Kohatu takes pride of place

By Alexandra Newlove

Carver Te Warihi Hetaraka lines up the kohatu he carved following its helicopter delivery. Photo / John Stone
Carver Te Warihi Hetaraka lines up the kohatu he carved following its helicopter delivery. Photo / John Stone

The symbolic kohatu [rock] now atop Mount Parihaka was given the royal treatment when it was airlifted in, shrouded from public view and assigned its own personal security guard overnight.

The one-tonne kohatu is the centrepiece and finishing touch on a new $218,000 lookout Whangarei District Council has installed at the historic site.

Master carver Te Warihi Hetaraka crafted the kohatu and said it was symbolic of the mountain being restored to its proper name, Parihaka, following many years of the mis-pronounced "Parahaki".

In 2003 Whangarei hapu agreed the correct name for the maunga was Parihaka. The following year WDC sent a request to the New Zealand Geographic Board asking the name be reinstated, which it was in September 2005.

"We likened the return of Parihaka to a cloak being wrapped around the mountain, that's all I can say at the moment," Mr Hetaraka said, ahead of the kohatu's official unveiling on February 20.

WDC's former landscape architect Bruno Gilmour recently left his job at council but returned to see the kohatu safely delivered on Tuesday. He had worked on the lookout project for four years.

"It's amazing, almost surreal," he said. "It's the culmination of a lot of work."

The limestone rock in question had been excavated from Lake Waro about two years ago after it caught the eye of Mr Hetaraka.

"It was free - but it's priceless at the same time," Mr Gilmour said. "It was a huge undertaking to get the rock out of the ground ... We had to cut about two thirds of it off."

The joke was there was only one helicopter big enough to lift the rock at its original size - and it was off fighting the Russians. Thankfully, by the time the carving was complete it had reduced from 1700kg - with 1300kg being the maximum the chosen Whangarei helicopter could manage - to 1040kg.

One vandal had already targeted the new lookout, and Mr Gilmour said the kohatu was protected by a security guard overnight and was then encased in a wooden shell until its unveiling. It was particularly vulnerable until it had been concreted into place.

The kohatu was trucked most of the way up Parihaka before being airlifted from the lower carpark to its new home. In the two hours it took to sort out the technical operation, a small crowd of trail walkers had gathered by the war memorial to observe the spectacle.

The official public opening and unveiling starts at 10am.

- Northern Advocate

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