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An Operator’s View: Kohutapu Lodge and Tribal Tours’ Nadine Toe Toe

19 Dec 2019  By Contributor

(l-r) Kohutapu Lodge and Tribal Tours co-director, Karl ToeToe, co-director Nadine ToeToe, Stray CEO Brett Hudson, and Maurice ToeToe at the NZ Tourism Industry Awards. Image: Supplied

Nadine Toe Toe, director at the Bay of Plenty’s Kohutapu Lodge and Tribal Tours – which won the 2019 NZ Tourism Industry Awards’ community engagement category – on authentic cultural experiences, creating opportunities for young people, and the National Geographic initiative that changed lives at Murupara.

My first stint at tourism was straight out of university, working in all the different departments of the Rotorua RTO. I think that experience was what catapulted me to where I am today.

I went on to become the marketing manager at Hell’s Gate and then was shoulder-tapped to become the national sales and marketing manager at Tamaki Tours. I was very lucky to have such great bosses throughout my career. The tourism industry whanau is made up of some amazing people and I was lucky to have learned from some of the best.

As a young Maori woman coming through the tourism industry 20 years ago, there weren’t many Maori women in senior positions. I gained confidence and resilience by being continually encouraged to work harder and rising to every challenge. Through that experience, I built up the courage to step out on my own, with my husband. And we moved out to Murupara and started Kohutapu Lodge and Tribal Tours.

Over the last ten years, the tourism industry has been asking for authentic cultural experiences. They want real, and you can’t get any more real than Murupara.

Through travelling the world via trade shows and trade training I have learned that sometimes you have to look a little bit harder to find the beauty in the places you travel to.

For us, the beauty of Murupara lies in our people, our colourful township and a story of survival – it is real, raw and hard-hitting. Forty years ago, our town was a thriving forestry town, and everyone was employed in forestry and owned their own homes. When jobs became mechanised, the region faced huge unemployment and poverty.

We share the story of our town’s history with visitors and more importantly we share with them the hope that is within our people.

On the outskirts of Murupara, we have the most beautiful landscapes: rivers, lakes, mountains, waterfalls and the most amazing native rainforest in New Zealand – Whirinaki, an ancient podocarp rainforest. There are so many tourism options that could happen out there.

Six years ago, my family moved to Murupara and we started our business. We wanted to support our community, show guests the realities we face as people and the positive impact they can leave behind in communities like ours.

We run guided cultural tours through Ngāti Manawa tribal land. When our visitors arrive we put down a hangi and whilst the kai is cooking we engage them in interactive activities including teaching them the haka, weaving, night-time eel fishing – essentially all the things we try to do to hold on to our culture in a modern world. It is not a show, the experience is hanging out with a modern day Māori family and us sharing our culture.

The community and social responsibility arm of our business is massively important to us. Our product was founded on cultural principles. Ngāti Manawa is a landlocked tribe surrounded by nine other iwi. They used to protect their boundaries so fiercely. Every 100-200m there was a pa site. It is a vast land, and in some areas there were rich resources, and in other areas there were not. The tribe’s chief would rotate the community around the areas that were rich with resources so that everyone was able to benefit. That is how the tribe learned to survive and share the good with the bad. So we could not move out to Murupara and flourish through this tourism opportunity without bringing our community along with us and allowing them to flourish through the benefits of tourism.

We work in partnership with Stray, the bus touring company, who backed our business from the start, transporting visitors to and from Kohutapu Lodge and Tribal Tours and supporting our community and school, enabling school trips for local tamariki. The school is a decile 1 school and many of the Murupara community have not travelled out of the region, so the opportunities that have opened up as a result with Stray have been hugely beneficial.

We are all about creating positive change for our community and have forged many important relationships over the last 5-6 years that have enabled us to do so much more. Air New Zealand has supported us and about a month ago we worked with them to host a National Geographic Photo Camp.

Air New Zealand brought top photographers from around the world out to Murupara – one of five camps that they’re running in New Zealand – and we were able to select 20 kids from our region to learn the art of photography from these world-class photographers. The students learned how to tell their stories through photography which is so powerful. It has given a lot of mana to the community, especially to these young people. The week was fiercely emotional and not only changed the lives of those 20 kids but all of our lives. And I know for a fact that the experience saved lives as well.

Through the National Geographic Photo Camp were able to teach kids about storytelling and photography and also that there is value in what they do and that there are career choices within tourism that they can benefit from. The photos taken by the kids are owned by them and we hope that they will be used in promotional material for a small fee.

We are also very excited to have recently obtained a Department of Conservation concession that will enable us to launch a new product in January called Whirinaki Forest Footsteps. This will be a cultural journey through the Whirinaki. We will share the history, kai, myths and legends of the Jurassic, podocarp rainforest. This is really exciting for us as we will be hiring eight local people to deliver this product for us. It is all about creating local opportunities for our people.

If you’d like to contribute to our An Operator’s View column, contact the Ticker’s Jane King at


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