Volunteers at the Te Wānanga o Aotearoa national waka ama sprint champs at Lake Karāpiro work hard for long hours but are always assured of a decent feed thanks to the tireless work of Hone Mutu and his team.
For 12 years Hone has been feeding the volunteers and VIPs at the massive event, which attracts thousands of paddlers and tens of thousands of fans every year.
After starting out himself as a volunteer, Hone says he and his team of whānau and friends can make a better contribution by making sure the volunteers are well fed.
“We thought the best way we could help was to ensure they have a good breakfast in the morning and a beautiful dinner at night and so we’ve stuck to that principal,” he says.
“We’ve all been volunteers, we’ve been down in the loading bays, that’s the most difficult part, it’s strenuous. And when it’s weather like this it’s a real pain because you’ve got to actually jump in the water and hold the waka for the kids to get in and out.”
On the menu this year has been a range of dishes including beef Wellington, lasagne, scotch fillet, glazed ham, roast pork, lamb racks and, of course, hangi.
Hone – who lives at Waimate North - says the event is a good time for his whānau to catch up with each other and they come from around the country to help out at Karāpiro.
“We do it as a family thing so we can get together once a year if we can’t meet during Christmas,” he says.
Catering for crowds is something his whānau is used to, he says.
“I was brought up on the marae with my parents and grandparents like everybody else, but mum and dad basically ran the kitchen and so that’s where we got it from, it’s about manaaki te tangata.”
He keeps his Karāpiro kitchen in the Rob Waddell Pavilion open 24 hours for hungry volunteers.
“People can come in and make tea and coffee, we tell them where any leftover food is if they do get hungry, that’s how we operate and that’s just the way we’ve been brought up.”
He says it was a whānau decision to take on the catering contract 12 years ago and there was never any intention of making money out of it.
“If we wanted to make money we’d be having mince and whatever else every night, that sort of food, but we choose not to go down that path and instead to give them the best quality that we possibly could,” he says.
“Our thing has always been manaaki and so all the kai that we have in the VIP area, we don’t charge for. We supply the VIPs their morning teas and lunch so that’s our koha to Tainui because they’re looking after all the VIPs down there. I’ve never charged for that or for the pōwhiri kai because I’m not happy to charge for what is a tikanga thing, that’s our koha back to Waka Ama.”
His crew feed more than 70 people each morning and evening during the week and he says it’s something they love doing.
“I guess that’s our passion, me manaaki te tangata ahakoa ko wai no hea, me tika te tiaki i a rātou. For all the work that they do the least we can do is provide them a nice kai and we hope that we provide that.”
Over the years, he says there’s been a growing range of dietary requirements to cater for.
“Once you might have had a vegetarian, that was easy, just have the vegies. Now we’ve also got pescatarians, vegetarians and vegans so we also make sure we’ve got kai for them.”
“I said to the kids, you know, we’re giving the others, the meat eaters, scotch fillet, not just blade steak or something, they’re getting lamb shoulder and glazed ham, well the vegans and vegetarians can’t eat any of that so they’ll get a nice fillet of salmon or tofu skewers and that sort of stuff.”
His menu for their Friday night hākari alone would make the event worth volunteering for.
“Friday is basically surf and turf because one year we did all seafood and someone said ‘I don’t eat seafood’, really? So we’ll have scotch fillet and then paua, scallops, oysters, kina, prawns and raw fish and sashimi.”
With a menu like that, it’s little wonder the same volunteers keep coming back year after year.
“Generally the core volunteers come back every year and they’ve been doing this for the last 20-odd years. And they’re good people, they’re great people to be around. The great thing is you see the kids grow up, they come in when they’re five or six as a mokopuna of one of the others, next minute they’re shooting right up, that’s awesome.”
Along with those core volunteers, Hone and his crew will be back at Lake Karāpiro in 2022.
“It’s a kaupapa you’re either in 100 percent or you’re not. The great thing about this kaupapa is it goes basically from five year olds to 80 year olds, it’s a whānau kaupapa and definitely no other sport where they have all of them together. We have karakia every morning and it’s one of those evolving sports that truly acknowledge who each individual is.”