School kids participate in a Waitakere hīkoi.
Image: Supplied. Additional Design: Archi Banal.

ĀteaDecember 11, 2023

Walking and talking: The Waitakere hīkoi teaching locals about the place they live

School kids participate in a Waitakere hīkoi.
Image: Supplied. Additional Design: Archi Banal.

A West Auckland iwi is sharing its stories with other Waitakere community members through a unique programme of guided walks.

At the meeting point of the Whau awa and Te Waitematā in Waitakere sits Harbourview Park, a taonga of te taiao near the heart of our nation’s biggest city. In this Te Atatū park, tī kōuka, toitoi, harakeke and mānuka are plentiful, as are manu and bugs, lots and lots of bugs. When I and a group of West Auckland locals went on a hīkoi through Harbourview Park, a couple of them spent a lot of time swatting sand flies away from their faces.

Although most people know this space as Harbourview Park, its ingoa Māori is Orangihina. Mike Tipene, rautaki Māori for Healthy Families Waitākere, explains that most visitors assume Orangihina is a translation of “harbourview” since the two names sit side by side on maps and signs. But the ingoa actually means “of Rangihina”, referring to a significant tupuna wahine of Waitakere iwi Te Kawerau a Maki. But stories about Rangihina, her uri and whanaunga, plus their rohe, were traditionally inaccessible to outsiders. “Many of the local stories, histories and also understandings of place names can’t come from libraries or Google,” says Tipene. Instead, “they are in the hearts and minds of our old people.” 

Mike Tipene at Orangihina (Harbourview) Park.
Mike Tipene at Orangihina (Harbourview) Park. (Image: Supplied)

Recently, Te Kawerau a Maki kaumātua decided to share some of their pūrakau with Waitakere residents to inspire deeper connections to local places like Orangihina Park. The iwi in partnership with Healthy Families Waitakere – a Sport Waitakere subsidiary aiming to prevent health issues and reduce health inequity – have developed Active Whakapapa, hīkoi that teach West Auckland residents about te taiao, local history and whakapapa. Both sides of the partnership need each other, as the iwi are the knowledge holders, but they don’t have the capacity to share their stories at scale, which is where Healthy Families Waitakere comes in. Tipene says the project allows the iwi to put their aspirations into practice, which Tyler Taua-Gordon, kaimahi manuhiri for the Waitakere iwi, says “boosts our mana.”

The current hīkoi sites are Orangihina and Henderson parks, and a trek along the Whau will eventually be added. Across the two active sites the Active Whakapapa team can run lots of hīkoi in short amounts of time, for example, in June 2022 they ran 18 over the course of the month. Much like a museum tour, participants use bluetooth headphones to learn about te taiao and Te Kawerau a Maki as they walk.

It’s “for tamariki, school kids, all the way up to corporates,” says Taua-Gordon. (So far only schools and businesses can participate; random members of the public can’t just turn up to join in). So far 1,700 ākonga have participated in an Active Whakapapa hīkoi – with many more in the queue to participate. Offering this service to West Auckland schools allows them to engage with the new history curriculum which brings local history to the fore outside the classroom. More broadly, the hīkoi aim to inspire attendees to go out and learn more about Waitakere, its mana whenua and its environment, even after the hīkoi ends. 

Ākonga from Henderson North Primary on a hīkoi at Henderson Park.
Ākonga from Henderson North Primary on a hīkoi at Henderson Park. (Image: Supplied)

I attended one of these hīkoi at Orangihina Park, which turned out to be one of the most beautiful, meditative, mindful and therapeutic things I have done all year – well worth the sunburn. At the start of the audio file, we were encouraged to look around at te taiao and feel the elements, touch the plants or even get grounded by walking barefoot, if you’re so inclined. It was terrific to physically connect with Papatūānuku while the audio taught me more about her taonga. The roughly two hour hīkoi felt like a superior way to learn than staring at a screen or being lectured inside a classroom. 

Although the hīkoi groups usually cater for 50-100 participants, my group was much smaller, only about half a dozen of us. Part of our group were rangatahi on the first day of their Te Pukenga Nui internship with Te Kawerau a Maki and Healthy Families Waitakere, coming to the hīkoi straight after their mihi whakatau. Taua-Gordon explains that the internship aims to build the youths’ leadership and competence to the point where they can lead the hīkoi themselves. He hopes this introduction to taiao mahi prompts the rangatahi to become “pillars (of knowledge) for their whānau and friends”. Maybe the interns will even learn to live with all the bugs over time too.

A shot from a Ranui Primary hīkoi at Orangihina.
A shot from a Ranui Primary hīkoi at Orangihina. (Image: Supplied)

When asked why they’re participating in Te Pukenga Nui, multiple interns mentioned something along the lines of keeping Te Kawerau a Maki stories alive. Tipene says the interns are integral to the future of Active Whakapapa because it needs more kaimahi. Current demand from local businesses and schools exceeds what the existing workforce can supply. “Schools are on a waiting list to do this,” Tipene says, “so to schools, we’re saying taihoa, we’re trying to build capacity” through the internship. The hope is that the interns form the foundation of a Te Kawerau a Maki workforce since Healthy Families Waitakere’s bigger goal “is to give Active Whakapapa in its entirety back to them (TKAM) as a koha to do with as they want,” Tipene says. 

He outlines another hope of the programme: “Sharing this local mātauranga to help people feel more connected to place, space, whenua and te taiao, as well as gaining a deeper connection to each other.” Taua-Gordon echoes similar sentiments, saying Active Whakapapa “gets people closer to the narrative of the whenua” in the hopes of “implementing the lessons from these stories in their own ao.” 

To get your business or school on the waitlist for an Active Whakapapa hīkoi or to offer financial support for this growing project, email 

This is Public Interest Journalism supported by NZ On Air.

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