The Dragons Den is an initiative run by The New Zealand Māori tourism Board which this year was held in Napier during August. The Dragons Den provide a platform where new and existing Māori tourism operators can pitch their ideas in front of the “Dragons”.
The event seen 97 applications across four categories, with Whakapaumahara Marae being one of five group award winners.
The idea that the Whakapaumahara Marae presented is based on a new cultural tourism experience which impressed the Dragons with its aspects of technology, tradition and manaakitanga, as well as its potential to create opportunities for jobs, growth and development for the people of Ngātiwai.
Whananaki eco-kāinga experience team member, Pam Armstrong says, “In our pitch to the Dragons we told them of our vision to provide a range of experiences for visitors that would follow the ancient flight path of the Tūkaiaia (a native bird now extinct), which was our kaitiaki that protected and guided the people of Ngātiwai on their travels from the South to the North along the Ngātiwai coastline.”
“We will develop walking tracks which will give a four hour coastal walk experience along the pathways our ancestors travelled from Mimiwhangata to Whananaki and back to Whakapaumahara Marae. We will have modern creative pou that will light up at night using solar energy technologies. These pou will provide stories and kōrero in the English and Chinese language detailing the celestial and seasonal significance of the lunar calendar and will include walking the Whananaki footbridge that links the North and South of Whananaki.”
“Visitors will also experience a traditional welcome and hākari by the local hapū, Te Whānau Whero, Te Akitai and Ngāti Rehua.”
The team that travelled down to Napier into the Dragons Den were Hohi Rini, Pam Armstrong, Rorina Rata and Joeann Waata. The team also acknowledge Hiria Rata, who was not able to travel to Napier for the event.
“We certainly did WOW them!”
The team had three minutes to deliver something that was different, something that will wow the Dragons and put the whakaaro (thoughts and ideas) of their community across.
“Our wahine who presented our pitch, delivered it fantastically. They delivered our proposal with pride by looking to our mokopuna, the wairua of our whenua, the wairua of our whanau, our community and our Tūpuna.”
Fellow team member, Rorina Rata says, “I think we won because our pitch was for our marae, competing against a room of established tourism operators. It was really exciting to see Whakapaumahara Marae come up on the big screen.”
“People were coming up to us and asking, where are you from? We were really proud to say Whananaki! So it is great that Whananaki is now on the tourism map.”
“What I think really got to the people in the room that night was that we are marae based, we are hapū based, wanting to working with our iwi and in our community.”
“We are a culturally connected caring community.”
Deputy Chair of NZ Māori Tourism, Dan Walker said, “This idea encapsulated elements of manaakitanga, integrating tribal stories and technology with a range of outdoor and indoor experiences.”
“There was also a strong community aspect supporting the venture. The Dragons believe this venture has very real potential.”
With the funds won, the team will take the Whananaki eco-kāinga experience vision through a feasibility process. They will be working on identifying and developing pathways to enter the Chinese tourism market and scaling up the business.
From there they want to complete the business model and identify investment pathways from the feasibility planning.
Pam Armstrong says, “The medium to long term outcomes we are seeking are cultural and economic benefits to our whānau at home, who are hugely creative and clever, but have limited employment opportunities. These whānau have the knowledge of our traditional practices as taught and handed down to them by our tūpuna.”
“We hope this venture will provide a chance to teach other whānau and hapū members those traditional practices to ensure they are sustained and practiced in the future. We hope it will keep our stories and history alive.”
“We want whānau to have paid employment from this mahi. We want them to be recognised as the experts that they are in these practices. We want our reo to flourish and grow with more using it every day in mahi and at home. We want our marae to be thriving hubs of energy and innovation, not just a place for traditional ceremonial purpose. We want whānau to see that there can be thriving livelihoods for those who choose to live on the whenua and know these are viable options for their whanau to live and grow and that they are not sacrificing anything by living on the kainga.”