Tuesday 3 March, saw Ngāi Tūāhuriri dashing from the pōhiri dress rehearsal to the pā in readiness for the arrival of Te Rōpū Manutaki.

At 9.45pm, the karanga went out to a sea of maroon and gold in the pitch black of Tuahiwi night by Tāua Aroha and Wikitoria Crofts, while Te Maire Tau orated his whaikōrero.

The whare rūnanga was packed with Tuahiwi whānau on the mana whenua side and 80 manuhiri. Pita Sharples spoke on behalf of the rōpū and acknowledged both of our Ūpoko who passed away in 2014, Pōua Johno Crofts and my Pōua Rik Tau.

Mutu rawa te kōrero, the delectable aroma of roast garlic and rosemary lamb, mashed potatoes, honeyed carrots, kamokamo and corn with gravy and mint jelly wafted throughout the marae enticing the now late and famished manuhiri into the kī kōpū to dine, with pūrini to match.

With puku filled and everyone feeling at home, half of the rōpū started to prepare the whare rūnanga with their beds, while the other half were taken to the lockwood and cottage houses next door.

The next morning, they awoke to eggs benedict for breakfast before a quick practice and then they headed to the Matatini pōhiri at Hagley Park. There were lots of Facebook statuses and photos of breakfast and the pōhiri posted that day.

Thursday saw us practicing for most of the day at the pā. During our breaks the kī kōpū would be filled with hushed hungry eaters, luxuriating on deliciously baked flounders while excitedly watching groups on the television. A roar of applause was given to our mates Te Waka Huia who are also from Tāmaki Makaurau, when they took the stage.

While the group busted their guts out drilling our bracket in the hot sun, our Manutaki and pā babies were on their own waka, bouncing around on their ‘Batman’ bouncy castle and toys from their fun bin, the kids had a ball.

We managed to make a brief visit into Te Matatini late in the afternoon to catch the performance from Ōpōtiki Mai Tawhiti (hmmm I wonder if that’s because our tutor’s wahine is the leader of their rōpū, aye Te Hira? Yay for us) and boy oh boy did we want to rush back to the pā and get some extra practice in for ourselves before the sun went down. Watching them was motivating enough.

The kai in the Matatini tents was deliciously healthy, but after five months of healthy living, the gourmet burgers and wedges, boil up with watercress, pork bones and Māori potatoes that our ringawera had for us back at the pā were divine.

Friday was D-day. The girls were up early getting their hair and make-up done in the bathroom (the elation over having plenty of mirrors for both, and plug holes for straighteners and curlers was fantastic) while the boys were away getting their puhoro drawn on (not the prettiest of sights).

By 3pm all moko were done, black lippy and perfect winged eyeliner applied, taonga on, hair set with tons of spray, uniforms on, piupiu tied, poi, patu, pakiaka, taiaha in hand and guitars strung, we stood in Te Ao Mārama and sung our waiata as it was our last chance for voice warm ups before heading into town to smash the stage. It was a beautiful moment, standing there with my team and whānau all around me, heading into battle knowing not only judges and other kaihaka would be watching but also Tuahiwi, it was an unexpectedly overwhelming moment – we were ready for that stage.

Arriving 20mins early, we had the chance to meet with our taina rōpū from Hoani Waititi Marae, Ngā Tūmanako, as well as friends and whanaunga from other tira. It was more than just a competition to us, representing our whānau to the best of our capacity was the bigger picture.

Entering the backstage we met with Kaharoa Manihera, Rangi Tutengaehe, Rahera Herewini and Piki Thomas our coordinators, followed by my excited mama Amiria Reriti who was fortunately our MC, cemented our kaupapa of whānau. Mama announced that it was time for Manutaki to time to hit the stage – T.I.O our coy little anagram for ‘Taking it out.’

It was the hardest yet most exhilarating 27 minutes of my life. Nothing compares to the feeling of performing on a national stage with your idols, against your idols and to your idols, but most importantly on your own tūrangawaewae with your whānau, hapū and iwi there to tautoko you and your mates. Our whānau were proud of us, i ea tō tātou kaupapa.

Saturday morning Uncle Rakihia and Uncle Maru cooked up West Coast whitebait omelettes for parakuihi, on their own personal gas cooker just like at the Langham Hotel’s egg station (small touches you know). It was a great way to start our day off, we got the chance to relax with our mates at Te Matatini and explore Canterbury instead of practising. It was funny, you could always spot Manutaki in the crowd in their maroons or greys with their bright green ‘Auahi Kore’ bottles.

Returning to the pā that evening, our whānau had put on a beautiful hākari of hāngī, roasted fresh and salted tītī, eels, raw fish and banoffee pie to celebrate a fantastic campaign for Te Matatini ki Waitaha, despite not making it into the Sunday finals.

After the results of the preliminaries, many Manutaki headed over to the Kaiapoi RSA to unwind and as Tāua Pat put it, there were many ‘night owls’ out that night.

Up in the morning after whakamoemiti, some of us headed into Matatini to watch while others stayed back at the marae and watched finals and prize giving from the comforts of their moenga in the whare via overhead projector. I tell you, it was hard to coax them out of the marae to go into Matatini, they’d rather stay home.

After a debrief of the week and of our markings from the judges, our Manutaki kids headed off into town for some tenpin bowling and to indulge in some kids junk food of chicken nuggets specially requested by 8 year-old Kahimaire. Returning to the marae, the kids switched with those who were 18+ to head off to the ‘After Pāti’ – It was a fantastic way to toast a great campaign with friends from other rōpū.

Monday morning Ngāi Tūāhuriri had their mihi whakamutu for Manutaki after a long but thoroughly enjoyable week in Tuahiwi before the team departed for their trip to Hanmer Springs and onwards to Auckland. They had a wonderful time and loved every minute of it.

Thank you whānau for everything you did in preparation to ensure a great stay for our manuhiri. It’s a trip neither they, nor I will ever forget. On our return to Auckland we found out that for one whānau this trip was their honeymoon, how special is that.

To the rūnanga and marae trustees especially Tāua Joan, Claire and Tāua Pat, my parents, tāua and pōua, Uncles Rakihia and Maru, Aunty Tweety and Manihera whānau, our kaumātua, kai gatherers, kai growers, ringawera, blanket donators, Ōtautahi MWWL, Te Pūawaitanga, our Tuahiwi whānau, The Reynolds-Hatem whānau for our huge supply of Pita bread, even Sanitarium, Hubbards and Auahi Kore – thank you all. Your generosity and support will never be forgotten by myself nor Te Rōpū Manutaki. Nā Reriti Tau.

Manutaki’s last practice at the pā before heading into Te Matatini.

Te Rōpū Manutaki during their last practice at the pā before heading into Te Matatini.

Te Rōpū Manutaki ki Tuahiwi Marae.

Te Rōpū Manutaki ki Tuahiwi Marae.

The girls at Hanmer Springs.

The girls at Hanmer Springs.

Tuahiwi whanau together.

Tuahiwi whānau together.

Waiora Arama can’t believe the abundance of our white gold, inanga.

Waiora Arama with the abundance of our white gold, inanga.