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Connecting with her heritage

Gisborne girl, Hinemihiata Lardelli has ventured to Naples, Italy, to volunteer with an organisation that manages the environmental protection of a marine reserve that was once part of a bustling ancient Roman city but is now an underwater archaeological park. Reporter Maika Akroyd caught up with Hinemihiata, daughter of Rose Gould-Lardelli and Derek Lardelli, about her exciting trip away.

“My great grandfather came from Italy so I’ve always wanted to explore and reconnect with my Italian heritage,” she said.

Hinemihiata is volunteering for an NGO called Centro Studi Interdisciplinari (CSI) Gaiola that manages the marine reserve by monitoring the area, patroling for illegal fishing or commercial tourist activities, and clearing rubbish in and around the water. Her job also includes collecting data, such as how many people are on the beach and in the water at specific times, to track the human interactions with the marine reserve, and teaching people about ocean preservation.

“The reserve is called Gaiola Marine Protected Area Underwater Park. It’s in a little bay just outside of Naples where there are ancient Roman ruins above and under water.

“I always knew I wanted to live overseas, to volunteer and to do something meaningful for the environment so I researched exactly those three things earlier this year and I found this volunteer program which ticked all the boxes,” she said.

She applied for the volunteer position and began working at the beginning of September.

From her time in Italy so far, Hinemihiata would “100 percent” recommend the adventure to other young women from New Zealand.

“My volunteer placement is incredible. The work is hard but it’s super rewarding so I love it.”

She said that activities such as illegal fishing or commercial tourist tours aren’t allowed in the marine reserve and that it was in an awful state before CSI Gaiola started working on it.

“Ships were anchoring on the Roman ruins, people climbing and jumping off the archaeological sites — you couldn’t even see the ocean floor. It was literally covered in rubbish.”

She said CSI Gaiola have worked hard since 2002 to regenerate the ecosystem of the reserve and protect the archeological sites.

Diving head first into another culture has been the best part about her time in Italy so far, she said.

“Being immersed in the Italian lifestyle has been an insightful and fun learning experience. Language is a challenge but you’d be surprised how many English-speaking tourists visit Gaiola. They’re always interested in what we do so I talk to them in English.”

Hinemihiata is living with eight other girls (three from the United States, one from Finland, one from Argentina, one from China, one from Canada and one from the United Kingdom) and said learning about their countries and customs has been interesting.

“I was nervous before I got here but now that I’ve settled in, I’m absolutely loving it!”

Hinemihiata has already found some similarities and differences between Maori and Italian cultures. She said the Italians are very hospitable people and that Italian and Maori share the same pronunciation of vowels.

“Just like Maori embrace the concept of manaakitanga (care for others), Italians do their best to make you feel welcome and at home.”

Other similarities are also evident.

“I’d say that Italian women and Ngati Porou women are very similar in the sense that we’re assertive, strong-headed and passionate. You can see this just in the way they talk and interact with their families — it’s just like being at home in the kitchen with all your aunties.”

When asked about differences she has noticed, Hinemihiata said she was surprised at how normalised smoking in Italy is.

“I think in New Zealand we’re moving into an awesome era where smoking is frowned upon, but here in Europe it’s still prevalent in everyday life and activities.”

Hinemihiata said Italians have a very old history.

“Compared to Europe we are a relatively young country. For example, the other day we visited the catacombs, which is an underground paleo-Christian burial and worship site built in the 3rd century. Even the houses can literally be hundreds of years old. It’s fascinating”.

Growing up in Te Ao Maori, Hinemihiata said everything from her childhood has helped her become the person she is today and ultimately has helped her to adjust to life in Italy.

“I also owe a lot to my mum’s side of the family who are Pakeha from the South Island. They taught me about hard-work and instilled the No.8 wire mentality into me, which has been helpful in my journey here.

“My three Gould aunties all lived abroad when they were younger too so they were part of my inspiration to come here. They all gave me great advice for travelling,” she said.

“I’m lucky enough to have met some of my Irish relations during a short visit to the family farm in Ireland on my way to Italy.”

As head prefect at Gisborne Girls’ High School in 2010, Hinemihiata represented the school within the Turanga Wahine Turanga Tane kapa haka roopu following two earlier wins at national primary level with Manutuke School in 2004 and 2005.

She has also represented Whangara since 2007 alongside her brother, Te Ahimanuka and their father, where their group won the national Te Matatini competition in 2017.

The family of four are all involved in kapa haka, with Hinemihiata’s mother, Rose, involved in the administration of the Whangara roopu.

“I love my group to absolute bits,” Hinemihiata said.

“Kapa haka is my passion. It keeps me connected to my culture, it brings me home, health and fitness, time with my family, learning about history, strengthens my reo . . . the list goes on!

“It’s not just about the 20-minute performance — it’s about knowing I’m actively participating in keeping the Maori culture alive.”

Though she hasn’t yet seen anything in Italy that is similar to a kapa haka performance, she said Italians stress the importance of food and eating together.

“This is also an important aspect of a kapa haka campaign. Kai time is the prime time to bond with people and really get to know one another.”

Regarding her head prefect role at Gisborne Girls’, she said getting into leadership roles early has helped her navigate on her life journey.

“The roles teach you helpful life skills like decisiveness, problem-solving and confidence, which I can say have helped me on this trip.”

When her volunteering ends she will do a Contiki tour around Europe with her best friend from Manutuke school days, Yvanah Ria, and then return in December to New Zealand to live in Auckland where she will spend time with her family and boyfriend who she said she already misses.

Rose Gould-Lardelli, Hinemihiata, Derek and Te Ahimanuka Lardelli during one of their many campaigns with kapa haka roopu, Whangara Mai Tawhiti. Pictures supplied
Hinemihiata sitting in front of ancient Roman ruins at her volunteering job in Naples, Italy.