By Robin McNeill, FMC Tuhoe Liaison

Between 1954 and 2014, the forest and ridges of Ngai Tuhoe’s homeland were largely part of Te Urewera National Park. That changed in 2014, when the area’s national park status was rescinded, and instead administration of Te Urewera passed to the Te Urewera Board, made up of Tuhoe and crown representatives.

FMC had to consider deeply where we stood with respect to the creation of Te Urewera through the Ngai Tuhoe settlement and what it meant for our members. We concluded that the approach was innovative and brave, and that we could explicitly trust government and Tuhoe to do the right thing; we determined to fully and enthusiastically support the creation of Te Urewera.

No longer a national park, Te Urewera is now a natural, female person. Asking how she is to be managed is as problematic as asking me how I should manage my wife. The solution is as imaginative as it is natural: Te Urewera is to have a personality in the form of Te Kawa o Te Urewera, the draft of which FMC recently submitted on. Te Kawa will guide those whose responsibility it is to look after Te Urewera. It provides a set of core values to always consider when accommodating those who wish to recreate in, work in and enjoy Te Urewera.

Te Kawa is written with a love that is not to be found in any management plan. It should be read and understood in its entirety in order to form a complete understanding of Te Urewera as a living entity; it is not to be dissected and read only in isolated parts.

Requiring Te Urewera to be understood in this way before making a decision may challenge traditionally schooled planners used to reading sections out of context, but as Te Kawa is a framework for the board to work under, not planners, this is immaterial. We just wish that our national park management plans were written with as much love.

Over the last 100 years or so, we trampers, hunters and mountaineers have developed our own outdoor culture – the lived custom and behaviour of those in the outdoors – and, in a broad sense, our culture aligns very well with the values found in Te Kawa. This should not be a surprise, for Te Urewera imposes the same physical conditions and limits on tangata whenua and manuhiri (trampers) alike. The concepts described in Te Kawa of ‘simplicity values’, ‘united sense of responsibility’, and ‘achieving nature’s balance’ all resonate. We, too, agree that Te Kawa ‘is disrupting the notion of our false superiority over the natural world. In all the decisiveness, we are returning to [Te Urewera] as a child’. Unsurprisingly, then, what we love about Te Kawa is that it so closely matches our own views of backcountry and manuhiri ‘re-creating’ in the backcountry.

There are some special innovations in Te Kawa that we especially enjoy: we very much like the concept and name, ‘Friendship Agreements’, that replace the word ‘Concessions’ found in national park plans to describe commercial activities. Make no mistake, words are important. We have long argued that in national parks commercial activities are a privilege and not a right – not always with success, but here there is no mistaking the intent here. Once Te Kawa is adopted, the really hard work of interpreting how such concepts are to apply on the ground will come. We look forward to that.

Finally, there is an especially nice nod to Pakeha culture in Te Kawa. It finishes, not with a whakatauki, but lines from T. S. Eliot’s Little Gidding. That is as unexpected as it is generous. Perhaps our best response comes from a few lines earlier in the same poem:

What we call the beginning is often the end

And to make an end is to make a beginning.

The end is where we start from.

Read Te Kawa online at

At this moment in history, the first phase to bring the truth and responsibility to Te Urewera is complete. Deep consideration has been given to how we can re-establish our connection as people to the land and the land‘s connection to us. A myriad of perspectives from manuhiri wanting a relationship with Te Urewera have been considered.

Tuhoe continue to rekindle traditional knowledge alongside modern research and insights, understanding that people are intrinsically linked to nature, not separate nor above it. Unlearning beliefs and resetting attitudes toward Te Urewera is necessary to disrupt the narrative of disconnection and its subsequent effects of climate change, pollution and loss of biodiversity.