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Before the intrepid voyager Kupe returned to Hawaiki (after having named and circumnavigated Aotearoa), he established the sacred pathway enabling the spirits of his descendants to make their return home after death. He named the pathway Te Ara Wairua, which traverses Te Oneroaa-Tōhe and is generally known to be between low and high tide.

There are other places along Te Ara Wairua that are significant to some iwi, providing opportunities for a final farewell to the deceased, where spirits may rest under a tree or drink from a special running stream. The kaitiaki (guardians) of the pathway’s cultural integrity are local tangata whenua who live in communities close by. They know and are familiar with these places and remain the repository of this cultural and intellectual knowledge.

Since then, the stories of Te Ara Wairua have been recounted and remain a commonly held belief throughout all Māori communities. In theological terms, it is a pillar of Māori culture and an integral aspect of our holistic world view.

It is this holistic world view that has been of great interest to European scholars and academics, due to its complex and comprehensive nature as a paradigm of religious ideology. Having heard about the journey of Māori souls following this spirit trail, it became the mission of evangelists to understand Māori customs in order to convert them, replacing their own (Māori) beliefs with Christian theology. It is perhaps for this reason that the significance of the spiritual pathway’s cultural importance has been challenged over time, risking its relegation to mere legend and fable.

Iwi of Te Hiku o Te Ika have for decades voiced concerns about the importance of Te Ara Wairua, the beach and its environs, proactively seeking opportunities to be more involved in their management and protection. The pathway was included in the suite of conservation redress mechanisms and is contained in the settlement legislation of Te Hiku o Te Ika iwi. One such mechanism was the establishment of the Board, who are required to include within the auspices of this plan the ongoing recognition and protection of the spiritual wellbeing of Te Oneroa-a-Tōhe and by extension Te Ara Wairua.

There are other significant cultural phenomena associated with the beach management area that are of importance to Te Hiku o Te Ika iwi. These phenomena remain unseen by the naked eye. However, iwi of the area has their own methods of noting their presence through stories that recount the chronology of events and circumstances that have created and maintained the persona, traits and signs that define them. An example is the Taniwha Paraweta who patrols parts of the most southern end of the beach.

In recognising and protecting such cultural phenomena, we are achieving a convergence of environmental and cultural outcomes. It is therefore important for the Board to take this opportunity to emphasise these cultural beliefs. By bringing them into the picture, we add immense value to the Beach Management Plan. It also fulfils the goals expressed by treaty claimants seeking more participation in the design and decisionmaking processes around managing the beach.

The Board faces challenges in recognising this rich cultural history. By working closely with our iwi members and their kaitiaki communities, this will provide the direction and efficacy necessary for success in our new approach to managing this taonga.

Underpinning this new approach is a need for a genuine commitment to Te Tiriti o Waitangi by all users and stakeholders in order to protect and enhance the spiritual wellbeing of
Te Oneroa-a-Tōhe.

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