Rotorua has officially become the first bilingual city in Aotearoa - after a journey that started more than 35 years ago.

More than 50 people were welcomed into the Rotorua Lakes Council chamber this afternoon to see the unveiling of the plaque which declared Rotorua bilingual.

Te Tatau o Te Arawa led the initiative with support from the council and Te Puni Kokiri.

Local students, representatives of the council and Te Tatau o Te Arawa held the pohiri and Minister for Maori Development Te Ururoa Flavell was the first guest into the chamber.

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Waiariki MP Mr Flavell, who raised the idea of a bilingual city with the council last October, said he had spent the day enjoying te reo in Rotorua.

"I had my first bilingual gym session at Toa gym, then went to Third Place [Cafe], who now have a bilingual menu, for breakfast," he said.

"It's been a long day, but a hugely inspirational day."


Mr Flavell said te reo was now Rotorua's for the taking, to appear in workplaces, sports clubs, bars and tourism ventures.

"The Government is happy to offer support to you Steve [Chadwick, Rotorua's mayor], so council aren't left doing this on their own."

Councillors unanimously supported the idea of becoming a bilingual city and backed Te Tatau o Te Arawa taking charge of the project.

The board, which represents Te Arawa and provides advice to the council, will draft a report detailing work and associated costs and funding for the Bilingual Rotorua project.

Bilingual Rotorua launch at the council. Photo/Stephen Parker
Bilingual Rotorua launch at the council. Photo/Stephen Parker

Television presenter Scotty Morrison was MC for the afternoon and as he announced the launch of Rotorua Reo Rua the room burst into applause.

Te Tatau o Te Arawa chairman Te Taru White said he didn't want to talk about the finances yet.

"This is an investment in our people, our culture and our place," he said.

"I have no doubt the rewards; socially, culturally and economically will be enduring and will make a major contribution to enhance and strengthen the social fabric of our community.

"That moment they gave a unanimous decision was quite a moving moment."

Mr White said he wanted to pay homage to the "reo warriors of the past" who had petitioned for a bilingual city 35 years ago.

"This is our time," he said.

Television presenter Scotty Morrison was MC for the afternoon. Photo/Stephen Parker
Television presenter Scotty Morrison was MC for the afternoon. Photo/Stephen Parker

Mrs Chadwick said it had been a long journey, but the decision was an "absolute no brainer".

She said when she and her late husband John moved to Rotorua in 1975 hoping to raise their children biculturally they found te reo was almost dead.

"We went to the wananga to learn te reo."

Mrs Chadwick said she had been too anxious to get up and say her pepeha and despite graduating she refused to collect her certificate.

"We were both hopeless," she said.

"I think a lot of Pakeha feel like that, and this is a chance to hear it, to be around it and to live the language."

Mrs Chadwick said the opportunity to become the first bilingual city in New Zealand was a game changer for Rotorua.

"Feedback from the community on the long-term vision identified that strong culture is a key element of what makes our district special," she said.

"This commitment to becoming a bilingual city acknowledges the history and whakapapa of our district, and reinforces our reputation as a heartland of Maori culture."

The plaque was blessed by Dr Kenneth Kennedy.

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