Trip to New Zealand: An Expert’s Guide to Hamilton’s Best Maori and Pacific Art

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New Zealand art historian Ngahuia Te Awekotuku travels from Dunedin to Russell in a new TV series in search of Maori and Pacific artworks and the incredible people who created them. Photo / Provided

New Zealand art historian, scholar, writer and activist Ngahuia Te Awekotuku (Te Kuirau) travels from Ōtepoti Dunedin to Kororareka Russell in a new TV series in search of Maori and Pacific artworks and of the people who created them.

He piko, he taniwha: at every turn, there is something special.

Waharoa means gateway in Maori, a portal to new worlds and new experiences, the start of a journey. Waharoa: Art of the Pacific explores contemporary Maori and Pacific art across Aotearoa in New Zealand.

One area, Waikato and Hamilton, offers an unusual opportunity – five fine examples of modern Maori art, all accessible, palpable, remarkable, all accessible by car, bicycle or on foot.

Te Ahurei or Waikato by Lyonel Grant

Hidden among lush green trees in a peaceful park between the Waikato River and the Huntly Power Station, this sculpture is worth seeing. A mighty bronze figure stands before an undulating pool dotted with vertical poles; and stakes a pou whenua, or marker, in the earth. This explains the name; a representation of the mana of the Waikato people. The flow of water and the chirping of birds welcome you to this peaceful place. To find it, cross the Tainui Bridge just south of Huntly and at the roundabout turn right onto Harris Street. Follow this till the end. Just before the power station, turn right onto Te Ohaki Rd. Less than a hundred meters further, take the first unmarked right turn. Continue towards the river, to the car park. Enter the bush to the left of a roughly carved half-fallen tree. Keep the river on your left. And then let yourself be surprised.

Te Ahurei o Waikato by Lyonel Grant is hidden among lush green trees in a peaceful park between the Waikato River and the Huntly Power Station.  Photo / Provided
Te Ahurei o Waikato by Lyonel Grant is hidden among lush green trees in a peaceful park between the Waikato River and the Huntly Power Station. Photo / Provided

Te Ohomauri or Matariki by James Ormsby and Dion Hitchens

The thriving millennial new suburb of Rototuna, north of Hamilton, is the location of this extraordinary installation of wood, metal, stone and pigment. At the Resolution Drive and Borman Rd roundabout, this massive artwork depicts the significance of the Matariki constellation to the Waikato people, depicted in the seven upright canoe shapes. Sculpted and painted by James Ormsby, they encircle a suspended tangle of lusty, twisting tunas, a dynamic work by Dion Hitchens. This refers to historical landforms and food sources. Te Ohomauri deserves a much closer look, as it directs you to Hamilton’s central business district and two major public works of art in Victoria St.

Te Ohomauri o Matariki by James Ormsby and Dion Hitchens is an installation of wood, metal, stone and pigmenin Rototuna.  Photo / Provided
Te Ohomauri o Matariki by James Ormsby and Dion Hitchens is an installation of wood, metal, stone and pigmenin Rototuna. Photo / Provided

Te Tatau ki Kirikiriroa by Robert Jahnke

Translated as the “Gateway to Kirikiriroa”, Hamilton’s original name, it looks and feels like a portal to another dimension. Facing the river and the rising sun on one side, and the bluster and CBD trade on the other, it boldly meets daylight and glows with refracted neon in the dark.

Mirrors reflect your movements, suggesting infinity, as you read the visionary words of Pōtatau te Wherowhero, the first Maori king, inscribed on the corten steel surface. After gazing at the Waikato River gliding below, you stroll south down Main Street to the forecourt of the Waikato Museum.

Robert Jahnke's Te Tatau ki Kirikiriroa translates to
Robert Jahnke’s Te Tatau ki Kirikiriroa translates to “the gate of Kirikiriroa”, Hamilton’s original name. Photo / Provided

Dog’s Tongue by Michael Parekōwhai

Vibrant and very cheeky, this sculpture shimmers with bright primary colors on the simplest structural form. It is based on the Cuisenaire chopsticks, a plastic stick teaching device that contributed significantly to the revival of te reo Māori. The cascading water catches the light in a gentle rhythm that invites the dog to play, and perhaps to have his tongue licked. At an understated intersection near the cathedral, boathouses, and other historic sites, this frivolous, clever artwork lightens the heart and demands your attention.

Vibrant and cheeky, Michael Parekowhai's Tongue of the Dog is one of Hamilton's must-see sculptures.  Photo / Provided
Vibrant and cheeky, Michael Parekowhai’s Tongue of the Dog is one of Hamilton’s must-see sculptures. Photo / Provided

Ngā Uri or Hinetuparimaunga by Diggeress Te Kanawa & Chris Booth

This majestic installation is located at the roundabout leading to Hamilton Gardens on Cobham Drive. Named after the descendants of the mountain goddess, it is an effective collaboration of cultures, ideas, materials. The main feature is Te Kahu o Papatūānuku, the Earth Goddess cloak, designed by Diggeress te Kanawa, based on one of her finest fiber cloaks. It includes 12,000 rocks, layered, patterned and textured, easy to touch and probe with your hands; the Kahu stands among Chris Booth’s 21 vertical sentinel columns, suggesting safety and peace. Through the grandeur and uniqueness of this waharoa, we are welcomed and goodbye; our time with Waharoa is over in Waikato.

Nga Uri o Hinetuparimaunga by Diggeress Te Kanawa & Chris Booth is an art installation located at the traffic circle leading to Hamilton Gardens.  Photo / Provided
Nga Uri o Hinetuparimaunga by Diggeress Te Kanawa & Chris Booth is an art installation located at the traffic circle leading to Hamilton Gardens. Photo / Provided

Waharoa: Art of the Pacific premieres on Prime Thursday, November 17 at 7:30 p.m.

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