I was marching down a path that had not felt the foot of living men for many thousands of hangis. It would have been pitch black but for hundreds of dancing fire flies who spun, weaved and knitted a golden pathway for me to follow.
Then, out of the black my phone rang. It was the mighty Maui.
“Where are you bro?” he asks. I am the first living white man ever to hear his voice and soon I would be the first to set eyes upon the man who supposedly had disappeared into the mouth of the goddess of death, Hine-nui-te-Po many moons ago, a story he would insist, was a complete myth. Before I could begin to try and describe where I was, a taxi arrived and a door emblazoned with Maui’s Moa Taxis swung open. The identity of the driver revealed an unknown gem of New Zealand popular culture. He was none other than Lionel Skeggins, ex-Shortland Street muffin runner, and like all the other characters killed off in the cult show, he is to forever roam Aotearoa’s underworld. But before I could work in a one liner about “not being somewhere”, we were at the house of Maui.
For an ancient legend, Maui is in great humour and really chirpy – a side effect from all those years transforming himself into birds. Slightly hunched and bald, he is no Rico Gear, but his age hasn’t rendered him a Maori yoda yet. His skin is in fine condition thanks to a deal with Suzanne Paul that netted him enough Natural Glow to light most of the underworld. His fire flies, he admits, aren’t the real deal, just mozzies covered with Natural Glow.
“Suzanne and I are still good friends, she’s a smart woman and realises that business is business and what happened to her Maori cabaret venture up north was just a result of poor business acumen and nothing to do with any magic spells,” Maui says with a big wink. If his business practice is anything like his behaviour as a youngster, I wouldn’t be surprised if a few naïve profiteers had been taken for a ride by this sly and sometimes cold-hearted legend, and then been stitched on the fare. A self-confessed workaholic, he is not one to shy away from impossible projects – having an impressive portfolio that includes lengthening the day and of course fishing up the North Island. The last achievement still rankles with him and he remembers the day with a moist eye.
“We were having a few beers on the boat and my brothers weren’t having much luck so I had a crack and pulled up this island. Looking at the state of it now, I should have chucked it back. I mean, there’s plenty more islands in the sea right?”
His is unashamedly a southern man at heart and boasts boyishly about the success of the Canterbury Crusaders, but when asked why he lived most of his life in the North Island he says it just came down to the warmer climate, and “maybe a lady”.
Along with his stable day job for Maui Moa Taxis, he is Churman of the New Zealand Institute of Maui Affairs and has his fingers in all manner of on land ventures.
“I started off with my Moa taxis for lost souls who wander the underworld and thought why not do the same for lost souls who wander above, and so I bought a fleet of camper vans and then went into insurance; tourists have accidents right?” he says adding a malicious wink. He directs all his operations from his home office hidden deep within Mount Egmont, saving heaps on heating. Not one to be out of touch with the outside world, he has all the conveniences at home of an independent, well educated, affluent modern day Maori. Adorning his walls are several jawbones and he makes no bones about his wish to add to his collection, already having made some serious bids online for Arnold Schwarzenegger’s and Anthony Robbins’s impressive flappers. One gets the feeling that this astute and aggressive businessman can get whatever he wants. He did after all take every one of his Grandmother Mahuika’s finger and toenails, and his incessant sly winking is downright dodgy.
But what could be construed as a greedy streak is countered by a warm spirit of goodwill. In 1969 Dutch drillers found his septic tank off the Taranaki coastline and despite the enormous potential wealth in his natural gas, Maui let them dip in for free. Each time he visits his bathroom it’s a special time to sit and play the philanthropist. Asked whether he longs to roam the land above he says he’s been there done that, although admits to be quite taken with some of the Pakeha women and their domineering qualities. And as for the Treaty of Waitangi? The only thing that bothers him is the translation and the fact that they left out Article 4 completely, the one stating that white men should never dance, haka included.
It is somewhat humbling to meet a descendant of the gods; this guy has done so much more than we could ever dream of. But to come in contact with someone who possesses so much power and not ask the odd favour would really be a sin. So, on the way home Lionel was happy to wait in the taxi outside the quarters of Nurse Tiffany Marinovich while I sinned. (Didn’t she end up crippled, and in a coma? – Ed) Cheers Maui, you’re a legend.