Why I Travelled Eight Hours in a Car to See a Lady I Don’t Know

‘These are no ordinary waters
We are not ordinary beneficiaries.
We are kaitiaki in the truest sense.
We are tangata whenua.
Anything that upsets these waters or interferes with their flow should never be permitted.’

Ron Wihongi, Ngawha Kaitiaki (1924–2016)

My flatmate gave me a strange look as I opened the car door.

‘Why are you going there again?’

To be honest, I didn’t really know how to answer. Why I was driving all the way to Kaikohe. An eight-hour-long car ride crawling through traffic on a beautiful sunny Friday afternoon was the last thing I wanted to do.

But I knew I needed to go.

Earlier this year, I tried to find Ngāwhā locals when I went to visit the hot springs. I needed to talk to them about the Ngāwhā prison. Get their perspective.

The nice man behind the counter wasn’t a local. He pointed me in the direction of a Māori lady bathing in the water.

‘She looks like a local, talk to her.’

‘Um, that’s my mum,’ I told him.

He grinned sheepishly and then shrugged his shoulders.

‘Sorry.’

I trawled through books and websites, trying to ‘research’. All I knew was that a prison was built in Ngāwhā, tangata whenua protested and a taniwha was somewhere in the middle. But I felt like I hit a brick wall every time I tried to ‘research’.

And then I had a breakthrough. Don’t ask me how it happened, but it did. I found a name and number online.

‘Hello?’ A lady answered.

‘Kia ora! Can I speak to Riana Wihongi please?’

There was a long pause.

‘Riana passed away.’

I felt terrible and apologised profusely. I told her that I didn’t know Riana and had never met her. I was writing a book based on the events that happened in Ngāwhā, and I wanted to hear someone’s perspective on it. Someone preferably from Ngāwhā. 

‘Well, I’m one of Riana’s friends and one of the protestors.’ Her name was Toi Maihi.

‘Come over to my house,’ she adds as if she lives just up the road.

But I lived in Tauranga and Kaikohe’s a bit of a drive away (eight hours!). I suggested I come and visit her in December sometime.

She agreed, but before we hung up, she clears her throat.

‘Before Riana died, she told me someone needed to write a book about this. I’m so glad you called.’

I went back to my computer, but my fingers couldn’t type anything. Something kept nagging at me. And I have learnt from past experiences, when you get that strong feeling you need to do something, you do it. Don’t ask, just do it.   

I pulled up into her home in Kaikohe two days later. A small woman with white hair opened the door. She’s tinier than I expected. Just as nice on the phone. She ushered me in and told me to take a seat.

She pushed a scrapbook in my hands. Toi had kept every newspaper clipping and photos of everything to do with the Ngāwhā prison. Before it was built, during and after. She even scribbled notes that were weaved throughout the scrapbook.

‘Who’s that?’ I asked, pointing to an elderly man holding a tokotoko. He’s wearing sunglasses, and there are two police officers walking alongside him.

‘I can’t remember his name,’ she says. ‘But he’s blind. One of the elders that were arrested for protesting.’

Arrested. I take another look at the photo and see the elderly man’s hands behind his back. I suddenly feel really sad.

I find out later Toi suffered a stroke earlier this year. She can’t remember names or faces any more. She even forgets words.

The closer I look at her, the more I see sadness all over her face. There’s anger. Hurt. A lot of pain. I wonder if it’s all from the Ngāwhā prison being built.    

‘We fought for four years,’ she said. ‘Four years.’

For hours she talked. I listened.

I learnt more about what really happened. What online news articles could never tell me.

I leant that Toi, with many other Ngāwhā locals, fought for years to stop the Government spending $100 million on a prison in Ngāwhā. Court battles, trips around the country to other iwi asking for help, multiple hīkoi, hui, court battles and protests.

I learnt about the people behind the protests. The faces behind the names. Many whom have passed away, during and after the protests.

I learnt more about the why. The spiritual aspect. That the healing and sacred waters of Ngāwhā are under the prison. That in the battle of Ōhaeawai, the Māori brought the wounded Pākehā soldiers down there to bathe so they would heal quickly. And how that water still heals the people of Ngāwhā today.

I learnt that Ngāti Hine offered a place for the Government to build a prison, but it was declined.

I learnt that Northland MP John Carter said he was ‘absolutely delighted’ when kuia and elderly were arrested outside the prison site for protesting.

I learnt about the travesty and injustice my people faced trying to protect our taonga and sacred land.

Toi walked me to my car and gave me a hug. It was a longer hug than a usual hug.

I went back to my car and broke down in tears. And then my car broke down, and I cried even more because my car was getting towed away, and I was stranded in Kaikohe with no idea how to get back to Tauranga (but that’s another story for another day).

But I’m so glad I made the drive to Kaikohe.

My previous ‘research’ was no substitute for the raw emotion I felt from meeting Toi.

It’s a story of heartache and oppression and injustice, but it’s also a story of hope and inspiration.

For like Toi Maihi said, ‘We will not let them trample on our mana.’ A story that I hope will inspire other tangata whenua to continue fighting. Because truthfully, the battle is only lost when we stop trying.


Shilo Kino (Ngā Puhi, Tainui) is a journalist who previously worked for Fairfax Media and has had stories published in Huia Short Stories. She speaks fluent Mandarin from serving a volunteer mission in Hong Kong. Shilo is delighted to be selected for Te Papa Tupu 2018.

Being the Change

Te Papa Tupu attend the National Writers Forum in Auckland.
L-R: Shilo Kino, Jacquie McRae (Shilo’s mentor), Cassie Hart, Hone Rata, Ataria Rangipikitia Sharman
Photo supplied by Shilo.

I was fifteen when I first met Maya Angelou. Imagine my surprise. I was so used to reading books from authors who were white, and here I was reading a book with an African American voice sharing experiences of the worst racism I’ve ever heard of.

‘If growing up is painful for the Southern Black girl, being aware of her displacement is the rust on the razor that threatens her throat.’

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Maya Angelou

Now, I could never compare my racial experiences to Maya Angelou’s, not even remotely. But I do know how it feels to be looked down on, stereotyped and racially profiled because of the colour of your skin.

For me, growing up as a teenager was hard, but growing up aware of your misplacement as a Māori or indigenous person to New Zealand was a ‘rust on the razor that threatened my throat’.

But I remember thinking, I want to be like her. I want to be a voice for my people.,

In my community, I’m confronted with homeless and poverty every day. Petrol prices, food prices, house prices, it’s all rising to the point where it has become unaffordable. And who bears the brunt of it all? Of course it is my people.

In my job as a journalist, I am fighting with an already established media landscape, trying to challenge the way my people are portrayed in mainstream media. I constantly see Māori misrepresented or their voice silenced.  But once again it’s like a ‘rust on the razor that threatened my throat’. Māori journalists in mainstream media are few and far between.

And here I am writing my manuscript with a strong Māori voice and Māori presence. Sometimes I forget my purpose. Sometimes all I see is words.

But attending something like the Auckland Writers Forum was a reminder. The only other Māori writers I saw there were those in this programme. The workshops that I attended did not all have a Māori world view. It was a reminder of my responsibility.

I was inspired by Anita Heiss who has done wonders in the Australian writing community. Having to face severe backlash and racism as an indigenous writer is extremely wrong. Yet here she is, triumphant and with (dozens?) of successful books under her belt. And Lani Wendt Young is also a catalyst for change. Writing a successful Pacific YSA novel series even though publishing companies told her there was no audience. She proved them wrong.

Maya Angelou in all her pearls of wisdom also said this: if you don’t like something, change it.

Both of these women became the change.

But sometimes it feels like I am constantly trying to change everything.

And that I bear so much responsibility to be the change.

I guess, in all cheesiness, the change begins with ourselves. I’m learning fast that I can’t change everything. We need to make the changes that need to be made in our own sphere of influence. I hope I can be the change. Not just as a writer and journalist, but as a human being. That is why I chose to be a writer. And why I am doing Te Papa Tupu programme. Because change is necessary.


Shilo Kino (Ngā Puhi, Tainui) is a journalist who previously worked for Fairfax Media and has had stories published in Huia Short Stories. She speaks fluent Mandarin from serving a volunteer mission in Hong Kong. Shilo is delighted to be selected for Te Papa Tupu 2018.

The Hardest Thing about Being a Writer

I packed my bags, hopped into my orange Nissan and I drove. A picturesque town where locals walk around in jandals holding surfboards all year round was waiting for me. My new home. The opposite from the big city lights of Auckland. Paradise.

And yet it was chaos. Finding a new home. Changing jobs. Adjusting to a new job. Not to mention, the week before I moved, having my wisdom teeth removed. Probably not the best timing. One day out of work is all I need, I told myself. I was, of course, wrong. Drugged up on medication with blood coming out of my mouth meant I couldn’t do much for a week except lie in bed and eat coconut yoghurt while dozing in and out of consciousness.

But all of the above? No one cares. The world doesn’t stop. And unfortunately, my book isn’t going to write itself.

In fact, if the world was on the brink of destruction, I still must put pen to paper (or in my case put my fingers to my keyboard). I still must write.

And that is the hardest thing about being a writer.

Honestly, I’ve always wanted to be an author. It’s cliché and cheesy, but ever since i picked up my first book as a little girl, I was hooked. Back in my day (I feel so old), we had a television with three channels that Mum never let us watch anyway. It was either go outside and play or read a book. I chose the latter.

Twenty years later, and here I am.

And I am close. So close. But the last few months have also been a reality check.

You sit at your computer for hours by yourself. Writing.

And you don’t even know if it’s good.

Actually, you don’t know if your entire book is good or if it’s really just a piece of crap. It’s not until your mentor gives you feedback and some encouragement that you realise you are actually a decent writer.

It’s almost like writing a book has little to do with writing and everything to do with diligence. And consistency.

Forcing myself to write even when I’m not in the mood. Suffering from ‘writers block’.

Forcing myself to write even when I’m hallucinating from very strong medication.

Forcing myself to write when I just worked a full-on day for my new job and all I want to do is come home, kick my feet up and watch the new movie on Netflix everyone is talking about.

And, of course, you have all the other personal challenges and trials handed to you that I don’t need to talk about.

Everyday disappointments. Sickness. Fatigue. Personal relationships. The list goes on.

But I must write.

I am constantly reminded the things in life that are of the most worth are always going to be the hardest to obtain.

That’s what diligence is. Steady, consistent and earnest effort.

And perhaps that is what I am learning.

I know all the work I am doing is worth it.


Shilo Kino (Ngā Puhi, Tainui) is a journalist who previously worked for Fairfax Media and has had stories published in Huia Short Stories. She speaks fluent Mandarin from serving a volunteer mission in Hong Kong. Shilo is delighted to be selected for Te Papa Tupu 2018.

What It Means to be a Māori Writer

Shilo Kino with Patricia Grace and Robyn Bargh at the Pikihuia Awards in 2013.

Don’t call me a Māori writer.

I am a writer who is Māori.

Yeah, there’s a difference.

I tell stories. Stories I hope will shape perspective. Give life more meaning. And as clichéd as it sounds, provide a voice for the voiceless.

My Māori culture means everything to me. It is, of course, part of my identity. In fact, it is every part of who I am.

But one thing I have learnt from Te Papa Tupu is that we are simply not just ‘Māori’ writers.

We are writers who offer a Māori perspective, but our perspective is not the same. We share a gift of telling stories, but that’s where our similarities end. We were not chosen because we are Māori. We were chosen because we are writers.

I want the other five recipients to be successful just as much as I want to be successful. I am in awe of the support, love and inspiration that comes from the other participants and my mentor. It is refreshing and a change from a world often consumed by egotism and selfishness.

My book is a piece of my heart that I am laying out bare. I wrote it three years ago, in the space of six months.

The story lived inside my head for years. Niko, the thirteen-year-old protagonist in my story, nagged at me every minute of the day to write.

After I finished my manuscript, I went and served a mission for my Church in Hong Kong, a noisy, bustling city that gave me perspective. I came home and dug out my manuscript.

And now I’m here, a part of something special. But this is a lot harder than I expected it to be.

Shilo in Hong Kong

I recently got a new job, and I’m moving three hours south to a new place. In between a new full-time job, moving houses and juggling my social life, church commitments, family time and exercise, I have no idea when I’m supposed to write.

And if I’m not careful, writing becomes a chore rather than a joy.

But I write because I love it. I love being a writer. I’m proud to be Māori. There is a deep satisfaction and pure joy in my soul when I write. And I’m incredibly grateful to be part of a programme that encourages me to do what I love.

But do not expect my story to be the blanket ‘Māori’ perspective. There is no such thing. I am one voice among many.


Shilo Kino (Ngā Puhi, Tainui) is a journalist who previously worked for Fairfax Media and has had stories published in Huia Short Stories. She speaks fluent Mandarin from serving a volunteer mission in Hong Kong. Shilo is delighted to be selected for Te Papa Tupu 2018.