Te Arawa waka taua takes pride of place in new whare waka on Rotorua lakefront

A new whare waka has been officially opened this morning, seeing the return of Te Arawa waka taua to the shores of Lake Rotorua and the completion of a $40 million lakefront development.

“It’s awesome,” says Rotorua Mayor Tania Tapsell (Te Arawa, Ngāti Whakaue). “For Te Arawa, this is the coming home of the waka.”

It is only right that the whare waka should have pride of place at the lakefront, says Tapsell.

“It’s actually just continuing the importance that they [Te Arawa] have here in the rohe, because for a long time we [Council] have benefited from the partnership.

“We’re standing here on land that was gifted by Ngāti Whakaue, behind me is the hospital, again on land that was gifted by Ngāti Whakaue.”

The whare waka, which is situated west of the lakefront playground, has been designed in collaboration with Te Arawa master carver Lyonel Grant, Te Arawa Waka Trust and BSK Consulting Engineers by local architects DCA Architects of Transformation.

It has been specially designed to ensure the waka taua is fully viewable to all lakefront visitors and has an open glass façade, with targeted lighting to illuminate the expanse and size of the waka.

Grant, who carved the waka taua by hand in 1989, provided the carved elements and design features for the whare waka.

“What’s special about it here is it’s a great example of how much we can achieve if we work together,” says Tapsell.

“To be able to do this project alongside them [Ngāti Whakaue] as a council, but also as local firms like we have local builders building this whare behind me, it’s just been fantastic.”

“So we will be continuing to hear our stories of Te Arawa, our mana whenua here, for not only our hapori, our community, but the many visitors that come here to this waterfront tourist destination.”

Kaihautū and Te Arawa Waka Trust member, Paora Te Hurihanganui, told the council media team in August 2023 that the trust has a legacy that influences all waka in the region.

“The new developments allow us to remember such past influencers as Mauriora Kingi, Putu Mihaka and Laurie Durand who have all been integral leaders in the Te Arawa Waka Taua history and future.

“Waka are hugely important as cultural connectors to the well-being of our water ways, especially our lakes such as Lake Rotorua.

“We look forward to the wider promotion and inclusion of all waka at the newly formed lakefront, including waka taua, waka tētē, waka ama and others. Ko Te Arawa he waka, he iwi,” Te Hurihanganui said.

Tapsell says she is excited to see the lake fill with waka.

“We really hope to see more waka take to the waters of Rotorua nui a Kahumatamomoe. We have great waka ama here in Rotorua - it’s continuing to grow, actually. We’ve got so many tamariki participating in the sport.

“So for us, it’s just being able to put it in pride of place, and encourage more people to not only get involved but actually to appreciate our history, our culture and the great support we have available on our waka.”