Skip Content
 Dena-Maree Hemara - NZ Exercise Award winner

Kaitaia local Dena-Maree Hemara (nō Te Māhurehure me Ngāti Rangi) wears multiple pōtae – business owner, kaiako, contractor, māmā – and now she can add NZ Exercise Award winner to that bundle.

Tikanga kaiako Dena-Maree, owns Whitirau Cross100, a cross-fit gym in Kaitaia she started in September 2022 when she was unable to travel to Kaikohe to her preferred cross-fit classes.

By winning the inaugural Te Piki Oranga award at this year’s NZ Exercise Awards, her humble, small-town gym has been acknowledged for their kaupapa and contribution to community hauora.

Te Piki Oranga, the first Māori category award, can be understood as ‘elevating the lifestyle or longevity of someone’s health’.

“That’s exactly what we are trying to embody and role model. Our goal is to consistently role model the values and teachings of our ancestors through this model of hauora, of pakihi, of reo, of tikanga. With this taonga it elevates us to be more responsible to get out there and share what we do. Whitirau, whakawhiti i ngā rau whakaaro, kia aro pū ki te hauora o tangata, kia taurite pai, ko te whare tapawha,” she says.

Functional fitness classes at Whitirau Cross100 are predominantly in te reo Māori and clients are encouraged to bring their tamariki. By providing an environment where barriers can be overcome and Māori can hear their language, Dena-Maree is aiming to change hauora in her community.

Dena-Maree has found a lot of cross-over between running functional fitness classes, and teaching Te Whāinga o Te Ao Tikanga at Te Wānanga o Aotearoa.

She was drawn to Te Wānanga o Aotearoa as she wanted to be somewhere she could combine her knowledge and skills in te reo and tikanga with her commitment to improving hauora and allowing people to grow.

Dena-Maree has watched her tauira grow in confidence, with some wanting to delve into their whakapapa or expand their pepeha.

She describes her tikanga classes, with a strong hauora strand focusing on balancing Te Whare Tapa Whā, as a way of broadening connection within a community.

“They’re an introduction to how we can enhance growth of mātauranga Māori and tikanga in our everyday lives. I get to drop little gems here and there on what tikanga means to me and how I embody that every day,” she says.

The desire to help others understand their own journey of learning, and how they can improve their lifestyle and connection with te ao Māori is what drives Dena-Maree.

She is teaching people through tikanga and functional fitness that change can be created from the small moments when we prioritise ourselves and our hauora.

“I’m here to elevate that waka o te ora. If you believe, are passionate and driven, and have the support of your people and your ancestors, then anything is achievable,” she says.

Learn more about our Tikanga Māori programmes.

 Back to news & events

Published On: 01 December 2023

Article By: Gemma Bradly-Jacka

Other Articles

  • 19 June, 2024

    Art on show at curators’ wānanga

    Around 40 Māori curators from museums, galleries, archives and museums gathered at O-Tāwhao Marae in Te Awamutu over the weekend for their annual hui aimed at networking, sharing knowledge and discussing how to grow Māori capacity in the sector.

  • 20 June 2024

    Teen mum turned business owner with support from Wānanga youth programme

    Falling pregnant at 15 was a big surprise for Paeroa teen Ella-Grace Tissingh, but with the support of the Youth Services programme at Te Wānanga o Aotearoa, she’s managed to gain NCEA level 2, get her full license, and start up a successful business.

  • 06 June 2024

    Raranga programme helps funeral director to connect with traditional cultural practices

    Descended from a long line of undertakers, it’s no surprise that it was tangi that brought Delano Murray (Ngāti Kurī) to Heretaunga, where he’s a funeral director for Simplicity Funerals and studying Toi Paematua Level 5 in raranga with Te Wānanga o Aotearoa.

  • 16 May 2024

    Kawerau local lives out childhood dream of learning to weave

    As a young girl, Barbara Wheto always had a fascination with harakeke and the art of weaving. But growing up in an era where being Māori and Māori culture were scorned upon, she was never encouraged to explore the art form.