Seven wāhine from Raukawa are about to embark on a hīkoi of a lifetime, traversing the same 400 kilometre journey across the North Island as their ancestress Māhinaarangi once did.
It will form part of the Marsden-funded research project Taku Ara Rā: Ko Māhinaarangi, led by Dr Naomi Simmonds from Te Whare Wānanga o Awanuiārangi, about how retracing ancestral pathways can affirm what it means to be a Raukawa woman in contemporary Aotearoa.
Māhinaarangi's journey is one that has inspired Simmonds throughout her work and life.
Her ancestress was heavily pregnant and bare-foot when she undertook the journey to be with her lover, Tūrongo, many years ago.
"It's a love story, which makes this journey all the more exciting. Māhinaarangi fell in love with Tūrongo from Tainui Waka, who had gone over to her neck of the woods down in Ngāti Kahungunu to help build a house. They fell in love, and she fell pregnant," Simmonds said.
"He returned to Tainui to build a home for her, and while she was pregnant she made the journey back to settle down with him. She gave birth along the way, at the bottom of the Kaimai Ranges, so she cared for a newborn baby along the way and then arrived at Rangiātea."
Their baby, Raukawa, is where the Waikato tribe's name comes from.
The journey will not be easy, with the hīkoi expected to take three weeks, beginning in Wairoa and then to Waikaremoana, and across the Mamaku and Kaimai Ranges.
The group will sleep and eat at marae, kura and Department of Conservation huts along the way.
"I've been asked if we're going to be walking bare-foot and sleep in the bush like Māhinaarangi, but we're very pragmatic about what we're doing and we also need to take care of our well-being given the length," Simmonds said.
"I'm excited, I'm terrified, I'm just wanting to get to the start, everyone keeps saying you'll be looking forward to when it's over but I'm just looking forward to start.
"I've already learnt from her that the journey is really important. She didn't take the most direct route to get to Tūrongo, she actually went a really interesting way, and so I've learnt from her that the journey is just as important as the destination."
The group will leave today and hope to arrive at Rangiātea Pā, just outside of Otorohanga, on Sunday 6 December.
For Simmonds, the hīkoi was a necessary step for her research.
"There are lots of reasons why I want to retrace Māhinaarangi's journey. It came about as a beginning at the end of my phd thesis which was looking at Māori women's experiences with childbirth and I really connected to her story and I guess all the tikanga and mātauranga that is imbedded in all the places that she walked.
"There are a number of different stories about where she went. If you go the Whakatāne route it's about 750km of journey, but myself and the six other women that are walking will be walking around 400km of that journey."