Guardians of the Dunes

Rose and Dave Spicer (both of Ngāti Kurī) are keeping the home-fires burning and making a business of sand surfing down Te Paki Giant Sand Dunes in the Far North. The husband and wife team have been running their eco-tourism business Ahikaa Adventures for more than four years.

In 2003, Rose and Dave volunteered for the Far North District Council safer communities “ambassadors” programme designed to prevent high rates of theft and burglaries against tourists.

“We started with a chair, an umbrella, a chilly-bin, a boogie board, our ambassador’s sign and two packets of chips. At first we were looking after our manuhiri and then we started renting boards to them,” says Rose.

“We take our job of kaitiaki very seriously. We tell the tourists to leave their laughter but take their rubbish,” she says. “Safety is paramount. We have every person read our rules and give them a safety kōrero before they head into the dunes. Every day we check the dunes to make sure they are safe for sand surfing.”

Ahikaa Adventures started with three cheap boogie boards. Now they have 180 specialised sand surfing boards from Evolution that travel at speeds of 80–100 kilometres per hour. Ahikaa Adventures have expanded their business to include walking tours, kayaking, four wheel drive and pushbike hires.

Recently a local kōhanga reo spent the day with Dave and Rose sand surfing down the baby slope. They have also hosted kura kaupapa and wānanga and held pōwhiri, with Dave as kaikōrero and Rose as kaikaranga. “Being Māori and coming from this whenua provides us with a unique advantage for all our manuhiri,” says Dave. “We are happy to share our knowledge and stories of our whenua with tourists and visitors as long as they are respectful and understand that this area is of cultural significance to us, as it is part of Te Ara Wairua,” he says.

Rose and Dave got the support of Te Puni Kōkiri’s Business Facilitation Service, who provided a mentoring service to help with the planning and marketing of their business. “It has been fantastic working with Te Puni Kōkiri – they helped us develop a business plan for our business,” says Rose.

“My advice to other Māori looking at starting a business is to take small steps, have a basic plan and get help from as many people as you can,” she says.