Waharoa carving recreates tourism icon in Te Whakarewarewa Valley

A carved waharoa (entranceway) that is widely regarded as the historic symbol of cultural tourism in Rotorua and NZ has been expertly replicated by Te Puia

The replica waharoa was unveiled at a special ceremony at Te Puia|NZMACI on Thursday 14 November to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the organisation’s establishment under an Act of Parliament in 1963.

The original waharoa was carved by Tene Waitere, a renowned Te Arawa carver, as one of two that were exhibited at the New Zealand International Exhibition in Hagley Park, Christchurch, in 1908.

Following the close of the exhibition, one of the waharoa was transported to Rotorua where it was erected in Te Whakarewarewa geothermal valley. It became a symbol of cultural tourism in Aotearoa New Zealand, with generations of domestic and international visitors having their photos taken beside it. The second waharoa is on permanent display on level two of the National Museum, Te Papa, in Wellington.

Te Puia Chief Executive, Tim Cossar, says the original waharoa stood in Te Whakarewarewa Valley for more than 80 years, before it was removed for preservation some years ago.

“Unfortunately the years and our unique geothermal environment had started taking its toll on the original and it was stored away for preservation. Last month it was gifted back to the Schuster whanau, descendents of Tene Waitere who have a strong connection with our carving and weaving schools, for their safe keeping.”

Mr Cossar says the waharoa came to symbolise the two aspects that continue to form the mandate of the organisation today – the perpetuation of Maori art and craft skills, and the visitor operation that contributes to that work and the ongoing environmental protection and maintenance of Te Whakarewarewa Valley.

“The original waharoa became an icon of the Valley and everything that it represents, including Māori culture and its art and craft, our unique geothermal environment and the origins of tourism in Rotorua and wider New Zealand.

“The waharoa features in literally hundreds of thousands of photographic memories in frames, albums and homes all around Aotearoa and the world. It is our hope that the replica waharoa will come to mean as much in the future as it has in the past, and it is already proving to be a much-sought after photo for manuhiri (visitors).”

NZMACI director, Karl Johnstone, says the carving required a special set of skills in order to recreate the piece. He says the project was made even more complex as the waharoa is double-sided.
“Like the original, this waharoa  represents our material heritage. By virtue of its form and design, it acknowledges the legacy of Tene Waitere and his descendents. At the same time, it is also an important reflection of the skills and aspirations of our current carvers as they create their own history. The connection and splicing of the old and the new maintain the dynamism of our knowledge and practices.”

“This has been an complex and nostalgic project, with a strong connection to Te Whakarewarewa Valley and Rotorua. The symbolism of the piece will continue to generate meaning over time and it will not be until our future generations look back, that the next chapter of the ongoing story of the waharoa will become clear.”

The carving was led by senior carver Albert Te Pou and was carved from a five metre high, three tonne piece of bush-felled and laminated Northland kauri.

The waharoa will be initially situated at Te Puia|NZMACI’s main entrance, so that it is visible and accessible to staff, manuhiri (visitors) and locals alike.

“We want people to come and see this fantastic piece of craftsmanship which is a real icon of Rotorua and New Zealand tourism,” says Mr Cossar.

“On Monday this week when the waharoa was being lifted into place, one American tour guide commented that after all these years it is great to see it gracing the front of Te Puia|NZMACI once again.”

Mr Cossar says it is likely that the wharoa will be repositioned over the next two years as further changes and developments are made to the arrival precinct.

“The waharoa will be properly integrated into those developments to ensure that its function is more in keeping with its real purpose as an entryway or threshold into Te Puia|NZMACI.”

Originally legislated in 1926, the NZMACI’s mandated cultural interests were combined with tourism in Rotorua’s Te Whakarewarewa Valley following the broadening of the Act in 1963. The legislation was developed largely through the auspices of prominent Māori politician and lawyer Sir Apirana Ngata.

As part of the significant half-century celebrations, other important restoration and carving work is also being undertaken, including the front carvings of Te Aronui a Rua wharenui (meeting house) and the adjacent pātaka – a richly carved storehouse traditionally used to store food.

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