Māori culture can – and should – be experienced in all forms across the country: from the historical to the geothermal and, in some cases literally carved into the storied landscape: here is No. 62 of our 101 Reasons To Stop Dreaming About New Zealand And Go.
In Whakatāne in the Bay of Plenty/Te Moananui ā Toi, a unique and enriching cultural experience can be found on a visit to Mataatua: The House That Came Home. Mataatua is an authentic Māori wharenui (meeting house) of the Ngāti Awa tribe that travelled the globe for 130 years before returning to its traditional North Island/Te Ika-a-Māui home.
Originally built in 1875 as a symbol of pride and defiance by the Ngāti Awa tribe, the wharenui was removed in 1879 – it is widely believed that the tribe elders agreed to this after losing their mana (spiritual power) after raupatu (land confiscations) – travelling first to Sydney, where it was re-erected inside out, and Melbourne before being shipped to England and put on display at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London. When it was no longer required, it was stored for 40 years before being re-erected at the British Empire Exhibition at Wembley in 1924. By the time it was eventually returned to New Zealand in 1925 and put on display at the Otago Museum in Dunedin/Ōtepoti in the South Island/Te Waipounamu, the original structure had been damaged and depleted.
It wasn’t until the 1980s that the tribe began to agitate for Mataatua Wharenui’s return to its traditional homeland. The tale of how it became ‘the house that came home’ is also the story of the restoration of the Ngāti Awa people’s iwi (tribe) after its disruption following European settlement. Eventually the Otago Museum agreed to return the house, and Mataatua was restored and opened to the public in 2011.
Visiting Mataatua: The House That Came Home not only gives visitors the chance to see the intricacy and beauty of the carved structure at close quarters and hear the enthralling tale of its circuitous journey away from and back to its place of origin, it also offers a glimpse into the proud customs and traditions of the Ngāti Awa people themselves.
The one-hour Meet Mataatua Express experience includes being welcomed into the marae and into the sacred house through the ancient ritual of pōwhiri, before viewing the digital light show HIKO: Legends Carved in Light, a combination of history, architecture and technology. You’ll finish by sharing traditional kawakawa tea and kumara brownies in the wharekai (dining hall). But if you have time on your hands, you should definitely opt for the Know Mataatua Cultural Immersion, including a guided tour and cultural workshops that will have you arriving as a stranger and leaving as a friend.