, the clouds came in and swirled around the carvings, and then suddenly parted again. It was magical. Another really special and spiritual moment for me was the visit of Tenzing Norgay’s whānau (family) as part of The Talking Mountains of the World initiative and celebration of the 2019 International Year of Indigenous Languages. It was a real honour having them on our maunga - they presented us with prayer flags to bless the path up our maunga.
What do your visitors enjoy the most about the experience?
For the Te Urunga-Tu Sunrise Tour, it’s that special moment, about half an hour before sunrise. It’s the beautiful morning glow of dawn that we call “Te Urunga o te Ra” and then of course the sunrise.
For the Haramai Day Tour, it’s being on our sacred maunga and hearing our stories. Many visitors love the isolation and the exclusivity of the tour, being on the maunga with just nine other people at max, it’s really something special.