Tapuwae Leave Only Footsteps is a new Whakaata Māori tourism show which shakes up a stale TV genre by centring the indigenous perspective.
I enjoy lots of TV: cooking shows, sports, documentaries, renovations, drama or the news – but I have always stayed away from tourism shows. I find them hard to watch because they’re often cheesy, corny and somehow make something as exciting as travel feel boring. So I was pleasantly surprised when I loved the new Whakaata Māori tourism show, Tapuwae Leave Only Footprints.
The 10-part series, premiering at 7.30pm on December 5, follows host Pio Terei as he travels around Aotearoa and Hawai’i, meeting indigenous tourism operators. His bubbly, cheeky, funny and warm personality keeps you entertained while the camera shows some of the most beautiful vistas in each country. Although English is mainly spoken, when Terei speaks te reo Māori, it is clear enough that a non-fluent speaker like myself can understand.
Tapuwae provides a fresh take on the travel genre by centring the indigenous perspective within a sector that usually ignores or sells it inappropriately and incorrectly. Although it’s billed as a tourism show, Tapuwae is much more. The show explores how tourism can enable indigenous peoples to extend manaakitanga to visitors, as well as offering advice for those visiting for the first time. Terei points out in episode two that “you’re not just a tourist, you’re manuhiri” – meaning visitors should adhere to local tikanga. Later in that episode, while visiting Whakarewarewa geothermal park, a kuia affectionately known as Nan explains, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.”
Alongside diving into manuhiri obligations, Tapuwae also covers how tourism can enable indigenous people to teach tourists about kaitiakitanga. The sustainability angle contextualises the show’s full name – Tapuwae Leave Only Footprints – referring to travel that doesn’t pollute the destination.
In the final episode, Terei chats with John de Fries, boss of the Hawai’i Tourism Authority. De Fries likens tourism to an awa, “and if you don’t manage the flow, it can be destructive.” But he adds that channelling its course towards somewhere meaningful will make te taiao healthier and more resilient – alongside enabling the people of the land to flourish today and for generations to come. De Fries elaborates that he wants Hawai’i tourism to not have “an adverse impact on the land, the natural resources, and more importantly, the spirit of our people”.
In that same episode, Terei meets Joe Harawira from Tiaki NZ. While the pair discuss de Fries’ tourism approach, Harawira returns the kōrero to manaakitanga. He says tāngata whenua are responsible for educating manuhiri how to enjoy the natural beauty of Aotearoa in a tika way. Harawira explains that Māori must “give our visitors a sense of manaaki, being looked after” to ensure they are respectful manuhiri.
How can indigenous people appropriately educate manuhiri, though? In the final episode, Luka Kanaka’ole from the Edith Kanaka’ole Foundation provides his take. He says indigenous people must discuss their environment and its sacred spaces with authentic, culturally accurate and rich information to get tourists on board.
What also comes across clearly in Tapuwae is that indigenous tourism is therapeutic. In episode three, Terei meets Nohea Kahaulelio from Aloha Surfing Ohana. Kahaulelio explains how her mahi is therapeutic, saying, “I come into the water to get away from my responsibilities on land and at home.” Later in that episode, Terei heads to the Taonga by Timoti pounamu workshop in Whakatu. Terei asks Timoti Moran if his mahi is good for his wairua. Moran reckons it is, and with tears streaming down his face, he explains that every pounamu he works with fills his wairua with joy.
Over its 10 episodes, Tapuwae Leave Only Footsteps promotes a kind of tourism that enables visitors to connect with indigenous cultures deeply. Manaaki is extended to manuhiri to teach them about kaitiakitanga and how to be a respectful tourist. In de Fries’ words, when this approach to tourism becomes widespread, “then the future looks bright, and I’ve got to wear my shades.”
Tapuwae Leave Only Footprints will air on Whakaata Māori on Tuesdays from December 5 until the season is over. The show is available on Māori+ now.
This is Public Interest Journalism supported by NZ On Air.