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In 2002 the Oscar nominated New Zealand movie ‘Whale Rider’ catapulted the small Eastland settlement of Whangara onto the world stage. Directed by Niki Caro, and based on a novel by acclaimed New Zealand writer Witi Ihimaera, ‘Whale Rider’ tells the story of young heroine Paikea (named after the Maori ancestor Paikea, rider of the whale) and her struggles with rejection and cultural constraints.

The young actress Keisha Castle-Hughes was nominated for an Oscar after her breathtaking performance, and ‘Whale Rider’ enjoyed international success. Since then Whangara has become a popular destination for tourists wanting to visit the laid back town and view the iconic Marae (meeting house) featured in the movie.

Whangara is located 30km north of Gisborne, and belongs to the ancestral lands of the Ngati Porou. The cozy seaside settlement is built around the Marae made famous in the movie – but visitors should not enter the Marae or meeting grounds uninvited. Official tour operators in the area can provide the opportunity to enter the Marae, as well as learn about Maori customs and protocol. Marae stays are also an option – for people wanting a full overnight Marae experience. The Gisborne Visitor Centre is able to help arrange such tours.

Tolaga Bay (around 30km north of Whangara) is also closely associated with the ancestor Paikea. It is said that the original inhabitants of Tolaga Bay (traditionally known as Uawa) were descended from Maui Tiki-Tiki-a-Taranga (the ancestor who fished up the North Island) and Paikea (the ancestor who voyaged from Hawaiiki). Tolaga Bay is steeped in Maori history and culture, and is also the site of some important encounters between Captain Cook and local Maori. The major attraction in Tolaga Bay is the 600 metre long historic wharf - said to be one of the longest in the Southern Hemisphere.

Tolaga Bay culture and heritage tours can be arranged at the Gisborne Visitor Centre.