WanaHaka® has been operating since 2016, running wine tours, Māori welcomes and custom experiences for both guests of New Zealand and Kiwis. Joe has a deep love for Lake Wānaka, a region inhabited by his ancestors in the late 1870s. His company is built on a passion for sharing the journey of the Māori footprint history of this land, combined with incredible award-winning wines.
For Joe “culture is connection.” Like many businesses, after the initial shock of the pandemic, he had to find a way to continue to instill that sense of connectivity – even if no one could visit here.
We sat down with Joe to chat about the philosophy of his business and how he’s adapted during these difficult times, while teaching the values of kaitiakitanga, manaakitanga and whanaungatanga both locally and to the world over.
By far, one of Joe’s most popular experiences is his Māori Welcome, designed for individuals, groups, weddings, conferences and high end visitors.
“The Māori Welcome is purely about connection; real people-to-people connection adhering to Tikanga,” Joe says. “My goal is to allow the manuhiri (visitor) to get more of an empathy towards the history and the footprint here. I want them to realize what they’re grateful for, where we are and what we have and not to take it for granted.”
Joe’s Māori Welcome starts off with the Wero (Challenge). With full tā moko, “it’s empowering and embraces all my mana,” Joe says.
“It’s aggressive, it’s in your face. It comes from a historic context of ‘you’re on my land now and I need to know if you are here as my friend or foe’’ – so to speak.
“I’m one of the most passive guys ever, but when I do that, I try to think about what it must have been like here in the 1400s, 1500s etc.. I really embody that person. People are coming onto this land and I want to protect it. That’s how it starts for my guests.”
But as Joe moves through the Welcome, he finishes the Wero and moves into the whaikorero. This is a verbal connection, acknowledging the past, present and future. Paying respects to the whenua (land), our tīpuna (ancestors), and our whānau (family).
“So I start to build this connection. There’s the foundation of understanding and connection beginning to form.”
Finally, Joe begins to teach his guests about the hongi.
“If the whaikorero is the verbal connection, the hongi is the physical connection,” he says. “One of the most important parts of our body is our upoko (head). And then within our head we have our arero (tongue) and generally, the tongue is used to ward off your opponents.
“But we also have our ihu (nose) in our head. And I ask my guests ‘what do we do with our noses?’ And they’ll usually say ‘sniff!’” he laughs. “But then I say ‘and what else do we do?’ and they say ‘we breathe!’ and I say ‘yeah we breathe life!’”
This breath is referred to as tīhei mauriora or the “breath of life”.
“So when we hongi, we’re exchanging the breath of life,” Joe explains. “When you meet someone now, you might shake their hand and say hello. But in Māori, we go a step further; we take each other’s breath of life. We’re exchanging each other’s mana. So for my guests, they start to really feel it, this connection and how it goes deeper and deeper.”
Finally, Joe ends off with both a Wānaka Haka (gifted to him) and discusses the ka mate (All Blacks) Haka acknowledging the sensitivity to Ngāi Tahu and Te Puohos raid of 1836.
“The main reason I discuss the ka mate is because many people from overseas are familiar with it, they’ve seen it before – but have never understood the history, actions, words, etc.. But I want to break down each action, word and phrase slowly and explain it. The Wānaka haka and the ka mate are 200 years apart, and we talk about the difference in the two – the intent, the values.
“This is so that next time they see a haka, wherever they are, they think about what the actions mean, what the words mean, the purpose.”
By the end of the Welcome, Joe hopes that he’s instilled a sense of kaitiaki in his guests and that they leave connected to this place.
“It’s about building a deeper connection to land and people and that means acknowledging past, loving present, but also thinking of the future.”
“I didn’t really want to be a glorified Uber driver,” Joe laughs when talking about the idea for the wine tasting tours. “I talk about the history of the region, I talk about the stories that brought people to this place, all while driving my guests to beautiful wineries.”
WanaHaka® Wine Tours are available for small groups and private tours with options that range from a few hours to a full day in the wine region of Central Otago.
Joe utilises the key tikanga from his Māori Welcome in the wine tours to establish the same powerful connection. He points out different locations and explains their historic significance to Māori people. He tries to take guests back to a time where there were no roads, no footwear, no jackets – just epic mountains and rugged land.
“So, you can imagine these hardened people. And the wine tour is a journey. This is what it was like in the past, this is what we’re doing in the present as we move into the future. It’s a nice blend.”
Joe also credits the wineries in Wānaka for this interesting blend of culture on the tour.
“The vineyards here are amazing with how they respect and honour the land and how they cultivate their beautiful wines,” he says. “And of course, they each have their own histories of how they came to be. When you put all these stories together, it’s a powerful human connection.”
When the pandemic hit, Joe’s mission to connect people to the New Zealand land didn’t stop. He adapted.
Launching virtually with AirBNB Experiences this past November, Joe is now booked nearly every Monday and Wednesday morning for a virtual, live Māori Welcome Experience. He is joined by viewers from all over the world, watching him live on the Mill Track here in Wānaka.
“It’s almost always winter where my viewers are, so they’re so excited to see beautiful weather and the mountains,” Joe says. “I get a lot of viewers who have never been to New Zealand and by the time the experience is over they’re saying that they can’t wait to visit!
“I also get a lot of people who have been here and the experience is very reminiscent for them. And I just say to them, ‘hey, when it does allow, you can come over and do a live welcome with me right here!’”
Joe says that he thinks the cultural element is a massive draw for his viewers and he’s been able to evolve the experience over time as well. He believes that the key to virtual tours and experiences is interaction.
“I think it’s essential that these experiences are done live. You know, I’ve got my camera set up and people are going about their days behind me, walking their dogs around me. But I just roll with it and my viewers laugh with me when something unexpected happens.”
On top of the live aspect, Joe found ways to make the experience even more interactive as time went on.
“Obviously, not being able to do the hongi face-to-face is a drawback, but I’ve found other ways to make it personal for my viewers. At the end, I’ll give them their own personal greeting and teach them how to say it. And lots of people really like that, being able to take that piece away with them – and that’s another form of connection to this place.”
For Joe, he wants every person to walk away from his experience feeling his values.
The first is kaitiakitanga. “We’re protectors and guardians of this land,” Joe says. “And now my guests are as well, because I’ve inducted them, we’ve done the Mihi whakatau, we’ve connected. Their footprint from now on will affect the future generation.”
His second value is manaakitanga. “I want my guests to feel welcome and connected through my hospitality, and to extend that to others.”
And then finally whanaungatanga. “Kinship, we’re a family. We respect each other, no matter where we come from, no matter what we look like.”
Through these values, Joe hopes that he can continue to cultivate connections both virtually and in-person and make each one of his guests protectors of this place while they are here.