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Fallen Tōtara extracted for Wairarapa whakairo

Fallen Tōtara extracted for Wairarapa whakairo

A fallen 900-year-old Tōtara tree extracted from Wakamoekau Creek will be used for whakairo (traditional Māori carving) by Wairarapa artists to be displayed at Pūkaha National Wildlife Centre’s education building.

Thanks to a joint funding effort by Greater Wellington Regional Council, Department of Conservation and JPS Earthmoving Ltd the precious material can support local artisans to continue the revered art form. 

The Tōtara is estimated at 800-900 years old and 10 tons in total weight, with the trunk alone measuring at 7.2 metres in height. Gifted by the local farmer, Richard White, the prized wood will provide material for 11 carvings which will be installed in Pūkaha National Wildlife Centre’s education building upon completion.

Wayne Pitau, who descends from the hapū Ngāti Hāmua, Rangitāne iwi of Wairarapa and Cultural Advisor at Pūkaha National Wildlife Centre knew straight away it was going to be something great for his iwi and hapū when he was first introduced to the Tōtara.

“When I saw how large the tree was I realised, ‘this is bigger than me in so many ways’,” Wayne says. “For me, carving this Tōtara tree is giving mana to our people and our whakapapa in terms of our connection to Pūkaha which was once known as Te Tapere Nui o Whatonga.”

This project feeds into a larger initiative to raise cultural awareness that Pūkaha launched in October last year with the establishment of a new education building.

“This is an opportunity to intertwine tikanga in internal practices and origin stories when we discuss native wildlife with visitors.

“It also shares an iwi perspective while welcoming non-Māori to gain a more in-depth understanding of Māori culture through art,” Wayne says.

Flood Protection Area Engineer at Greater Wellington Des Peterson, says it was no easy feat to get the log out of the creek, hence why it has taken a year to fund and arrange the extraction.

“There were a few hoops to jump through as the log was on private property, it required summer conditions and some funding for the extraction. But in the end we got there as everyone was keen to get on board and help to extract the log.”

The mammoth project will be undertaken by Wayne, a team of qualified carvers and two trainees. “It’s humbling to be a part of this process and I look forward to seeing it finally come to life.” Wayne says.

Whakairo will begin in the next few months and it is estimated that it will take 10 - 12 months to have the carvings completed in time for the opening of Pūkaha’s education building. 


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