Graduating apprentice’s journey

Whitikau Rio only ventured on Taranaki Maunga a few times with his whānau when he was growing up in South Taranaki.

The last two years as an apprentice ranger with Taranaki Mounga Project has turned that around, reconnecting him with the maunga, where he’s out and about on most days.

Whitikau (of Ngā Rauru, Ngā Ruahinerangi, Ngāti Ruanui) is now adept at navigating through the ngahere, whether that be setting new trap-lines, checking and baiting traps in the thousands, monitoring and handling kiwi or engaging with the community.

Completing the Jobs for Nature and PredatorFree 2050 NZ-funded apprenticeship, including a Level 4 Certificate in Conservation, is a milestone for Whitikau: “It’s a big accomplishment for me coming out of factory work and putting my intentions into something better.”

He enjoys being in nature and protecting biodiversity as part of Haumanuhia Te Hononga  Taiao, a partnership between Te Korowai o Ngāruahine and Taranaki Mounga Project based on the southern side of Taranaki Maunga.

“Highlights for me would be I’m more surrounded in my culture again – visiting marae around the mountain, listening to whakaaro there, and meeting similar organisations doing similar mahi.”

Whitikau Rio

He says his work and personal life also connect in a more meaningful way, such as his physical fitness from the mountain helping his mau rākau, Māori mixed martial arts training, and his mentoring and leadership work with rangatahi.

Last year, Whitikau organised a 4-day wānanga with about 20 rangatahi, part of Te Kawa o Rongo programme. He says it was a personal highlight for him that built upon his experiences and growing leadership with Taranaki Mounga Project. “It was about tikanga and kawa and how to be a good role model and responsive. We stayed on the mountain for 4 days and visited special sacred places and had  kōrero around the stories and their meaning to mana whenua.”

His advice for those considering working in the restoration space: “This job is not meant for everyone, it can be physically and mentally challenging but if you are a person that likes to explore and be out in the taiao and you have a good sense of manaaki – values of protection within yourself, go for it.”

Whitikau also shares about his journey on social media, which is creating a ripple effect. “It has shifted a change of heart with my peers and my whānau, leading in that space,” he says.

Poutohu matua taurua Sera Gibson says Whitikau possesses the skills and qualities of a young leader. “Humble and gentle in the way he holds himself, he assumes the role of Pouhāpai, naturally uplifting others around him.

“Whitikau has achieve some significant professional and personal milestones during his time as part of our team. We are proud of him and look forward to seeing what tomorrow brings,” she says.