According to Maori lore, the great Polynesian explorer Kupe was the first person to reach the then-uninhabited lands that would become known to the Maori as Aotearoa and, eventually, to the rest of the world as New Zealand. More than 1,000 years later, the multimillion-dollar cultural center Manea Footprints of Kupe opens this month near the spot where Kupe’s canoe allegedly came ashore.
The area is now known as Hokianga and is sacred to the Maori. Yet despite its cultural inheritance, Hokianga’s isolation at the remote top of the North Island, combined with urban migration, has made it one of the country’s more depressed regions, even with its native kauri forests and South Pacific waters that glow like sapphires beside hills as bright as limes. Manea, therefore, has two objectives: to showcase Kupe’s discovery and the millennium’s worth of Maori history that followed via interactive displays and performance art, including traditional story-telling and singing on grounds lined with Maori carvings, and to provide an economic boost to the region. One hundred percent of the institute’s employees will be local Maori, all of whom can claim direct lineage to Kupe himself. “We know travelers want experiences where they can interact with and talk to Maori people, that help support the communities,” says Kiri Atkinson-Crean of NZ Māori Tourism.
This is one reason her department plans to roll out Indigenous-focused itineraries throughout the North Island. Designed in alignment with the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals to promote long-term community development, these three-to-five-day trips will take visitors through important places, including Manea, the Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland hot pools, and Maori temples, known as maraes. They were meant to kick off in 2020, but when COVID-19 closed New Zealand’s borders, the launch was paused. Atkinson-Crean sees this extra time as an asset. “It’s given us the ability to make things more tailored,” she says. “When our international travelers do return, they will feel more connected to the product than ever.”
This article appeared in the December 2020 issue of Condé Nast Traveler. Subscribe to the magazine here.
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