Rejuvenating physical and mental wellbeing, whakawhanaungatanga, and wānanga for whānau is at the fore of the Waikawa Restoration Project.
Healthy Families Rotorua systems innovators, Stevee Wikiriwhi and Teteira Ormsby, have joined forces with GNS Science, Bay of Plenty Regional Council, Parakore, Māori Land Court, and iwi to regenerate the geothermal waters of the Rotokawa baths (Waikawa).
Waikawa, situated 200m from the shore of Lake Rotokawa, has contributed to the wellness of local iwi for many years. It has been described as a centre of wellness, with certain puna particularly good for arthritis, boils, skin diseases, and aiding the healing of broken bones. The mana whenua of the area is Ngāti Uenukukopako, who share Waikawa with Ngāti Te Roro o Te Rangi and Ngāti Rangiteaorere. All three maintain and protect geothermal places which hold traditional value and significance to their whakapapa.
Stevee says over the past two decades, mana whenua has experienced significant losses to Waikawa, including declined geothermal heat, reduced water supply, and flooding. She says it is resulting closures, restrictions, and disconnection to the taiao have impacted the wellness of local iwi, hapū and whānau.
“The main concern regarding the disconnection between Waikawa and the community is the inability for mana whenua to exercise kaitiakitanga (connection to the land). This greatly impacts their relationships, knowledge, and health. The more recent closure of the bath due to Covid-19, has caused further loss and disconnection from the Māori community to Waikawa,” says Stevee.
Teteira says the project will monitor supply of Waikawa over a 12-month cycle, before shifting to a mātauranga Māori system which synchronises to geothermal patterns and evidence the benefits.
“The first 12 months will used to implement training, share knowledge, increase understanding of Waikawa as a health system, and build stronger relationships between the taiao and community. GNS Science will train volunteers to monitor and collect data of Waikawa. Specialised equipment is essential to this part of the implementation, along with professional tutorial for operation.
“The second 12 months will consist of shifting to a traditional system of operation influenced by maramataka. Data collection will resume and be correlated at the conclusion of the monitoring period,” says Teteira.
He says the aim of the project is to provide a long-term solution to improved health outcomes for Māori communities, restored relationships, and increased connection to the environment.
“It’s integral that we have a narrative of community voices, combined with quantitative data of Waikawa. This information will be used to shift a system to a more healthy and sustainable option for Waikawa and Māori communities.
“Having geothermal springs which are accessible for treatment, relief and connection provides an alternative health system. Engaging in a traditional system, influenced by mātauranga Māori knowledge, empowers Māori communities to control the application and impact on their own health outcomes,” says Teteira.