You may have seen Renee Thomas and her husband Matt Kelly and their mobile coffee and icecream truck at events around Nelson and Motueka over the last summer.

Renee and Matt have been appointed as the new Kaitiaki for the Marahau whenua.

We caught up with Renee to ask her about what the new role means to her and Matt.

“Matt and I are thrilled to be taking on the kaitiaki role. Looking after whenua that is so important to the Wakatū whānau is a real privilege.

I grew up Nelson, and through my dad, was always involved with whānau, hapū and Iwi. I went to Canterbury to study and came back to Nelson when I started my own family. Matt and I have lived in Nelson and Motueka, and now the time feels right to make the move to Marahau. We also have a very active two year-old labrador, Cisco, who is going to love being at the beach with us.

Both Matt and I have had quite diverse careers. My background is in accounting, and I’ve had accounting and management roles for Wakatū, Kono Horticulture, Ngāti Rārua Atiawa Iwi Trust and Ngāti Tama ki te Waipounamu. I also really enjoyed a secondment with ASB – it was interesting getting a perspective about what it’s like to work for a large, nationwide bank. These days I run the food truck, and work part time as an accountant for Rezource. Working for and with Iwi, hapu and whānau has always been an important part of my life – currently I’m on the boards of Te Runanga o Ngāti Rārua and Te Awhina marae.

Matt has a huge love for the sea and the natural environment, and is also a people-person. He has been a fisherman most of his life, and for around five seasons worked as a water taxi driver in the Abel Tasman. He knows both the local community and the environment well.

As we did last summer, we’ll be basing the mobile coffee and real fruit ice cream truck out at Marahau. This summer we’re giving some of the younger ones a go at running the truck. It’s the perfect summer work experience – they get experience in handling money and providing great customer service. And as a bonus they get to eat ice cream!

This new role as Marahau Kaitiaki is not only important for me and Matt, but for my daughter Sophia, and future generations. My father put a huge focus on providing a strong cultural grounding and path for his children, and it is important to us to give the same opportunities and support to Sophia. It is a real honour to give her and others in our whānau whānui the chance to come and connect and spend time on their ancestral lands.

We really want all whānau to feel welcome, to enjoy the space and have a wonderful time out here. The facilities are basic, but that is a huge part of the magic out here – switching off and feeling the strong connection to the whenua and moana. We’re here to give everyone the opportunity to put their feet on their ancestral whenua here at such a special place.”