New Zealand’s only traditional Maori garden at Hamilton Gardens

Offering a rare insight into New Zealand’s pre-European history, the country’s first and only traditional Māori garden is located at Hamilton Gardens.

Set on the banks of the Waikato River in the region’s most visited tourist attraction, Te Parapara demonstrates how food was traditionally cultivated and stored. 

Te Parapara was the original name of a pre-European Māori settlement now occupied by Hamilton Gardens and home to Haanui, a famous Ngati Wairere chief. It was renowned as a site for sacred rituals associated with harvesting of food crops, and was the site of a tuahu (sacred altar/shine) called Te Ikamauroa.

Before Europeans arrived, the riverbanks of the central Waikato were lined with Māori gardens, so the Waikato / Tainui horticultural heritage in this area is of national significance.

The garden tells the story of the establishment of cultivated food crops in the Waikato, from the landing of the original Tainui waka / tribal canoe to the era of the expansive plantations in which local Māori excelled as productive gardeners. It displays the plants, techniques and culture associated with pre-European Māori horticulture, food gathering, preservation and storage.

Opened in 2008 the garden has a number of precious Māori carvings that were previously inaccessible to the public. The delicate works have been created with painstaking detail to remain in-keeping with age-old traditions, and complement the garden which reproduces cultivation in the area hundreds of years ago.

Iwi advisor Wiremu Puke says the garden is unique. "There is no other garden like this that preserves the traditions and material cultural knowledge with this level of integrity. It’s also an acknowledgement of the ancestors who cultivated these riverside terraces over many centuries up until the 1863 Waikato Land Wars," Puke said.

Plant displays are set within a design that refers to traditional built structures as well as to the cultural aspects of gardening.  It shows how the first Polynesian arrivals to Aotearoa used the plants they found growing wild, and demonstrates the techniques they developed for growing tropical crops in a sub-tropical climate.

Te Parapara is divided into two realms - Te Ara Whakatauki / path of proverbs, which lies between the Piazza and the waharoa / gateway, is the realm of uncultivated food from the forest and grassland. The ruler of this realm is Haumia- tiketike - god of wild food plants.

Work on Te Parapara spanned almost five years and was a collaborative project between Nga Mana Toopu o Kirikiriroa, the Te Parapara Garden Trust and Hamilton City Council.

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