Our Wellington

News | 22 January 2021

Welly Walks: Foraging for our indigenous foods

For many years, chef and kaumatua Joe McLeod has been treading Aotearoa’s tracks.

Chef and kaumatua Joe McLeod, wearing a white cap and jersey, holding up a jar of pickled native New Zealand pikopiko, the young curled shoots of ferns, standing in his sunny backyard surrounded by bush and purple flowers.

For exercise? Not specifically, that’s a bonus. To connect to the whenua, and to forage for kai.

Nearly every flower, tree, shrub – Joe knows its story, how it sustained his people for hundreds of years before New Zealand was colonised and much Māori cultural history was lost.

“Tracks to me aren’t just tracks, they are cultural heritage,” he says.

“I forage all the tracks from here to Masterton. I have a fair idea of where our unique resources are that our ancestors traditionally gathered.”

Joe’s been cooking for 50 years. During this time, he’s been recalling childhood teachings from his elders, researching, and rediscovering traditional Māori foods and cooking methods.

His goal is to “revive, preserve, and promote” this knowledge which has been lost through the generations.

The 63-year-old knows many of Pōneke’s tracks and trails like the back of his hand.

He knows where to find pikopiko – the young curled shoots of ferns, which when prepared correctly are “a delicacy in the Māori pantry”. He knows where puha grows fresh for his salads. He knows which common plants, also known as weeds, can be utilised for kai, tea, and medicine.

But his local stomping ground is Te Ara Paparārangi track, in Gilberd Bush Reserve, home to community marae, Ngā hau ē whā o paparārangi.

In Newlands, Joe and others from the marae have planted thousands of natives along Te Ara Paparārangi track, which he walks up to four times a month.

“I do cooking presentations, and I forage for all my resources on that track.”

He uses what’s in season, observing the Māori calendar, and is passionate about keeping it sustainable.

“The key is not to bring too much, because you can’t use it all,” says Joe, father of two adult sons.

A jar of pikopiko, the young curled shoots of ferns, which have been pickled and are sitting on a wooden table with a cup and a plate of food beside them.

Joe has a permit to collect from Council reserves and follows established protocols and tikanga.

In his early days, he completed his cheffing apprenticeship in Parliament’s Beehive kitchen, before spreading his wings and cooking in kitchens all over the world, where he discovered many cultures cooked using similar methods to hāngi.

These days Joe is executive chef at his own company, Epuro Hands International Ltd. He teaches chefs genuine Māori cuisine, gives presentations to and advises organisations, and is working towards his Masters and eventually his PHD.

“I’m quite honoured to research this and share it with the country. We have been playing with these indigenous ingredients for hundreds of years – we treasure it – whatever mother nature offers us for free, we honour and present it on our table.

“I’m doing what I’m doing now to make sure this knowledge doesn’t get lost.”

As well as revitalising Aotearoa’s traditional cuisine, Joe hopes to see Māori history recorded along Pōneke’s tracks and trails.

“When you know your whakapapa and you grow up with it, it’s very easy to make connections and understand why things grow the way they do.”

Te Ara Paparārangi track has stunning views of Wellington Harbour, and has various access points from suburban streets.

This walk is suitable for people of average fitness and all ages. With no steps, this walk is buggy friendly, but be aware there are some steeper sections on the older section of the track.

The plastic yellow and black Welly Walks box with a cheese scone on top, sitting in Gilberd Bush Reserve with a view of Wellington Harbour and Somes Island beyond.

This is the final story of six in our #WellyWalks series. Hit the Te Ara Paparārangi track from 9am on Saturday 23 January to find the #WellyWalks treats!

HINT: Start at Waihinahina Park and follow the signposts to Gilberd Bush Reserve.

Happy walking!