Te Ao o te Māori

A window into the rich lifestyles of contemporary Māori
Photographs and words nā Phil Tumataroa

Tiaki Coates (Kāti Huirapa) is a young Ngāi Tahu man carving out a life for himself and his family in the lush bush-clad hills of Whaingaroa.

Tiaki has a wry smile as he reflects on the journey that has led him away from Te Waipounamu to the rugged Raglan west coast, where he has lived for the past four years with partner Madi Watson and their two-year-old son, Tāwhai.

He is sincere when he says Aoraki Bound, the 20-day leadership course run by Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu, changed his life. “Aoraki Bound was my rite of passage into Ngāi Tahu and feeling Māori.”

Aoraki Bound launched him on a journey that has led him to become an instructor on the course, sail the Pacific for a year on waka hourua, learn te reo Māori, meet the love of his life, and start a family.

His personal transformation has also manifested itself into a career path. Working under the umbrella of the Te Mauri Tau Trust, Tiaki offers rites of passage programmes designed for rangatahi. They are linked strongly to cultural identity and the environment. There are also programmes for fathers and sons.

Tiaki leads a small group of facilitators in activities that immerse participants in the environment and Māori culture, presenting challenges and learnings that offer opportunities for transformational life changes.

“I’m proud to be Ngāi Tahu. I love it here – tangata whenua have embraced me and my whānau – but I would love to return home and work with my people one day.”