Eleven Mairehau High School students and a tutor from the Tipu Taitama Voyaging Trust paddle in unison as the waka slices through the harbour’s smooth waters.

The Trust’s waka ama coaching programme has been running for 13 years with two borrowed waka, but with demand for the positive wellbeing activities for low-income households in the eastern suburbs dramatically increasing since the earthquakes, there has been a groundswell of interest over recent years.

As part of the community-led recovery grant, New Zealand Red Cross provided Tipu Taitama with $15,800 to fund some of the tutor’s hours and help pay for a double-hulled and a single-hull waka.

Waka ama tutor Haimona Hale says as a result of the funding they’ve been able to increase the programme to cater to 50 to 60 participants every week.

“We have a number of high schools in the eastern suburbs, community groups, second-chance education programmes and alcohol/drug recovery groups all actively involved now and to see the difference that waka ama makes in people’s lives is very rewarding,” Mr Hale says.

“Rowing the waka builds their self-esteem and gives them a sense of identity, particularly if they have a Maori or Polynesian heritage. It inspires confidence and helps build teamwork, which are very important parts of all waka training.”

The training programmes involve taking between four and 20 people out onto either the river or ocean in the double-hulled waka where they learn to work in unison, outdoor skills, take turns leading and practise traditional Maori waka calls while learning the history of the area.

Tipu Taitama Voyaging Trust’s most recent purchase with the Red Cross funding, a single-hulled waka, is expected to arrive in Christchurch from Rotorua shortly.