April 27, 1949 – June 4, 2021
Robert was my friend, one of the best friends I have ever had. He changed my life and that of many others. He was gentle, kind and generous. He could tell a story like no other and make you laugh until your sides hurt.
He was committed to his people and his culture and fought many injustices in his lifetime to safeguard the mana of his people. Two of the most important ones to him were stopping the Ocean Beach development and the removal of the Craggy Range Track and total protection of Te Mata Peak.
In 2004 he had a vision and a desire to protect and conserve the site where Hakikino stood on family land. The folklore of the life his people had lived at Hakikino over 700 years ago was rich and varied, but it was little known.
Māhau e kī mai, e wareware ahau
Tell me & I will forget
Whakaahuatia mai, ka mahara ahau
Show me and I will remember
Engari, kia ura ahau, e mahara ahau
But involve me and I will understand
This was the whakataukī that he centred his vision on.
He believed that when people had a place to go, stand, and feel the power of the beginnings of his people in Aotearoa, they would understand the korero and keep it forevermore.
He did all of this for his people, his whānau, the children and grandchildren of his people. He was consumed with passing knowledge, culture and traditions on. He was passionate about the beauty of all things Māori and wanted to promote learning and sharing the culture and traditions with everyone.
He knew that he would need to have a way to fund his vision, and he knew there was interest from overseas visitors in Māori culture. That meant creating a business. Robert was a man who knew what he could do and what he couldn’t do. When he needed a skill he did not possess, he went and had a chat with someone that had that expertise. That’s how my husband Paddy and I got involved and completely absorbed into Robert’s vision.
It started with a chat and 15 years later, Waimārama Māori Tours is an award winning, internationally recognised tourism business. A comment from a visitor says it best, ‘Authentic, warm, spiritual, and educational, we were drawn in to the enveloping lifestyle and balance of this beautiful culture. It was a privilege to meet this wonderful family who shared openly and inclusively. The best part is that it was impossible to leave without taking the aura along. It is with us still – hopefully, forever.’
The generosity of his family as the owners of the land, enabled the Hakikino Conservation Reserve to be created. The help of dozens of volunteers physically developed the site. The business was staffed with knowledgeable whānau who could teach and share their traditions. We all wanted to help him accomplish his vision.
His vision was never just about the tourism business. That was simply a means to an end. He was exceptionally proud of the successes the business garnered, but that is not what drove him. The business was there to provide meaningful work, training for young ones and a source of income to be put back into the infrastructure needed on site.
An interesting bi-product for Robert was just how very much he enjoyed sharing all of this with overseas visitors. He was always his happiest on site at Hakikino and in his home in Waimārama. If there was anything he regretted, it was that more pakeha New Zealanders didn’t want to come on visits.
Robert has given me so much. He has shepherded us into his world and we have been embraced by his whānau. We have had such lovely times around his kitchen table and ours. We have laughed and cried together. He taught me about te ao Māori, the most precious gift of all.
Fortuitously, Robert brought Ike Wallace into the business 6 years ago. Ike has been involved in running the business and maintaining the site for several years. It now falls to those of us Robert has left behind to tautoko Ike. There is no tourism to speak of, and no one knows when, how, or to what extent that will regenerate. In the meantime, The Hakikino Conservation Reserve needs to be maintained, planted, and kept alive.
Robert left us the legacy of the Hakikino Conservation Reserve but so much more work still needs to be done. His extraordinary vision lives on.
Rest in Peace, my friend.