The Māori App Connecting New Zealanders to Their Whenua

Arataki goes beyond colonial history to tell the indigenous stories behind some of Aotearoa's most famous locations.
November 7, 2018, 12:25am
Lee Timutimu of Arataki

In Aotearoa, no matter where you are, the chances are that you can find something interesting to look at. A world-class hike, an exploding body of water, some hot mud, or a really really tall cliff. New Zealanders love to travel, and tourists love to explore our back yard. Searching for Huka Falls on Instagram will bring up literally thousands of images in just a one-year time period. But almost always, we go into these places with no understanding of the history; and if we do get the history, it is usually only the colonial one.


Lee Timutimu wants to chance that. He is one of four tāne behind Arataki, a Māori story-telling app that allows you to unlock deeper cultural stories when you are in a particular location.

Timutimu noticed the passing of a number of important elders in his community. These are people who hold the wealth of knowledge in Te Ao Māori, and some of that knowledge dies with them. These are histories which were once commonplace, and critical to understanding the relationships between human and whenua. “There’s a lot of upside in terms of how we are unlocking stories in location, and the main one really is it forces people to go out, to see, to visit, to touch, to walk on, to breathe, to hear a wāhi (place).”

The app started with Mauao—what most people know as Mount Maunganui in Tauranga. Throughout the summer, Mauao sees hundreds of people climbing up and around it every single day. But if you say you are climbing Mauao, even most residents of Tauranga will look at you in confusion. Lee says he isn’t a story-teller, but now being a voice for these places is at the core of his work. That comes with a responsibility to look after the land as well. Kaitiakitanga is big for the men behind Arataki, and in this case that means that Arataki are often asking themselves how they can help maintain an area where they might potentially be increasing the foot traffic.


The Arataki app began with the story of Mauao - which most people know as Mt Maunganui.

It is a question they ask as a Māori business. The structures of a business and tikanga Māori are often seen as mutually exclusive. How do you embody the structures and values of a marae when working within the global tech industry? “It’s really difficult to take these intrinsic values that we have because we are Māori and try and connect them and implant them into a business model. Which is Western philosophy.”

“Whanaungatanga is a really important thing to us. Not just through whakapapa but these are just things that are baked into who we are. But what if we were to apply whanaungatanga to our customers, to our partners. What if we look wider than New Zealand to hopefully work with other indigenous peoples?”


Besides whanaungatanga, Lee lists manaakitanga and kaitiakitanga as their priorities. He says that when they started Arataki, making money was only the third priority on the list, and didn’t even come up until they were a year into development.

The app is being developed all the time. Currently there are only guided walks for Tauranga and Rotorua, but more walks will be added soon. The app also has information about cities and towns all over the country. All locations are given in te reo Māori. Arataki is also working with iwi in indigenous Australia to develop resources for their own cultural histories. While those stories are different, there is a lot to share between the two cultures.

“We do have an affinity to land. Our culture and our language is very important to who we are. It doesn’t matter if we go to Australia, the South Pacific islands, Hawaii, even the Americas. It doesn't really matter if we are different people. We are already on the same page because of the way we think.”

The Māori tech and business industry is growing exponentially. Lee says that this is only a positive for them, as they endeavour to embody their Māoritanga together. “Technology is the now, it’s not the future. It’s right now and we need to be able to show and teach our kids to use technology and use digital tools. To enable them to be able to create pathways for themselves.”

“We are partnering with a number of really successful Māori entrepreneurs and we are working on some exciting stuff together. It’s about collaborating with other like-minded Māori businesses to be able to create something amazing, and more impactful. Whether it’s a social enterprise where we are building something together that is going to help our communities or whether its commercial.”

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