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Young eels called home

Tina Te Tau, left, Lena Mataiha, and Raumahora Waata lead the welcome of young longfin eels to Lake Onoke. PHOTO/SUPPLIED

A group of native eel enthusiasts has made what it hopes will become an annual trip to welcome returning young tuna, the endemic New Zealand longfin eel, back to Lake Onoke, in South Wairarapa.

Organiser Gaye Sutton said the bus trip at the weekend, involving around 40 people, came after an initial expedition two years ago and was driven by her passion for finding the ancient stories of the land and making them known.

Iwi kaikorero [storytellers] Rawiri Smith and Joe Potangaroa were on hand to pass on the stories treasured by the original Maori inhabitants of the area.

The longfin eel lives in Wairarapa’s rivers and streams for 80-100 years before being carried by swollen autumn rivers and streams down to Lake Onoke and out to sea.

Females then make the one-way journey to spawn in the deep Tongan Trench, with the young carried back to New Zealand by currents in spring.

“They have the look of small glass eels, and are often mistaken for whitebait,” Sutton said.

“The idea was to welcome the young tuna back, and honour the ancient traditions through the art of storytelling.”

No eels were spotted during the visit, but that was not really the aim, she said.

“It is a symbolic journey. The point is not to see the elvers but to call them in.

“It is not a new thing to do – in ancient times it was something the local Maori did because the eels to them were an important food source.”

The journey culminated in a ceremony on the shores of Lake Onoke.

“Karakia and karanga and poetry were sung out towards the ocean as we all stood ankle deep in water with tears in our eyes and running down many cheeks,” Sutton said.

“Altogether, it was a profound experience and one I think should become an annual event.”

The trip was funded as part of Creative Communities by Masterton and Carterton district councils.

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