Visiting Uawa’s ‘gentle giant’ offers benefits to visitors

Flowers on a puriri. The largest puriri in Aotearoa is in Uawa and is 1500 years old. Wikimedia Commons picture

VISITING the world’s largest puriri tree will unlock health and conservation benefits. The tree stands 40 metres tall, is located in Uawa and is estimated to be over 1500 years old.

Healthy Families East Cape Manager Albie Stewart says the tree can play a role as in Dr Ihirangi Heke’s Atua Matua Maori Health Framework.

Atua Matua means the human expression of the gods, and the framework is designed to help people understand the natural world through a Maori lens.

The idea is that, by learning about traditional Maori practices and views (in this case, the caring for and uses of the puriri in past times), health and exercise becomes a positive by-product (such as a hearty walk outdoors).

Dr Heke developed Atua Matua when given the challenge of getting Ngati Porou people active and moving.

The tree, Aotearoa’s largest and oldest-known puriri, is protected and is located in 10 hectares of private native land.

In the 1980s, the tree was registered with Nga Whenua Rahui status with Department of Conservation (DoC) by land owners.

A group of nature lovers were “‘tree—ted” to a special experience when they recently visited the tree and are inviting others to enjoy the same opportunity.

First visit in four years

It was the first time in four years that the gentle giant had seen any human visitors.

DoC biodiversity ranger Graeme Atkins led the hikoi (a 3.5-hour round trip) into the forest to share with the group the matauranga and whakapapa surrounding the puriri.

“I’ve known the tree for about 20 years now, and the beauty of it is that it’s like a secret, almost a mystique,” he said.

“But I’d like to see more people coming to see it so we can educate people on its importance and get a regeneration project going.”

The giant puriri was used in many ways by early Maori.

“In other Nga Whenua Rahui tracks, there are culverts made from puriri and they’re still as strong as the day they were made,” Mr Atkins said.

“I don’t think we could make anything in this day and age that would last as long.

“And when they used to cook kumara kau, they would steam the kumara in the hangi with puriri leaves on hot stones, and that helped keep the right chemistry and prevented burning.

“Boiling the leaves was also good for sore throats, sprains and back aches, if you soaked the mixture in a sponge and applied it externally.

“If that knowledge of our past makes people care for their little bit of bush then I’m glad.

“I’ll be rapt if people actually get out and care for these things, they just don’t know they exist.”

Healthy Families East Cape is in full support. The provider is using an indigenous systems approach in its campaigns to prevent chronic illness (reducing obesity and smoking, moderating alcohol consumption, and encouraging more fitness and exercise).

“Engaging with and understanding Tane’s domain, and the matauranga and whakapapa of the puriri, draws us to the forest as a place of sustenance and strength, encouraging physical activity (hikoi), not to mention positive outcomes for mental health,” Mr Stewart said.

Dr Heke said the Atua Matua process was initially developed as an attempt to provide a set of environmentally-based Maori concepts that could help Maori move from “the current deficit mainstream model of health to a Maori ancestral framework”.

“Each iwi is able to populate the framework with information that is specific to their particular knowledge base, environment or interpretation rather than acquiescing to mainstream prerogatives alone.”

As part of Healthy Families East Cape’s indigenous systems thinking, the Kai Atua (Food of the Gods) programme is aimed at helping people understand what their ancestors ate, move them away from highly-processed and unhealthy foods and to reconnect them with traditional Maori foods.


■ Those interested in learning more or visiting the puriri can register their personal, group, or please get in touch with the Healthy Families East Cape team at contact@healthyfamilieseastcape.com.

VISITING the world’s largest puriri tree will unlock health and conservation benefits. The tree stands 40 metres tall, is located in Uawa and is estimated to be over 1500 years old.

Healthy Families East Cape Manager Albie Stewart says the tree can play a role as in Dr Ihirangi Heke’s Atua Matua Maori Health Framework.

Atua Matua means the human expression of the gods, and the framework is designed to help people understand the natural world through a Maori lens.

The idea is that, by learning about traditional Maori practices and views (in this case, the caring for and uses of the puriri in past times), health and exercise becomes a positive by-product (such as a hearty walk outdoors).

Dr Heke developed Atua Matua when given the challenge of getting Ngati Porou people active and moving.

The tree, Aotearoa’s largest and oldest-known puriri, is protected and is located in 10 hectares of private native land.

In the 1980s, the tree was registered with Nga Whenua Rahui status with Department of Conservation (DoC) by land owners.

A group of nature lovers were “‘tree—ted” to a special experience when they recently visited the tree and are inviting others to enjoy the same opportunity.

First visit in four years

It was the first time in four years that the gentle giant had seen any human visitors.

DoC biodiversity ranger Graeme Atkins led the hikoi (a 3.5-hour round trip) into the forest to share with the group the matauranga and whakapapa surrounding the puriri.

“I’ve known the tree for about 20 years now, and the beauty of it is that it’s like a secret, almost a mystique,” he said.

“But I’d like to see more people coming to see it so we can educate people on its importance and get a regeneration project going.”

The giant puriri was used in many ways by early Maori.

“In other Nga Whenua Rahui tracks, there are culverts made from puriri and they’re still as strong as the day they were made,” Mr Atkins said.

“I don’t think we could make anything in this day and age that would last as long.

“And when they used to cook kumara kau, they would steam the kumara in the hangi with puriri leaves on hot stones, and that helped keep the right chemistry and prevented burning.

“Boiling the leaves was also good for sore throats, sprains and back aches, if you soaked the mixture in a sponge and applied it externally.

“If that knowledge of our past makes people care for their little bit of bush then I’m glad.

“I’ll be rapt if people actually get out and care for these things, they just don’t know they exist.”

Healthy Families East Cape is in full support. The provider is using an indigenous systems approach in its campaigns to prevent chronic illness (reducing obesity and smoking, moderating alcohol consumption, and encouraging more fitness and exercise).

“Engaging with and understanding Tane’s domain, and the matauranga and whakapapa of the puriri, draws us to the forest as a place of sustenance and strength, encouraging physical activity (hikoi), not to mention positive outcomes for mental health,” Mr Stewart said.

Dr Heke said the Atua Matua process was initially developed as an attempt to provide a set of environmentally-based Maori concepts that could help Maori move from “the current deficit mainstream model of health to a Maori ancestral framework”.

“Each iwi is able to populate the framework with information that is specific to their particular knowledge base, environment or interpretation rather than acquiescing to mainstream prerogatives alone.”

As part of Healthy Families East Cape’s indigenous systems thinking, the Kai Atua (Food of the Gods) programme is aimed at helping people understand what their ancestors ate, move them away from highly-processed and unhealthy foods and to reconnect them with traditional Maori foods.


■ Those interested in learning more or visiting the puriri can register their personal, group, or please get in touch with the Healthy Families East Cape team at contact@healthyfamilieseastcape.com.

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