Up close with a Maori legend – A hongi is a traditional Maori greeting
When you reach the mature years my wife Joan and I have, rushing round is neither an option nor a desire. Leisurely is the only way to go. However, wanderlust, contrary to popular belief is not just the domain of the young which is why we found ourselves, somewhat to our surprise admittedly, planning a round the world trip for our 40th wedding anniversary.
The itinerary was a combined effort which we easily agreed on – a luxury which tends to come after many happy years of compatible companionship. However, I had one essential which no matter what I wasn’t budging on – a stop in New Zealand. I’m not sure why I felt such a draw to this country which I knew so little about. In fact, perhaps a little embarrassingly, my sum total of knowledge could be explained with one word – rugby. As a passionate fan I’ve lost count of the number of times I have watched the New Zealand All Blacks perform the highly emotive, moving and soul-stirring haka. No matter how many times I have witnessed it my emotions tend to go through a range and depth which I always find difficult to quite put into words. Simply put – the haka fascinates me and the Maori culture intrigues me. It was on this basis alone which I insisted our anniversary tour take in New Zealand.
Much like totem poles, pou whenua tell a story. They are significant to the Māori people, representing their contributions to the cultural heritage of the New Zealand
However, therein lay my next problem. If you’re going to travel all the way round the world purely based on a rugby-inspired whim…….. on hoping for a privileged glimpse into a specific culture…..well, there is some pressure to choose not just carefully but exactly. I assumed there would be Maori experiences aplenty but how on earth was I to sort the wheat from the chaff……..separate the authentic from the manufactured? Tricky.
Thanks to patient grandchildren I happen to be an Internet whizz and tracking things down has become somewhat of a habit of mine. My search criteria here had keywords along the lines of ‘Maori experience’, ‘high quality’, luxury tours’, ‘fun’ and ‘personal service’. That’s how I arrived at the website of TIME Unlimited Tours who offer tours in the Auckland region; almost from the outset I knew I had struck gold although I certainly wasn’t going to admit that straightaway.
Browsing the home page I quickly learned that ‘TIME’ is an acronym for ‘to integrate Maori experiences’ and over and again it seemed I was being promised ‘a unique insight into Maori culture’ which was of course exactly what I’d hoped for. Well this looks promising, I thought but an old fella like me takes a little longer to win over and convince so off I went exploring further. This is one heck of a comprehensive but rather wonderfully set out website and I unearthed several valuable nuggets which gradually raised my initial estimate from ‘looks promising’ to ‘this is it!’ (If you want to skip all the ins and outs and head straight to what’s on offer and booking that’s totally possible but how refreshing to find a website which allows you to choose whether you keep it simple or have every single bit of ‘in-depth’ available for those of us who are looking to delve down a bit.)
Why ‘this is it’? Well, TIME Unlimited Tours are a husband and wife team – Néill claims combined German/Irish lineage, the latter half of which his wife Ceillhe shares. However Ceillhe’s name in full is Ceillhe Tewhare Teneti Hema and if you trace her heritage along her maternal side you’ll arrive at two prominent Maori chiefs; chiefs who just happened to be among the main signatories on New Zealand’s founding document of 1840 – the Treaty of Waitangi. Now here was a match for my I-want-it-authentic cry which I really hadn’t foreseen.
Enjoying the classic Kiwi bush walk and learning so much about the environment & history
On top of all this it seems Time Unlimited Tours may have to go outsize on their trophy cabinet to accommodate all the accolades and awards they have scooped both on a domestic as well as an international level. There aren’t many companies that need a whole webpage to list their honours and triumphs but then it isn’t every tour company presumably who aim so high in the first place and set out for all to see their policies and initiatives in areas of quality, integrity and commitment to conservation and sustainability. There’s even something about their elegantly understated but highly effective logo which incorporates a Pikorua, a Maori symbol for eternity (or TIME Unlimited!) and seems to scream quality and eco-conscious at the top of its tour industry lungs…
A stickler for detail I searched diligently on the website to unearth any chinks in the armour while fervently hoping I wouldn’t find any. I followed the link to the Trip Advisor reviews (another thing to thank my grandchildren for introducing me to) – no chinks there – 308 out of 326 reviews rated Time Unlimited Tours as ‘excellent’.
Some time later I had to admit that if such a thing as matching my ideal existed these were the people most likely to deliver it. There are a whole range of tours described and detailed on the website but I was immediately drawn to the ‘Maori Culture Tours’ section with its full-day and even overnight options led by indigenous Maori guides. My choice from here was a ‘no-brainer’ as my granddaughter would say – ‘the Auckland Maori Day Tours EXTRA’. ‘Why that one specifically?’ asked Joan when I pulled her over to see what I was getting so excited about followed by an ‘ah I see’ as I pointed at the description …………..’also includes a Maori Cultural Performance and the famous Haka war dance‘.
Joan and I had a ball throughout our little globetrotting jaunt as we made our way (leisurely of course) around incredible countries, fascinating sights and munched our way through a whole range of culinary delights many of which I couldn’t even pronounce. But New Zealand was the highlight for both of us and actually by rather a long way, while our TIME Unlimited Tour was the sweet icing on the cake. I shall be adding my ‘excellent’ rating for them, to join their already overflowing pile, from my newly set-up Trip Advisor account. I’m not going to talk you through our day’s itinerary not least because Joan tells me I tend to gush a little on the subject but suffice it to say the company’s attention to detail is astonishing, their emphasis on fun right up my street and I now know considerably more about Maori culture than just the haka. And while we’re on the subject…….and just in case you’re curious…….I did indeed get to see my haka; not from the faraway stands at Twickenham this time but up-close-and-personal. I’m not sure whether my uppermost emotion was fascination, awe, a feeling of being highly privileged or simply the desire to run away as fast as I could if my knocking knees would carry me!
After 40 years of marriage Joan and I tend to agree on the important things in life and this was no different. New Zealand, the haka up close and TIME Tours Unlimited were for us as good as it gets……and at our age of been-there-and-done-that many times over, that’s praise indeed.
New logo for TIME Unlimited founders Neill & Ceillhe Sperath
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