A Māori business owner in the heart of Matakana village won’t let the wet weather dampen her spirits as retailers celebrate the first weekend since the opening of the new motorway this week.

Tania Rupapera, of Ngāti Kahu, Ngāruahine hopes the road will encourage more Aucklanders to visit and experience the wairua (spirit) of Matakana.

She opened her gallery Unity in the village during the lockdown, nearly three years ago, seeing it as a chance to rebuild her life and contribute to the village that she now calls home.

She says Matakana has different oxygen – “different energy to breathe”.

She came to the village after a journey that took her around New Zealand and overseas. 

She was born and raised in Taranaki and moved to Wellington in her youth, then went overseas for five years. She had her son after meeting his Italian-South American dad in Spain. 

When she parted from him and returned home, she lived with her father in Taranaki, before settling in Ōrewa with her Mum, but was yearning for more.

When her son's father moved to Ōrewa, she decided to move away, to live either 30 minutes to the city or 30 minutes north.

“That's kind of how I came to be here. I want to stay co-parenting, as I think it's important for my son to be with his dad, even though we have separated."

We just became best friends 

Rupapera said she settled in Matakana with her young son and quickly made friends and decided to give back to the community.

“I chose this beautiful space and just integrated myself into the community by asking, what can I do to give light? How can I contribute?”

One of her dear friends was the late John Baker, who founded the Matakana Country Park.

“When I first came here, I volunteered to help with a show on at Matakana Country Park and that’s when I got to meet John.

Tania Rupapera with the late John Baker, the former owner of Matakana Country Park. (Image: Supplied)

“He was so funny, and we just became best friends.”

She said Baker was very community-oriented and generous with his time and support. He even bought a church and donated it to the village.

It was the community support from Baker and others in Matakana that pushed her to open her gallery, she said.

She said when she saw an empty retail space, she jumped.

“I rang the landlord and pitched the kaupapa (values) to him that I could offer Māori high-end creative works with authentic storytelling.

“I put a storyboard together for him and he absolutely loved it.”

Baker was supportive as she set up the gallery.

“Any time I was doing anything for business, he would be like, ‘What do you need? All right, I'll get my grandson. He will come and connect that for you.

‘“I actually didn't realise how good a friend he was until I do certain things and remember that John's not there.

“He was a beautiful man and I really miss him.”

She said she was overwhelmed with the manaaki (care) from everyone in Matakana.

“But it's what this place is like, it was easy to make friends. People turned up to help. Even my neighbours came in to clean the shop the day before we opened.”

Rupapera said Matakana was a beautiful place and it has helped her to thrive as a business owner.

“As a community, we were talking about how it takes a village to raise a child and it's the same to start a business.”

Unity of cultures

Unity is a contemporary Māori art gallery that allows her to spend time on her second passion, practising as a business coach.

“It is very purpose-driven. It's a small gallery, but it has a very big purpose.”

Rupapera said the village sees high demand and the retailers all offer something special.

She has more than 50 Māori families supplying the gallery with mahi toi (art).

Rupapera said she found many in Matakana’s community who wanted to learn about te ao Māori. Living up to the business’ namesake, she said she has had a strong response to her art gallery from both Māori and non-Māori.

“I think the wairua is very strong. We have people who walk in and there's tears pretty much every day.”

She said people will come in, stand in front of the artwork and reflect.

“They'll feel something, or they'll have a memory.

“Everyone who comes in has this memory of connectivity, which I think is where the emotion comes from.

Rupapera said it was really important to respect the space and ensure it was safe for everyone. She said her team were incredible in holding the mana (respect) of everyone who visits.

Her new partner works in the store with her. "He's just phenomenal with the spirituality and holding that space. All the team’s depth of knowledge is incredible. They really embrace it and love it, but I think it's more than that, it's because of how that makes them feel.”

She said many non-Māori feel safe asking questions about te ao Māori (the Māori worldview).

“We're all learning. We're in a different place, learning and then you see this little pattern, you see their physiology change, they walk out and you see they have been empowered.

“And they might have been in our space for only 10 minutes.”

Following the signs

Rupapera said she believes signs guided her in the weeks leading to the opening of Unity.

Once she said she was stressed about needing to get power to her shop and went down to the village at 7am. She ran into the one sparky in the whole area at the ATM.

In another instance, she needed to paint the shop.

“So, I was organising the painting and I'm juggling my son being home. I realised I needed a babysitter. I walked out of the gallery and who walked round the corner? It was my babysitter.”

Buy local and support local

She said the core values of the community were about support: buy local and support local businesses and do what you can so that the entire area flourishes.

“The community is really beautiful," says Tania Rupapera. (Image: Amy Robinson Studios)

She said Matakana’s point of difference is that businesses are mostly owner-operators, not inside a shopping mall.

“We’re not chain stores. We’re independent business owners. And you'll find that owner working in their shop."

There were charming small businesses all around the coast.

“As you're driving on the way here, you can be pulling off the road and someone's garage is converted to a shop, or maybe there's a little candle maker there.

“Then you go around the corner and there's a really awesome vintage store.”

And, of course, there's the famous Saturday market.

“You've got this beautiful little courtyard area surrounded by trees and then you can wander around the stores and have a lovely weekend experience.”