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Digital Subscriptions > National Geographic Traveller (UK) > April 2018 > THERE’ S SOMETHING ABOUT màori

THERE’ S SOMETHING ABOUT màori

TO GET BENEATH THE SKIN OF MĀORI CULTURE YOU HAVE TO READ BETWEEN THE LINES. BEYOND THE BOMBASTIC NOISE OF TRADITIONAL HAKA DISPLAYS, INDIGENOUS NEWZEALAND LIFE HAPPENS IN THE ‘SMALL PLACES’, IN THE HUSH OF ITS FORESTS AND ON THE QUIET OF ITS LAKES AND SHORES
An unfurling frond of a tree fern
IMAGE: GETTY

NEW ZEALAND

Charles Pipi Tukukino Royal is surprisingly diminutive for a culinary colossus — an elfin man who comes up to my chin, with a wave of grey hair and two delicate koru (ferns) tattooed on his ears. This is rather fitting because Charles is something of a fern aficionado.

The Māori chef started as an army field cook, aged 15, before becoming a restaurateur and going on to create menus for Air New Zealand — in the process, being named Innovative Chef of the Year by the Restaurant Association of New Zealand in 2003. Today, Charles runs foraging tours and traditional Māori cooking classes, as well as supplying restaurants with wild plants. All of which explains why I find myself rooting around with him in his ‘backyard’, near Lake Rotoma, half an hour east of the city of Rotorua on North Island.

Comprising five acres of century-old forest, this is a compact cosmos of plant power. Branches, thick as a bouncer’s biceps, bar our entrance. Sinewy lianas coil around them like crossed arms. I stand on my tiptoes for a glimpse of the shadowy interior, but its secrets are indecipherable without an insider.

Luckily, I’ve someone to do the talking for me. Charles dips beneath the barricade of vines without a whisper of complaint from the big trees, so I scurry after him like a groupie. “Let’s say a karakia [prayer] to thank the land,” he says, delicately placing his palm on a tract of bark. From his lips spill whispers so soft and spell-like the trees seem to close in around us, listening. Logs, robed in moss, lounge against each other luxuriously and the floor is dressed in a filigree of leaf skeletons.

Charles weaves, cougar-like, between the tangle. “There are 312 species of fern in New Zealand; 14 are edible,” he says in a hushed voice. “This one — silver fern — you can’t eat it but it glows in the dark, so if you’re in the bush at night you can leave a trail to find your way back.” Charles snaps off the tip and turns it over to show me its shimmery belly. “And if bushmen need energy, we eat this: bush asparagus — have a taste.” It’s slimy, like okra. We delve further.

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About National Geographic Traveller (UK)

From ancient villages to stories from the locals, we uncover some of the Aegean Sea’s most gleaming pearls as we island-hop across the paradise idylls of Greece’s Cyclades. Elsewhere, we discover authentic Maori culture in New Zealand; wind our way along the Volga in Russia; and spend a long weekend in Tunis. Our urban highlights this issue include Istanbul, Lisbon, Mumbai and Bordeaux while our photo story introduces the freedivers of Jeju Island in South Korea.