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Published on : Friday, May 15, 2015
Prince Harry charmed his way up the mighty Whanganui River, immersed himself in Māori culture and paddled Prince Harry accepts his personal carved hoe or paddle before he learns to paddle a traditional Maori waka on the Whanganui River; PC- Hagen Hopkins his waka – a journey that made for a spectacular arrival in the riverside city.
On day six of his first visit to New Zealand, the Prince was welcomed on to the historic Pūtiki Marae – his first time on a traditional Māori meeting ground. Wearing a feather cloak, Prince Harry impressed his hosts with a speech in te reo – the Māori language, and his understanding of the culture.
The welcome was a formal occasion but it was also a family event with all ages – from babies to schoolchildren and elders – represented on the marae to welcome Prince Harry.
Pūtiki – the original Māori settlement on the Whanganui river mouth – is known as a gathering place for all the people of the region. The pretty marae grounds include the finely carved meeting house or wharenui which was built in 1877.
Prince Harry meets his waka crew mates before he paddles a traditional Maori waka on the Whanganui River; PC- Hagen Hopkins
Once the formalities were over, Prince Harry spent some time mingling with his hosts before heading off down to the waterside for his river journey.
This was no easy ride. The Prince had been presented with his new carved hoe (working paddle) and the 30-minute journey upstream in a good current was a bit of a workout – “Well, that’s my exercise done for the day,” he later commented.
The Prince took his place at the back of the carved waka as one of 11 paddlers under local Māori leader Ned Tapa who guided the Prince through his first waka ama experience.
Ned was also the creator of the Prince’s personal paddle which he had carved out of “an old rimu fence post” that had been found – fittingly – in the river.
Prince Harry learns how to paddle a traditional Maori waka on the Whanganui River; PC-Hagen Hopkins
The 1.2-metre hoe represented a fish with a tail-carved handle, and a swirling design on the blade symbolised the flow of the river from the mountain to the sea.
The Māori people of the Whanganui region, who belong to the Te Āti Haunui-a-Pāpārangi iwi or tribe, have a saying: Ko au te awa, ko te awa ko au – ‘I am the river, the river is me’ – which refers to the spiritual connection they have with the river. Prince Harry’s outing on their awa (river) was a significant occasion.