Hononga ki te Maunga - Maunga making natural connections

Tiki Toa Story

A ‘Tiki Toa’ of Taranaki’s natural environment is exciting school students who are switching onto the role the maunga can play in their lives. They have walked tracks, heard stories of significant sites, identified what is a pest and what is not – and learnt that you don’t need to look like a person in a Kathmandu advert to appreciate the outdoors.

Tiki Toa is the name of the joint Tui Ora and Department of Conservation (DOC) project. Project Manager Hinenui Wano-Bryant explains the name’s background: “It came out of our kōrero with young people. We talked about going up the maunga and what we would do and see. We explained it as a tour and someone said like a “tiki toa”, which was a nice play on words. It is part of how they see the mountain. The word toa means to be strong, to be a champion of, a warrior, so it’s a powerful thing.”


Discussions started last August following collaboration with DOC, the Next Foundation and high profile mental health advocate John Kirwan. A workshop at the Ngāti Ruanui-owned Mountain House in December with students from Te Pihipihinga Kakano Mai ī Rangiātea was the first step.  Students discussed what good health meant for them. Relationships were key – having good friendships and whānau involved in their lives – as was the natural environment.

“They described how they felt better on the maunga. It looks different, smells different, sounds different – away from the hustle and bustle; it helps them relax and there is lots of things to do, or experiences to have, in the natural environment,” says Hinenui.

A second group of students from Devon Intermediate came on board, the pilot programme got underway and now 18 youngsters aged 10-12 years are young explorers – with the aid of DOC guides, Hinenui and a videographer.


Some but not all are Māori, and they are a diverse bunch selected by the schools as students most likely to benefit from the experience.

So far they have visited Puniho Pa, walked the Puniho track (a good three-hour hike) and to Dawson Falls. Along the way they learn about sites significant to different iwi – like why Te Rere o Kapuni and Kapuni River is sacred, (it is used to perform blessings and ceremonies) and what is Rauhoto Tapairu (the rock that guided Taranaki from central plateau).

A trip to the Manganui ski field is planned to see the snow. It is a learning experience for everyone, both adults and the kids. For example, the students thought they needed expensive gear to be proper trampers, but a trip to the Warehouse secured them good hiking shoes.

“If you don’t think you look like the people in a Kathmandu ad of course you think ‘we don’t go up the mountain,” says Hinenui.

Whānau were involved right from the start and there are hopes their interest will grow. The programme will undergo an initial evaluation by researchers from the Health Promotion Agency (HPA).

In the meantime, Hinenui is positive about responses to date: “This is a nature resource we have on our doorstep and we’re giving young people a different experience that they don’t normally get.

“Some really respond to the freedom and the physicality of the outdoors. They like learning by doing, and this helps them release that energy in an outside classroom.

“Our intention is to do this for a year so that by the end they will have developed appreciation, confidence and they will know what they need to go up there independently, with their own families.”


*Others involved in the project are Markham Grey, the Kaitiaki Taiohi at Tui Ora, Jane Dobson DOC Community Partnerships Ranger and Brandon Kingi DOC ranger

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