I am blessed to live close to a natural wonder that is world renowned - Te Waikoropupū Springs. At the moment over 500 people a day are visiting this cultural and environmental sacred area. Didymo is the biggest environmental risk and the waters cannot be touched but there is also a risk in offering only a part of the cultural interpretation that is also important. With context we create bonds and connections and explanations of cultural aspects have something to hang off.
What are Te Waikoropupū Springs?
Research has shown that a huge system of flooded chambers exists in the buried marble under the valley. Overlying the marble is a thick layer of sandstones which do not permit the passage of water through them, and act as the ‘cap rock' over the waters within the marble. In the Waikoropupu Valley the surface river has eroded down through this cap rock to a point where the Pupu Springsunderground water, at great pressure, has been able to burst through and emerge as springs.and from wikipedia
The freshwater springs are the largest cold water springs in the Southern Hemisphere and second only to the Antarctica’s Weddell Sea in clarity. Every second between 10,000 and 14,000 litres of water are released from the springs, whose depth has never been accurately determined.
The horizontal visibility of the water in the springs has been measured at an average of 63 metres, a world record for fresh water. This value, which was verified using specialist optical instruments, approaches the theoretical maximum for optically pure water.Te Waikoropupū Springs is wahi tapu - a sacred place.
At the entrance to the walkway to the springs, the Department of Conservation has placed a sign: "Te Waikoropupu Springs are a taonga (treasure) and waahi tapu (a sacred place) for Māori, both locally and nationally. The legends of Te Waikoropupu are told in the stories of Huriawa, its taniwha (guardian spirit). In Māori tradition the Springs are wairou, the purest form of water which is the wairua (spiritual) and the physical source of life. The Springs provide water for healing, and in the past were a place of ceremonial blessings at times of birth and death and the leaving and returning of travellers."This is the only current signage and intrepretation given on site to the visitors and this annoyed me because the DOC person has to go around to say to many visitors that they should not eat or drink near the waters and picnics are a no no too. There are no signs telling people about this and this is adding to poor perceptions. Imagine you are from overseas in a beautiful area next to a river of unbelievable clarity and power - the perfect place to have a picnic. Maori concepts of tapu are associated with eating and drinking because those activities are used often to break or release tapu. It doesn't seem good enough to try to respect maori concepts but only provide a fraction of the context needed to make the concepts understood. If someone tells you that you are doing something wrong - you feel bad and sometimes this feeling and externalise into negative feelings about a group. "Sorry but we ask that you don't have a picnic here because maori believe it is sacred and eating and drinking is not allowed." simply encourages people to have negative feelings about maori. Much better to put a fence at the top rather than an ambulance at the bottom. Much better to have a sign that explains the context of tapu.
I did a bit of research and the management plan offers hope.
Vision - Moemoeä
The management of Te Waikoropupū Springs reflects the wähi tapu/sacred nature of this important taonga tuku iho/treasured resource.
The kaitiakitanga/guardianship role of Manawhenua ki Mohua is accepted and respected by all.
Te Waikoropupū is maintained in a natural state.
Excellent catchment management ensures that the waters of Te Waikoropupū remain pure and strongly flowing.
The cultural identity of Manawhenua ki Mohua is maintained through protection of the mauri/life force and wairua/spirit of Te Waikoropupū.
The community takes pride in sharing Te Waikoropupū with visitors.
Low profile facilities protect the area and enhance visitor experiences.
The natural, historic and cultural importance of Te Waikoropupü is clearly explained using carefully designed and located interpretation that is readily accessible to the public.The plan is a 10 year plan that began in 2009 and i am looking forward to the vision being implemented. Already the name has been fixed from pupu or waikoropupu springs to the correct Te Waikoropupū Springs and this is good. But there is much to do and allowing guided walks which offered intrepretations and context is a good place to start. Meanwhile 50,000 to 60,000 visitors each year walk away from Te Waikoropupū Springs missing 75% of the story.
Footnote - I want to thank everyone involved in protecting this area - this post is about improving things and strengthening connections between people.