$11.5m waka showpiece - without the waka

By Paul Harper

Wellington's Wharewaka o Poneke will open on Waitangi Day - without its star attraction. Photo / Paul Harper
Wellington's Wharewaka o Poneke will open on Waitangi Day - without its star attraction. Photo / Paul Harper

Wellington's $11.5 million Wharewaka o Poneke is due to open this Sunday - however it will be without the waka it was built to house.

The waka Te Raukura - known as "Wellington's Waka" - is at the centre of a disagreement between the Wellington City Council, Te Wharewaka O Poneke Charitable Trust and Te Runanganui o Taranaki Whanui ki te Upoko o Te Ika a Maui Association.

Te Raukura was commissioned and paid for by the council in 1990, however the vessel suffered water damage to the hull and was temporarily moved to Waiwhetu Marae in Lower Hutt for restoration.

The council said the waka was to be returned on completion of the new Wharewaka on Wellington's waterfront, but negotiations have broken down.

Te Wharewaka O Poneke Charitable Trust chairman Sir Ngatata Love said discussions have been underway for the past couple of months and an agreement was reached in early January. The waka had been expected to be returned for the ceremony, he said.

"This accord has now been reneged upon," Sir Ngatata said. "Undertakings given at a meeting facilitated by Hutt City Mayor Ray Wallace in late 2010 have also now been swept away.

"It is unfortunate that earlier commitments and undertakings are not being honoured."

However Sir Ngatata said the absence of the vessel will not overshadow the Wharewaka's opening. Two Bay of Plenty waka, Mataatua Toroa and Hinemoana, are standing in for Te Raukura.

"We are opening the Wharewaka in the appropriate manner and it is not necessary for Te Raukura to be present" he said.

Wellington City Mayor Celia Wade-Brown echoed those sentiments.

"The important thing is that we are opening a significant new addition to Wellington's waterfront that reflects the city's commitment to mana whenua," she said.

"Although it would be lovely to have Te Raukura there it is not essential on the day and the celebrations will still go ahead, the Wharewaka will still function and of course it will be the centrepiece for our Rugby World Cup 2011 fan zone.

"I fully support the actions of Sir Ngatata Love and Te Wharewaka O Poneke Trust, and the discussions with Te Runanganui o Taranaki Whanui ki te Upoko o Te Ika a Maui Association will continue."

Ms Wade-Brown said the council is committed to returning the waka to Wellington City.

The Wharewaka will be opened this Sunday - Waitangi Day - with a dawn ceremony, followed by a day's events celebrating tikanga Maori.

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