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Tuia 250: Powhiri and potatoes play pivotal parts in birth of relationship

Media release: 15 October 2019

An historic pōwhiri and the humble potato are both interwoven in the history of Ngāti Hei’s relationship with Europeans - and both will feature in stories and events as part of Tuia 250 commemorations this weekend.

On Friday, a pōwhiri at Wharetāewa Pā in Te Whanganui-o-Hei / Mercury Bay - welcoming crew from the Tuia Voyage flotilla and other guests - will acknowledge what’s believed to be the first ever pōwhiri accorded to Europeans by Māori 250 years ago.

Back in 1769, local iwi Ngāti Hei issued the formal welcome to crew from the HMB Endeavour, who’d sailed into the bay to observe the transit of Mercury - a method used at the time to determine the distance between the Earth and the sun.

Based on that historic pōwhiri and the many exchanges that took place between Ngāti Hei and the Endeavour crew in the days afterwards, local kaumatua and historian Joe Davis, of Ngāti Hei, has described the area as "the birthplace of Aotearoa".

The Endeavour ended up staying for almost two weeks, and during this time significant trading took place. Gifts were also exchanged, including seed potatoes gifted by Cook at Wharetāewa Pā. Ngāti Hei were expert growers of kumara, but quickly recognised the potatoes’ benefits such as being easier to grow and preserve - as a result they became highly sought after.

This Friday, the entire Tuia 250 Voyage flotilla will sail into Wharekaho (Simpson’s Beach) in Te Whanganui-o-Hei / Mercury Bay. A range of activities has been planned by the Mercury 250 Trust to commemorate the first meeting between Ngāti Hei and Europeans, and explore the events that occured during the interactions that followed.

Events taking place this Friday: From 9am - Flotilla vessels moor on beach and in bay (public viewing available from north end of beach and Simpson’s Campground)

11.30am approx - Hikoi follows in footsteps of Cook, Tupaia and Endeavour crew from northern to southern end of Wharekaho (public invited to join)

1pm - Pōwhiri for invited guests below Wharetāewa Pā (public viewing available from beach)

7.30pm - Conversations at the Cooks Beach Hall (ticketed public event) - learn about the 12 days Cook spent in Te Whanganui-o-Hei

The following days will see community events including: Tuia Stage - Saturday from 10am - free outdoor event featuring music, poetry and story-telling

Tours of Pacific vessels - Saturday and Sunday, 10am to 4pm

Public screening of "12 days" - a movie exploring Cook’s 12 days with Ngati Hei (Saturday 19 Oct)

Ministry of Education Tuia Matauranga Roadshow, encouraging family friendly, interactive learning about navigation and voyaging - Sunday to Tuesday, 10am to 4pm

This is just a small sample of events - for the full programme see Tuia 250 Te Powhiri Te Whanganui-o-Hei |Mercury Bay

Please note timings are subject to change based on logistics and weather. Media attending events will need to be issued with a media pass on the day.

Updated on 8th October 2021