The 30th anniversary of the Tira Hoe Waka taking place this month has been described as a major milestone for Whanganui iwi.
This year's paddle started at Otoko Marae on Friday and is scheduled to stop at more than 12 different marae along the awa, says paddler Jay Rerekura.
“It’s a wānanga that connects us from the mountain to the sea. So at each stop you learn about how the last stop connects to the next,” says Rerekura.
Ash Patea says the anniversary is 'massive' for Whanganui iwi because it’s helped connect people from different parts of the river for generations.
Patea says prior to the beginning of Tira Hoe Waka in 1988, Whanganui River tribes and iwi would only stay in their own areas.
“So, Tira Hoe Waka 30 years ago was actually a movement. It was a sign that our people wanted a different type of unity in particular because of the collective desire of our people to claim our river bank, says Patea.
“The only way we could do that was to come together as one and so that’s what’s happened.”
At least 100 paddlers are involved in this years Tira Hoe Waka journey. Source: Leah Te Whata Facebook
The 30th has attracted the highest number of people ever involved, including at least 100 paddlers and 50 roadies traveling from as far as Australia to take part, says Patea.
This year’s journey also welcomed members of the Kingitanga, including the King Tuheitia’s daughter who celebrated her 21st birthday during the stop at Tawata Marae, says Patea.
Paddlers need to be at least 12 years old to take part. Jay Rerekura, 36, says he first tried out Tira Hoe Waka at the age of 13.
“Like a lot of kids that grew up on the river, once you hit 12 or 13 you were on there. It was just a lot of fun for us.”
He remembers the first time he was on the journey with one of his cousins, who hated using the 'long drop' to go to the toilet.
“The first six or seven days you’re basically out in the elements in the bush and a lot of that has no access by roads so you can’t go anywhere.
“So for six days my cousin didn’t use the long drop. By the last night we were at a place that had a long drop. He had to use it and he got over himself. But some of the stuff can be quite challenging.”
He says one of the best things about the Tira is that it teaches you a lot about yourself.
“There’s things you don’t know about yourself until you put yourself in those sorts of situations and, definitely, for a young person you quickly learn your limits. It’s challenging and fulfilling at the same time.”
Paddlers from as young as 12 years old can take part in Tira Hoe Waka. Source: Ash Patea Facebook.
During his years paddling on the Tira he travelled down in all sorts of waka.
“As technology has changed, the way that we can travel down the river has changed. There’s probably more resources available to us to be able to do things we couldn’t do back in the day.”
Patea says more funding has gone into the journey this year, covering four new fiberglass waka that were unveiled at Ngāpūwaiwaha Marae on Friday.
Patea says the paddlers will finish their journey on January 17th at Pūtiki marae followed by a celebratory anniversary ball the next day.