SIX60 v No 6: Hoani Matenga Hasnít Forgotten His Roots

SIX60 v No 6: Hoani Matenga Hasnít Forgotten His Roots

Few Kiwis will ever experience the pinnacles of success that Otago University alumni Hoani Matenga has. Ever since his first taste of representing his country for the Baby Blacks (NZ U19s) in 2006 as a second-year, Matenga’s rugby career has taken him on a journey most Weetbix card-collecting kids could only dream of. He has played for the Highlanders, the Steamers, the Blues, France’s Stade Montois, Japan’s Kubota Spears, and – most notably – the Māori All Blacks. 

But no success comes without sacrifice. While Matenga has travelled the world living out his dream, he has also been witness to the band he helped build, Six60, becoming one of New Zealand’s biggest music success stories. The Castle St-born band’s tale is one of sold-out stadiums, number one singles, and trips to LA to collaborate with Pharrell Williams and Grammy award-winning producer Malay, whose work includes Frank Ocean’s Channel Orange and Lorde’s Melodrama

Hoani Matenga struggled with an epic curse of talent, forced to choose between music and pursuing professional rugby. Speaking to Critic Te Ārohi, Matenga reflects on his life journey, discussing the band's beginnings on Castle Street, the Dunedin sound, pressure of the public eye, why the grass is never greener, touring the world as a Māori All Black, and what was really on the Ranfurly Shield.  


 

Hoani Matenga (Te Whānau-ā-Apanui, Rangitāne) is perhaps the most quintessentially Kiwi man alive. It all began with his father John’s passion for rugby. “It’s cliché,” he laughs. “Everybody's father was either into it or got their son into it. Dad always had a ball chucking around with me.” But the emergence of Jonah Lomu as rugby’s first global superstar is when his dreams really took root. “Everybody was just sort of taken back by what [Lomu] could do. I was growing up at that time. That was the time even the provincial games were sellouts, you know? You'd go into the stadium and there'd be a packed house. The buzz was all there in the ‘90s, it was the golden era.” 

Born and raised in Christchurch with PE teachers for parents (who met and fell in love at Otago), a love of sports and the University is deep in Hoani’s roots. His uncle, Kit Fawcett, not only played rugby professionally for Otago but made the All Black’s 1976 South African tour. According to Hoani, Fawcett became famous for the wrong reasons: “He’s famous for this quote, ‘The boys are scoring more off the field than on the field.’ It blew up in the papers in South Africa and back home, made all the wives of the players lose their shit. It was front-page news on everybody's bloody paper. He ended up getting sacked. A great footy player,” he smiles, “but not quite wise enough with those words back then.”

Inspired by the likes of Christian Cullen, Zinzan Brooke, Buck Shelford (and perhaps by his uncle’s words), Hoani set out to be the best rugby player he could be in the hopes of making it professionally. During his final year at Christchurch Boys High, he made the U17 New Zealand representative team. It was during the training camp that he met future Six60 front man, Matiu Walters. As fate would have it, Matiu had also enrolled at Otago Uni. They’d be living in the same hall, Unicol, the following year. “It was good to know someone in that setup before going down [to Otago]. I had no idea he played music or could sing at that stage.” 

Everyone’s life is made up of forks in the road, seemingly trivial decisions that can have much larger, unanticipated consequences. How often have we lain awake at night wondering what our lives would be like if we’d gone to a different school, or hadn’t met that one person on a random night out who you now couldn’t be without? Deciding to study at Otago was a first fork of many for Hoani, one he was “close to not making” due to the allure of Canterbury. “Canterbury were on top. All my high school friends were in their [rugby] academy. They were the pinnacle region to play for.” 

The decision to step out of his comfort zone stemmed from his parents’ own Otago lore and an unexpected chance to witness it for himself. During a boys’ trip skiing in Wanaka, Hoani passed through Dunedin and ended up crashing at a friend of a friend’s hall. “We were just blown away by the proximity of all these kids, basically partying, all living together. It just seemed like such a cool vibe.” Landing a full scholarship through Otago Rugby, Hoani took a leap of faith and enrolled in Marketing and Tourism at Otago University. 

OTAGO UNI: FRESHER

Upon arriving at Otago, Hoani remembers there being a “weird buzz […] I walked past this flat and saw these guys outside with a funnel, [shouting] ‘Hey fresher! Come do a beer bong with us!’ […] Straight away it's that drinking culture. You just get thrown into the deep end and make the most of it.” After O-Week, Hoani’s circle had branched out from the few guys he knew from back home. As he strengthened his connection with Matiu, he also met Ji Fraser who lived on the floor below him at Unicol. The two bonded over their mutual love of guitar. 

There’d always been a piano and a guitar in Hoani’s childhood home. “[My parents] tried to put me in lessons, and I just couldn’t read music, nor did it interest me. It was all by ear. I’d listen to something and I’d just be able to play it,” something he acknowledges is “a talent in its own right.” Whether it was ‘Changes’ by Tupac or songs off his first cassette tape, Michael Jackson’s Thriller, his ability to play chord progressions through listening would prove invaluable later in life, beginning in his first year of flatting. 

All freshers go through the inevitable panic of choosing which friends will be promoted to flatmates, proceeding to jostle for the lease to a cold, mouldy flat that’s never heard of the healthy homes standards. 660 Castle Street was no exception. The highly mythologised birth of Six60 conjures imagery of five guys forging bonds as flatmates through music (as suggested throughout the promotion cycle of the band’s latest album Castle St). However, the real 660 flat was a bit different. “It was actually one of my Christ College mates that managed to land us the flat,” Hoani says. With Hoani and his friends Woody, Paul and Callum on the lease, the group needed to fill two more spots. “I was like, ‘Let’s get Matiu and Ji involved.’ I could see the potential of us starting a band because Ji had a drum kit. I thought it would be cool if he brought it down to the flat.” 

THE GOLDEN ERA OF CASTLE: 660 FLAT

It was 2006 when the boys took on the country’s most infamous party street. While only half of the flat being band members may come as a surprise, the substandard quality of their flat was anything but.“It was a shit flat,” says Hoani. “It was cold. The walls were high. There was a gimp room. We did an initiation [with the former tenants] to figure out who would get it.” Flat initiations have been a hot topic in the last few months, both within the student community and in national media. Hoani can’t remember exactly what the 660 one entailed (“We were so drunk, it's all a bit of a blur”) but he can confirm initiations were alive and well in 2006. “It's been going for years. It used to be way worse back in the seventies from stories my parents have told me, Jesus! I thought our year was tame,” he says, before adding that “everyone's got too PC” in true breatha fashion. 

With Matiu’s soulful voice and Ji’s “freakish” guitar skills, Hoani fell into the role of bass guitarist. “I never really played bass until I went down to Dunedin, but I could hold a strum. On those early songs, those baselines are so simple. Some of the catchiest hooks were made from me playing simple riffs, it worked out really." The band still needed a drummer, however. As captain of the Colts rugby team, Hoani put out a call after training one day. “[I said] ‘Hey, by the way, does anybody play the drums?’ Eli didn't speak much back then, but he put his hand up and said, like, ‘I play the drums, bro,’” he mimics in a soft murmured voice. From that conversation in the Uni changing sheds, Eli Paewai became Six60’s drummer. 

Every Castle Street flat has its reputation and role in student culture: Thirsty for their blowout parties, Deathstar for its infamous breathaism and Courtyard for their girl-powered ‘Courtchella’ host, to name a few. Back in those days, 660 was everybody’s first stop after Gardies, the student bar which sat atop Castle Street. “Everybody used to party at Gardies,” Hoani explains. “We used to leave thirty minutes before it closed to set up the drum kit, bass guitars and mics at 660. We put the bed up against the wall to make a dance floor and then blasted the speakers outside. Everybody would just come in.” After partying at 660, students flat hopped until they reached other student pubs (such as The Cook or Two Beers), stumbling home in the early mornings with fish ‘n’ chips in hand. “I don’t think there was any bond left [by the end of the year],” Hoani says of the destruction caused by those nights. “Too many holes I think.”

Castle Street has always been a tight community, something that proved to be instrumental in the success of the band. Every week a local venue called Backstage held an open-mic night where all the local bands played. When Six60 showed up and played their first ever gig, they had the “whole of Castle Street” coming along and supporting them. “The [owner] was like, ‘Holy shit, this is the busiest we've ever been.’ That's how we started getting paid.” 

In 2021, the band purchased 660 Castle Street for $1.7 million, turning it into a scholarship house for students ‘with an interest in music and performing arts.’ After auditioning, selected students are awarded free rent, access to the university recording studios and mentoring from the band. But placing musical prodigies amid Castle Street’s chaos isn’t always a seamless fit. As campus rumour has it, one past recipient withdrew from their scholarship and moved out early, unable to handle the noise. 

“Let’s put it this way,” Hoani says of the rumour. “If I was running the audition, I’d pick an all-around package of musical talent, work ethic and someone whose attitude fits the mould [of the street].” Emphasising the importance of balance, Hoani insists that “the social aspect of Dunedin is just as important as the study. The connections you make down there are lifelong. You don’t get that by sitting in your room playing a bloody instrument all day. It's the golden nugget, you know?”

Of course, life on Castle Street has dramatically changed since Hoani’s days. In 2010, Gardies shut down and was bought by the Uni who gave breathas just what they’ve always wanted: a study centre. That same year, the Undie-500 (read: undie five-hundy) was cancelled indefinitely due to the inability to control the behaviour of students and non-students alike. Today’s Castle residents live under the watchful eye of CCTV surveillance, national media interest, and the University Code of Conduct (which prohibits ‘couch burning’ and ‘initiations,’ amongst other pastimes), with weekly parties often closed off to neighbours and a select few affiliates.

The street has “always” been populated by Auckland and Christchurch private schoolers, says Hoani, but the closed-invite nature of parties is “very new.” He remembers how “everybody would be outside lighting a fire or listening to music, it'd be one big party on one street,” observing it’s “way more controlled” now and has become “ammo” for the media after the 2009 riots. “It's got to the point it's probably like living on Big Brother. No young bucks wanna be controlled like that.” Having witnessed the brawling, fires, and property destruction popularised by the Undie-500, Hoani understands why the university took action, admitting “it was getting out of hand.” 

However, it doesn’t help that the university is buying up student bars and turning them into alcohol-free zones, he says, speaking to the danger it has since created at flats. “Now everybody probably loads up with God knows what at house parties and stays there because of the price of a pint in the Octagon. Students can’t afford that.” With the combination of student pubs, live music venues, open-invite hosts, the Undie-500, $2 coronas, $20 double crate deals, $85 rent, couch fires, over-the-counter party pills (not kidding), and Six60 gigs live at the flat, Hoani concludes “we were probably the last golden era of that street.” 

“NOT OUR DUNEDIN SOUND”

Castle Street was no doubt Six60’s foundation as a band, but they hadn’t lived with drummer Eli or even met their future synth player Marlon Gerbes until they moved into Boogie Nights on Warrender Street, where the band flatted for the remainder of their university days. “We had a few gigs there, everybody would have to come dressed for a 1970’s Boogie Night, then we'd get up and jam while everybody was dressed up. It was quite fun.” In another life, the band could have become a Bees Gees tribute group called ‘Boogie Nights.’

Dunedin is home to a rich music heritage, commonly referred to as the ‘Dunedin Sound’, where bands such as The Chills, Straitjacket Fits, The Verlaines, The Bats and many more helped found indie rock as a genre. However, Hoani says despite knowing of these bands, Six60’s influences were from out-of-town. “We liked New Zealand reggae, Trinity Roots, Black Seeds, Katchafire, Cornerstone, as well as the Finn Brothers. That wasn't [popular] in Dunedin at the time. Then Fat Freddy's Drop released Based on a True Story and started playing at Union Hall. It blew up. There was this big resurgence in roots music in the mid-2000s. We were covering all their songs.” 

Six60 was far from just a covers band, however. With a few originals under their belt, they ambitiously set out to create a record. Drummer Eli dropped by the local Rock Shop, asking a shop assistant whether he knew any producers.  As it turned out, the shop assistant himself had a studio and layered the band’s music for them. While hits ‘Someone to be Around’, ‘Rise Up’, and ‘Don’t Forget Your Roots’ grace the tracklist, track 5 ‘Desperado’ (which can only be found on YouTube) remains Matenga’s favourite. He describes it as a “fun, raw” song: “We all end up speaking on it.” The EP was released in October 2009. Listening back fifteen years later, Matenga suggests it needed “just a bit of a tweak […] If you listen to it, it's basically [us] just going into a room and pressing play […] but it's as good as the Gold Album to me.” 

Although Six60’s stardom was rising in studentville, not everybody was a fan. Their first brush with criticism was when, at a mate’s suggestion, the band entered a local Rock Quest. The boys, determined to win, packed their instruments and came along to find all the performances were “death metal and hard shit, the room was filled with goths.” After playing originals ‘Don't Forget Your Roots’ and ‘Someone To Be Around’ the entire room went quiet. “I swear you could hear a tumbleweed. There was no love for us. I don't think anybody even clapped. We left midway through. It became our perception of the Dunedin music scene, this weird grungy underground clique. We were like ‘This is whack!’ That was the last time we ever did that.” 

Of course, ‘Don’t Forget Your Roots’ would later be re-released as the second single on the band’s Gold album and is now certified triple platinum. Feeling isolated from the Dunedin music scene, Hoani found solace in the fact those bands “wouldn't have been able to get more than 10 people at a gig,” whereas Six60 are getting thousands. “The [number of] people at your gig speaks volumes more than what the snobs think.” 

Six60 may not have been part of the ‘Dunedin Sound,’ but they are an important part of Dunedin’s music history. “We created from our influences which were from out of town. They weren’t the local grunge bands that seemed to be born and bred there. But in its own right, the birthplace of the band [is Dunedin]. If it wasn't for the University and that student culture Six60 wouldn't be a thing. If you look at it like that, surely we belong to [the scene] now.” 

The band made history in recent years by selling out Western Springs and Eden Park stadium, whose audience capacity (50 thousand) was priorly reserved for foreign global superstars. Though the band has enjoyed great commercial success, they’ve remained critically unloved. In a 2012 Stuff op-ed titled ‘Six60: Killing Music Since 2006,’ critic Simon Sweetman famously panned their music as “barbeque reggae.” He wrote: “Barnaby Weir and Jack Johnson being remixed by a rope-headed pot-smoker with two turntables and a mixing desk is Six60's ideas of roots.” 

These sentiments were deemed racially insensitive by some, to put it mildly, prompting discourse around New Zealand music criticism being dominated by the chauvinistic tastes of Pākehā men. “We’ve always said, what’s wrong with barbecues and reggae? Thousands and thousands of people love that song, and look at what it's done now in terms of the Māori version, [highlighting Māoridom] on a global stage. It's done a lot of good. That's the thing with putting yourself out there in the entertainment game,” Hoani says. “Whether it's rugby or music, there's always criticism. It's just the nature of the public eye.” 

BETWEEN A BEAT AND A BALL

Late-night gigging is difficult to balance with reaching one’s athletic potential. In 2009, two months before releasing the EP, Hoani made his first-class rugby debut for Otago in their Ranfurly Shield challenge against Canterbury. “Oh mate, if that shield could speak,” he says of the recent white powder scandal surrounding the shield. “It definitely wasn’t flour […] let’s just say that.” They lost 16-36, something Hoani attributes to the likes of Richie McCaw and Dan Carter playing in their prime, both for Canterbury and the All Blacks.

“It was an interesting stage in my life,” he reflects. “I was playing pro footy and still playing in the band. There were weeks where I'd be playing a gig on Friday and then I would have a professional game of rugby on Saturday. It wasn't the best mix. The coaches caught wind of it and it was just a matter of time before the public [did too], and articles would be written. Even if you play good, they’re just waiting for a crack. If we lost, it’d be, ‘Hoani is gigging until so and so time, [that’s why].’” And while the music industry may come with critics and competition, it doesn’t compare to rugby, as he grew to learn. “In rugby, there’s contracts on the line. It could be cut if you play badly. The critics will tear you to pieces in the papers.” Just look at the firestorm that rained down on Wayne Barnes last year after refereeing the Rugby World Cup final. 

After being offered a contract with the Highlanders, Hoani knew he had to choose between rugby and music. Before his father passed away, Hoani made a promise to him to become the best rugby player he could be. “When you experience death at a young age [like I did], you realise life is actually quite finite. If you have something you want to achieve, at least try, because there's nothing worse than being on your deathbed and going, ‘What if?’ I said to the boys, ‘I have to continue with rugby. It's been my dream to do this. I need to go as far as I can’ […] They told me, ‘You’ll always be a part of the band.’” 

Promising he’d find a replacement, Hoani began holding auditions that were “pretty rubbish”, recalling fans' tendency to show up: “They were just shit.” Chris Mac (the band’s current bass guitarist) was teaching at an intermediate school when Hoani got in touch: “I thought he had talent and would fit the mould of the band." While Mac could play bass, he had a grungier playing style than the band was used to. It was a difficult adjustment (as the Rock Quest fiasco would suggest), “but I think they took to him in the end,” smiles Hoani. While Mac went on to experience the musical success Hoani sacrificed, as the only two bass players of Six60 the two share a unique bond and there is no animosity. “It would probably be different if there was no relationship there. But it was all my doing. I hired him, I taught him all the songs, and I wanted the best for him and the band too.”

RUGGERS ABROAD

Leaving the band behind to pursue his dreams wouldn’t be the last of Hoani’s hard decisions. As a new Highlanders player, Hoani was on the verge of being offered a position in the Māori All Blacks. However, he was also being offered “big-money” contracts overseas with the potential to financially change his life. At first glance, accepting may seem like a no-brainer, except being overseas can impact players' availability to make national teams, often considered to be the highest honour in sport. 

Having faith he’d be young enough to return to New Zealand and don the black jersey, Hoani flew over to France to play for Stade Montois, where he found the French’s passion for rugby blew Kiwi’s out of the water. “They're the pinnacle of fans […] they'll chant your name if you play well and key your car if you play bad.” While Hoani was lucky enough to only have his name chanted, he recalls a time his teammate played badly and found hordes of fans awaiting him outside, smashing his car. “Even the refs have to get security to escort them out of the stadium. They'll literally want to bash the refs. That's as intense as you can get, really.” 

Stade Montois won their division two final against Pau, with Hoani playing the full 80 minutes. When the Kubota Spears (a premier Japanese club) came knocking on Hoani’s door with a contract, Stade Montois pleaded with him to stay. “It was nice to be wanted,” Hoani says, “but then I showed them the money I was being offered. They were like, ‘Good luck, Hoani!’ They couldn’t even come close [to matching it]. So I thanked them for the opportunity and ended up in Japan.”

Under the Japan contract, Hoani was making nearly half a million dollars (about seven times the median NZ wage). But the urge to return home began to eat at him. “Being young and naive, I thought the money would make everything better. Once I got it, it almost felt like an anti-climax. That notion of ‘if only I had more money, then I’d be happy,’ that’s not how it works.” 

Cultural differences in France and Japan, both in rugby and society, also caused him to miss home. “The physicality of French rugby is huge, whereas Japanese rugby is like trying to catch little mice, it’s really fast. I think I lost 10kg to get down to that level of pace. There's only two foreigners on the pitch at once, and it's just chaotic.” 

Born and raised in the world’s top rugby country shaped Hoani’s sought-after talent, but as a foreigner, social integration was more difficult. “I think there were about ten guys in the French team that didn't speak to me for three months because [I was told] they couldn't speak English. When I played well and won the team a couple of games, I [suddenly] heard, ‘Good job Hoani! Come here!’” to which Hoani responded: “I thought you couldn't speak English?” “Turns out they were just being snobs,” he laughs. 

In Japan, Hoani recalls he’d go out to town and see signs reading 'No Gaijins allowed.’ “It basically means no foreigners are allowed in the pub. Imagine if you had that here [in New Zealand]? It'd be news.” While Hoani was grateful for the experience, after finishing his contract in Japan he knew it was time to return home. “There’s no place like home […] It's almost like I needed to see the world, but then once you see it, you realise how good it is where you are.”

Three years passed since Hoani made his return home jumping between super rugby teams. While he was still playing for the Bay of Plenty Steamers, Hoani was 31 and nearing retirement age. In 2018, however, he finally got his dream offer to become a Māori All Black. "It’s been a dream of mine ever since I can remember throwing the ball around with the old man,” he said to the New Zealand Herald at the time. “To make it with a few disappointments, not making it over the years, the meaning is a lot more.” 

As a lock for the Māori All Blacks, Hoani had the most enjoyable experience of his rugby career, touring Chile, USA, and Brazil with his fellow hoa tākaro. “We're all proud Māori. We all had similar upbringings, humour, and playing styles, singing on tour [together]. It's a very tight-knit crew. Most of the boys have said it's the best team they've ever been a part of, and that’s coming from All Blacks players as well.” Hoani represented his country in the USA Eagles match in Chicago, where the team won 59-22. Performing the haka, his shirt adorned with the silver fern, Hoani recalls the match as his “proudest moment […] Obviously, my father would've liked to see [it], as he passed away during my rugby career. It was special for the family. There was a lot of sentimental value.” 

HOMECOMING

These days, Hoani is living the sweet life. After meeting Brazilian model Kamila De Sousa in Bali, the couple came to Tauranga where they have settled down with their two young boys Nikau and Koa. Tales of professional athletes going from riches to rags frequent the tabloids, but Matenga escaped this fate by investing his earnings in various business ventures and property with an eye to a future career change. Now director and CEO of Hiwa Systems, a company specialising in cutting-edge location tracking technology, Hoani has found the business world an exciting transition. “I like the freedom of being your own boss and having control of your own company. I'm enjoying building something from nothing. It's my creative side but in business.”

Tauranga boasts a vibrant music landscape, where one can find artists like Tiki Taane, Laughton and Fran Kora enhancing the local scene. In his home studio, Hoani frequently jams with Joel Shadbot of L.A.B and former bandmate Matiu Walters. When asked about a solo career, Hoani says, “Never say never […] I'm constantly writing. There's actually a whole list of songs on the wall that Matiu and I have been dabbling with over the last year.” Hoani says he has recordings of old music from when Six60 used to be called 3MG (‘Three Māori and a Ginga’) “that needs to come to life [...] It's the early days of [the band], sitting in the living room of the flat back in 2006. Gems in there, you know? They just need to be remastered.” 

Hoani enjoys a close relationship with the band, reuniting on the red carpet at the premiere of Till The Lights Go Out, a documentary detailing the band's beginnings, rise to fame, and struggles along the way. “We all got a bit emotional,” Hoani says of viewing it for the first time. “It was quite nostalgic looking at it and seeing all that old footage of ourselves when we were young, knowing what's happened since.” 

From playing as three Māori and a Ginga on Castle Street to playing crowds of 50 thousand as New Zealand’s biggest band in history, it's interesting to contemplate the untraveled routes in Hoani’s life. While Hoani understands the public’s curiosity about his decision, he feels no regrets about his choice.   

“I’m just grateful for the experience. It can be challenging for others [to understand] because they haven't walked in my shoes. They haven't harboured my dreams and ambitions.” While Hoani explains most will never feel the exhilaration of scoring tries or slaying a guitar to a sold-out stadium, he emphasises the glamorous media image is never representative of the behind-the-scenes hard work and sacrifices it takes to get there. “There was only one way to get to the top level [of either field], and it was by choosing.” 

On the days of match losses, on-field beatings, and injuries, Matenga admits professional sport isn’t always roses. “There’s times in footy where it’s not all primo, but it’s the same with music. There've been some dark, dark times in that band which the public don’t know about that I do because I’m boys with them. There's fights, [bad] things that happen on tour. The lulls, nobody coming to the gig in a foreign country […] I know if I was in the band [during those lows], I’d feel the same way about rugby; [fantasising about] being on hundreds of thousands of dollars a year and having stadiums shout my name.” 

The human tendency to view the grass as being greener is strong, but Hoani’s life has taught him that the reality is always more complex. “You can't look at the other side and decide it looks better. That's just not how it works, you know? I take the highs for what they are and take the lows for what they are.” Mindful that the lows pass and a positive attitude is crucial, it’s this perspective that carried him along his career. 

Two weeks ago, news broke that Eli Paewai is exiting the band. In an Instagram post, the drummer announced his “personal journey with music [was] coming to an end.” While Paewai may face similar judgement about his choice, Hoani muses it’s always better to pursue what you want, not what others expect. “Going against the mainstream view to chase one's dreams takes a lot of balls. I got a lot of love and respect for the bro Eli and wish him the best on his new endeavours. We’ll [both] always be a part of the Six60 whānau.”

“People haven’t experienced what we’ve experienced,” Hoani continues. “I look at it all and just go, ‘What a life.’ It’s just about adding to an endless portrait.” He explains that while society’s definition of success seems to be achieving fame, wealth, or social status, he tends to agree with Earl Nightingale's viewpoint that success is ‘the progressive realisation of a worthy goal or ideal’; encouraging students in the position he was once in to find one and achieve it.

As for what he’d like his legacy to be for others, especially his children, Hoani hopes it will be to dream big, have a positive attitude, never stop learning, and make the most of life as “it’s bloody short […] Anything's possible, man. Whether in business, sport, music, family. The sky's the limit, I'm just getting started.” And for something practical to leave you with on a weekday in between the library and beers, Hoani suggests having a read of Change your Paradigm, Change Your Life by Bob Proctor; and for the creatives, The War of Art by Steven Pressfield. “It will help you get shit done on your journey!”

At 36, Hoani’s life canvas has a long way to go. While it’s bound to be filled with many colourful experiences to come, one of the most brilliant of them all fell on March 9, 2019. After making his return overseas from the Māori All Blacks tour, Hoani walked out on stage to more than 36 thousand fans in Forsyth Barr Stadium. During their world tour, Six60 invited him to cameo during their concert in Dunedin. The last time Hoani had played a gig, the crowd was 1/18th the size of the sold-out stadium that now stood before him. 

Looking out at tens of thousands of Dunedin faces, Hoani Matenga experienced a homecoming. It was a full-circle moment, both for his rugby and music career. Coming home having achieved his life's dream, now hearing the city sing his songs back to him, Hoani took in the moment: “It was surreal. I was back to where it all began.” 

This article first appeared in Issue 1, 2024.
Posted 5:14pm Sunday 25th February 2024 by Iris Hehir.