News | 22 January 2021
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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. Joe goes out to connect to the whenua (land) and to forage for kai (food) and medicines, as well as collecting plant matter which he can use for weaving and creating art pieces.

Nearly every flower, tree, shrub, grass, insect – Joe knows its story, how many of the plants he forages sustained his people for hundreds of years before New Zealand was colonised and much Māori cultural history was put to one side for another.

“Tracks to me aren’t just tracks, they are a unique connection to our environmental heritage,” he says. 

“I have foraged most of the tracks from here to Masterton and 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 largely been forgotten through the generations.

The 63-year-old knows many of greater Wellington's tracks and trails like the back of his hand.

He knows where to find pikopiko – the young curled shoots of the chicken fern, which when prepared correctly are “a delicacy in the Māori pantry”. He knows where to find puha for his boil-ups and salads. He knows which common plants and weeds can be utilised for kai, tea, and medicine, following Māori protocols.

But Joe's favourite local stomping ground is Te Ara Paparārangi track, in Gilberd Bush Reserve, and Waihinahina Park, which nestles around his community marae, Ngā hau ē whā o Paparārangi in Newlands.

Joe and others from the marae have planted thousands of natives trees, shrubs and flaxes along Te Ara Paparārangi track as part of a 20-year replanting programme, making walking these tracks several times a month an absolute pleasure.

“I do cooking presentations at the marae, foraging for resources along those tracks and surrounding areas.”

Joe is passionate about keeping it sustainable, and he uses and follows the Māramataka calendar, observing the Māori seasonal protocols.

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

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 chefs apprenticeship at Travelodge Hotel now Bay Plaza Hotel in Oriental Parade, later moving to Parliament’s Bellamy’s kitchen, before spreading his wings and cooking in kitchens around the world, where he discovered many cultures cooked using similar methods to hāngi.

These days Joe is executive chef to company, Epuro Hands International Ltd, teaching pre-European, genuine Māori cuisine concepts through presentations, training sessions, and wananga to schools and organisations. He is working towards his Masters in the revival, preservation and promotion of traditional Māori culinary culture, and ultimately a PHD. 

“For hundreds of years, Māori utilised this knowledge of knowing when and what to harvest, gathering ingredients from whatever mother nature offered daily to sustain life. 

“I’m doing what I’m doing now to make sure researchers and practitioners can access this information and it 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!