Aotearoa is more than just beautiful scenery

Driving around New Zealand is anyone’s idea of an amazing holiday, and the world knows it. The country’s well-maintained highways, scenic routes, friendly small towns and endless coastlines are a road tripper’s dream. Add in great wine regions, adventure sports, cosmopolitan cities, surf breaks and Lord of the Rings filming locations and you have something for travelers of all tastes and interests. The secret has been out for a while. 
What many visitors to New Zealand don’t know much about, however, is the country’s rich native culture. Māori people, language, art and culture are alive and well all over the two isles, and it goes beyond those hard-to-pronounce names like Whangaparaoa, Kaukapakapa, Kuaotunu, Paraparaumu and Opoutere.
There are many opportunities to learn the story of the native people of Aotearoa (Land of the Long White Cloud, aka New Zealand), in museums, galleries and cultural centres all over the country - as well as in your encounters with Kiwis. 


Respecting the land

New Zealand’s Transport Agency walks a line between building enough roads for residents and visitors of the country to get around efficiently, and showing respect and stewardship of the land which holds great meaning for Māori especially. 
Their latest project, the Waikato Expressway - a much needed multi-lane highway for the heavy flow of traffic heading south from Auckland - was carried out in close consultation with the Waikato-Tainui, a tribal organisation which looks out for the interests of the Maori people in the region.  
Highway Manager Kaye Clarke said of the project, “It’s important for the Transport Agency to respond to the environmental and cultural aspects of the land we build our roads through. The only way we can do that is by building relationships with the community and Kiwi [people] to get a better understanding of the area and history. We appreciate the strong relationship we have built with Waikato-Tainui through the expressway project.”

Pou whenua - story of our ancestors

As part of their joint dedication to respecting the ancestral lands through which the expressway passes, the NZTA and Waikato-Tainui recently unveiled and blessed two Pou Whenua next to the road a few kilometres before it passes into Hamilton, where it bypasses Ngaruawahia (there’s another one of those names!).
The carved posts are placed where travelers can access them, near the walkway/cycleway and close to Lake Areare. Carved by a Waikato-Tainui master carver, they are the first in a series of significant pou whenua planned for the Huntly, Rangiriri and Cambridge sections of the road.
What’s a pou whenua? Meaning “land post,” they are carved staffs erected to mark territorial boundaries or places of significance. Their beautiful carvings, like most Māori artwork, tell a story of the association between the people (tāngata) and the land (whenua). 
The pou whenua at Lake Areare provide a great opportunity for visitors to break their journey, stop and appreciate the history that New Zealand holds. The South Pacific nation may not have any centuries-old churches or ancient ruins, but it has a character and a narrative of its own; one that is worth learning about.

Māori words for road trippers

If you’re planning a self-drive holiday in New Zealand, you’ll almost definitely find yourself reading Māori place names and signs, talking to locals and hearing some of the lingo. Here are a few commonly-used Māori words which might help you to get a feel for the place. Note that “wh” is pronounced as “f,” and “r” is short, sharp and not rolled, with a sound that comes close to a “d” or “l.” and “ng” is pronounced as one consonant and like the middle of the word “singer,” not “linger.”
Kia Ora (key-oar-uh) - This means literally “be well” and is used as a casual greeting. You’ll almost definitely see this one upon arrival at Auckland Airport.
Haere Mai (high-eddy-my) - This means welcome, and you will see it on many place signs around the country.
Haere Ra (high-eddy-rah) - This means farewell, and is also seen on many signs as you leave town.
Kai (like kite without the “t”) - This means food. An important word to know!
Wai (why) - This means water.
Maunga (mow-ng-ah) - This means mountain. Part of many place names.
Motu (moh-two) - This means island. Also a part of many place names.
Tāngata Whenua (tongue-ah-tah fen-ew-ah) - This means “people of the land,” often referring to the traditional Māori landowners.
Tapu (tah-pew) - This means sacred, an important place for the Māori or any other people.
Mana (muh-nuh) - This means prestige, power and weight, a concept that is not easily defined in English. A well respected person has mana. 
Te Reo (Teh Ray-oh) - This means literally “the language,” and refers to the spoken Māori language.
New Zealand’s rich cultural heritage is not something you see much of in many tourism ads, but embracing it makes any road trip in the country that much better. If you’re planning an adventure beginning with a car rental from Auckland Airport, don’t forget to stop at the pou whenua on your way south and take a moment to reflect on the story they tell. If you are interested in learning more about the Māori culture, pay a visit to The Waitangi Treaty grounds in New Zealand Northland - Whangarei is the best option for car rental in the area.

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