Putting the waka into Wakatipu

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The fast-growing traditional sport of waka is now making waves in Queenstown. 

After arriving in town from the Far North in January, former New Zealand waka ama representative Frances Piacun was surprised the sport – using outrigger canoes that are an integral part of the culture of Pacific people – didn’t exist here. 

She met local Maori Stephen Tarawa who, through his contacts, called a meeting which 20 people attended. 

Within five weeks, the Wakatipu Waka Ama Club had been incorporated and taken loan of a six-seater waka and paddles from the sport’s regional body in Christchurch. 

A powhiri and blessing for the waka was held on Queenstown Bay last Sunday, at dawn. 

Piacun says the sport’s great for families and for fitness and health: “I’ve coached women who’ve fallen in love with it and thrown away their blood pressure and cholesterol pills.” 

It also suits a multicultural town like Queenstown, she says – “as long as paddlers respect and honour the tikanga and the protocol of what the waka’s about”. 

It’s also a smoke-free sport – “you cannot smoke anywhere in the vicinity of a waka”. 

Piacun says she’s also had initial interest from local schools. 

She’s hoping the club will officially launch at a regatta on Lake Wakatipu on Waitangi Day, February 6, which other clubs around the South Island will be invited to. Meanwhile the club’s already started fundraising – it needs about $30,000 to secure its future. 

Already it’s had good local support – Blue Kanu restaurant co-owner Karen Hattaway, for example, has donated a set of lifejackets. 

Piacun’s employer, Artbay Gallery’s Pauline Bianchi, will also hold an art auction on Waitangi Day. 

She hopes the auction can raise $15,000 to enable to club to buy its own six-seater waka. 

Piacun adds: “My dream is that there’ll be representatives at the nationals in January 2016.”

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