Guiding in Ata Whenua Fiordland

30 Apr 2020

This blog post is presented by guide Tara MacDonald.

Ka tangi te Titi 

(The Muttonbird cries)

Ka tangi te Kaka

(The parrot cries)

Ka tangi ko hoki ahau

(Therefore I cry also)

Tihei Mauri Ora

(Behold there is life!)

The above is a Ngai Tahu whakatauki or proverb


Ko Tapu-oe-nuku toku maunga

Ko Wairau toku awa

Ko Kurahaupo toku waka

Ko Ngati Kuia, Ko Rangitane, Ko Ngai Tahu oku iwi

Ko Omaka raua ko Te Hora oku marae

No Waiharakeke ahau, 

inaianei no Te Anau ahau

Ko Tara toku ingoa


Tena Koutou Katoa


My name is Tara and I am originally from Marlborough at the top of the South Island.

I have been working for Trips & Tramps for two seasons and love guiding in Fiordland which is also known as Ata Whenua (Shadowland) by the Maori. I have lived in Te Anau for 5 years now.

Light shining over the mountains onto the water

Fiordland is known as Ata Whenua (Shadowland) by the Maori

My passion is mountaineering and hiking and I have been privileged to spend time working and playing amongst NZ's highest maunga and glaciers. 


I am of Maori descent and can trace my ancestry back to some of the first people to arrive from Polynesia around 700-800 years ago. I can speak a little Te Reo Maori and try to korero as much as possible when out guiding.


One powerful Maori concept is Turangawaewae which can be translated as “place of standing”. It is where one feels most empowered and connected or our place in the world. For me, the outdoors is my turangawaewae and with that a sense of responsibility to nurture and protect our natural environment and share our treasure that is Aotearoa with the manuhiri that travel here from other lands.


Another traditional value for Maori is Manaakitanga which means hospitality and allowing people to feel welcome, cared for and respected, no matter where they are from. It is considered to be very important in Te Ao Maori. 


A normal day for me involves getting my two beautiful tamariki off to school then heading to the Trips & Tramps depot to get ready for the day. Te Anau is a great community and special place to raise a family. 

I love the variety that my work provides and being able to guide on the different tracks with people from all over the world. This past season I really enjoyed, after the big storm that ripped through the Milford road. We were unable to get into Milford Sound for a few weeks so Steve the boss (being the logistical genius that he is), had us out guiding in different spots. The Korean group that I took through the Kiwi Burn was an awesome day out! 

Group of people hking through tussock grass

Guiding to one of the lesser known places, the Kiwi Burn

The essence of my guiding is centred around Te Ao Maori, the language, history, Polynesian migration, colonisation of NZ, and flora & fauna, particularly the use of native plants for medicinal purposes. Having worked as a glacier guide on the West Coast in the past, I enjoy talking about NZ's mountains and geology and the weather! I can pretty much talk about anything but usually avoid politics until at least the end of the day!


I am lucky to have a job that keeps me fit and gets me outside most days. Although, torrential rain in Fiordland can challenge you sometimes. Its character building is what I tell myself.

People climbing up the mountain with a waterfall behind them

Connections to the landscape are formed through recreational activities.

Fiordland is a very special corner of the world. There are numerous spots scattered down the coast that were inhabited by the early Maori. Old earth oven middens and food storage pits can be seen from the air when flying above. Remnants of Maori occupation can be found in the isolated Fiords in caves. 

The Maori traversed the mountain passes carrying their prized pounamu to trade with other tribes. This stone can only be found on the West Coast of the South Island and near Lake Wakatipu.

Tradition is that your first piece of pounamu should be gifted to you.


Being such an inhospitable environment it is hard to imagine how they lived and survived as they did. These days we have the luxury of helicopters, fancy boats and Trips & Tramps vans with exceptionally good looking guides to get us around! Back then large canoes were carved by hand using the mighty Totara trees native to NZ.


For those that are fortunate enough to visit Ata Whenua, I hope that they leave here with that turangawaewae and korero with their friends and whanau about this special taonga in the South Pacific.


No reira

Tena koutou, tena koutou, tena tatou katoa.

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