“His traces remain. His footprints are reflected in everything we see.” John Klaricich is 90 years old, but when he talks about his legendary ancestor Kupe, his eyes light up like a child’s. The farmer dedicated 20 years of his life to him – as a co-initiator of the cultural center Manea Footprints of Kupe 2020 in Hokianga.
“Our goal is for people to understand where we Maori come from and who we are,” says Matua John, as everyone calls him. The result is one of two exciting new cultural sites in Northland, the northernmost part of Aotearoa, as the Maori call New Zealand.
Nowhere else can the culture of the Maori be experienced as intensively as here. But so far only a few tourists have found their way into the region. Most head straight to the tip of Northland, mystical Cape Reinga, or to the seaside town of Paihia to explore the Bay of Islands by boat.
There is hardly any time for the area in between, which stretches from Whangarei to Kerikeri in the east and Hokianga in the west. There is a lot to discover here – in addition to fabulous nature, there is also the famous toilet by Friedensreich Hundertwasser. The Austrian artist loved the region.
Northland is considered the cradle of the island nation. About 1000 years ago, the Polynesian seafarer Kupe is said to have landed here, in the stormy port of Hokianga. “He ao, he ao, he aotea, he Aotearoa!” his wife Kuramarōtini called out when she saw the islands and gave them the name Aotearoa (“Long White Cloud”), according to legend.
A tree plays an important role for the Maori
At Manea Footprints of Kupe, Manuhiri (visitors) can relive the mythology of the islanders’ Polynesian ancestors through all their senses. In the 4D theater, a stiff breeze blows in your face, just like seafarers know from the ocean; and you can feel the tentacles of the octopus that Kupe is said to have hunted. But the cultural center is more than a state-of-the-art spectacle. It offers a memorable introduction to the Maori worldthe traditional world of the Maori with Waiata (chants), Tikanga (customs) and Whakairo (carvings).
The legendary Atua (gods and spirits) play an important role in this. The embodiment of a god is nearby, only 23 kilometers from the cultural center: Tane Mahuta. Quiet, mighty and at 51 meters high, the tallest of New Zealand’s kauri trees can hardly be overlooked in the Waipoua Forest.
The tree is said to be around 2000 years old. The forest god he embodies plays a crucial role in the creation of the world: it was Tane who freed himself and his siblings from the eternal embrace of his parents – Ranginui (Sky Father) and Papatuanuku (Mother Earth) – and separated the two.
This legend of the origin of the world is just one of many that visitors will hear at Manea Footprints of Kupe. “We wanted to connect them with the place and its history,” says Klaricich, who is separated from the mythical ancestor by around 32 generations, “at the same time we wanted to arouse curiosity.” About Kupe, whose traces are scattered all over New Zealand, and about the “cross-generational echo his footprints.”
Relaxation in healing thermal water
Neither is limited to cultural centers and museums in Northland. You can also immerse yourself in rich Maori culture at the Ngawha Springs near the village of Kaikohe, around fifty minutes’ drive from Manea Footprints of Kupe. In the truest sense of the word. Doctor, Salomon or bulldog: the 16 healing thermal pools not only have different names. They differ in temperature, mineral content, water color and healing power.
Like everything in te ao Maori, they also have their own whakapapa (doctrine of kinship and relationships, genealogy): they come from the same source but flow through individual channels. Since the 16th century, the hot pools associated with the volcanoes of Hawaii have been part of the cultural heritage of the people. Its healing power for physical ailments such as arthritis is scientifically proven.
However, you have to feel its beneficial wairua (spirit or soul): the locals believe that the water is only part of the medicine. At least as important is what happens in the water. For example, the relaxed get-together of old and young in the pool, the so-called Whanaungatanga (maintaining relationships) – without being distracted by mobile phones, TV or other stress factors.
The local Maori have made it their mission to preserve the pristine thermal water so that future generations can benefit from it. This Kaitiakitanga, the protection of nature and Mother Earth, runs in the blood of many Kiwi, as New Zealanders call themselves.
Friedensreich Hundertwasser lived on the North Island
There is much to preserve and admire in Northland. For example the Poor Knights Islands with their fascinating underwater world. The huge sea cave Rikoriko. The white-sand beaches along the Tutukaka Coast, voted one of the top coastal destinations in the world by National Geographic Traveler.
The Ārai Te Uru Reserve, with its epic view of Hokianga Harbour, whose entrance is guarded by taniwha (sea monsters) according to Maori legends. The mighty basalt rocks of the Wairere Boulders, which can be admired while hiking, biking and kayaking through the reserve. The mighty Puketi forest near the town of Kerikeri. The list goes on.
It is understandable that the environmental activist and artist Friedensreich Hundertwasser fell in love with the so-called “winterless north”. He spent the last 25 years of his life on his 370-acre property in Kaurinui, an hour north of the city of Whangarei.
Up to now, only a small place reminded of his work in New Zealand: “It’s just a toilet, but that shows that even small things can bring beauty into life,” were Hundertwasser’s words of welcome at the inauguration of the public toilet in Kawakawa. It has become the most photographed locus in the country, attracting up to 300,000 visitors to the area each year.
A contemporary Maori gallery in New Zealand
The Hundertwasser Art Center in Whangarei, the second new cultural venue in the region, is intended to attract a few more. Even before it opened in February 2022, the museum, with its 90 square meter gold dome, colorful tiles and crooked walls, was considered the city’s new landmark.
“At 30 years old, it’s the longest project ever,” says Pam Tothill, who was a friend of the artist. She is convinced that the effort and the costs of almost 20 million euros have paid off: “It is the last authentic Hundertwasser house and the first in the southern hemisphere.”
In accordance with the wishes of the artist, in addition to his paintings, graphics, art prints, posters and photographs, art treasures from the indigenous culture are also on display – in the connected Wairau (“hundred waters”) Maori Art Gallery. “It’s the only contemporary Maori art gallery in New Zealand and the world,” says Tothill proudly. Here you can follow in the footsteps of the mythical Maori ancestor Kupe in Northland, now to the present day.
Tips and information:
Getting there: Flight to Auckland, for example, with Singapore Airlines from Frankfurt or Munich via Singapore or with Emirates from Frankfurt, Munich, Düsseldorf or Hamburg via Dubai.
Entry: As of September 12, 2022, no vaccination certificate or corona test is required to enter New Zealand. However, travelers are advised to confirm this with the relevant airline if they have different rules. It is also mandatory to fill out the “New Zealand Traveler Declaration” online before departure (travellerdeclaration.govt.nz). Current information from the Federal Foreign Office (auswaertiges-amt.de)
Accomodation: A special experience is luxury tents in “Matapouri Glamping” (matapouriglamping.co.nz), the safari tent with a dream view is available from 355 New Zealand dollars (around 205 euros) per night for two people. “Kerikeri Glamping” (kerikeriglamping.nz) is a bit cheaper, but just as recommendable. Glamor camping for two costs from 190 New Zealand dollars (about 110 euros) per night. Five themed tents – from Greek island to Zen – are available for adults, kitchen, bathroom and toilet are shared.
Highlights in Northland: art gallery Hundertwasser Art Center & Wairau Maori Art Gallery (hundredwasserartcentre.co.nz); Manea Footprints of Kupe cultural center (maneafootprints.co.nz); Te Ahurea Living Experience outdoor museum and museum village (teahurea.co.nz); Kiwi North, a culture and nature museum with park and kiwi aviary (kiwinorth.co.nz); Nature walks with Footprints of Waipoua (footprintswaipoua.co.nz) and Adventure Puketi (adventurepuketi.co.nz); Hike, bike and kayak at Wairere Boulders Nature Reserve (wairereboulders.co.nz); by electric boat through the waters of Kerikeri (electricboat.co.nz).
Information: northlandnz.com; newzealand.com; airnewzealand.co.nz/destination-northland
Participation in the trip was supported by Northland Inc, Hundertwasser Art Center & Wairau Maori Art Gallery, Manea Footprints of Kupe. You can find our standards of transparency and journalistic independence at axelspringer.com/de/Werte/downloads.