Twenty-six tonnes of native wood will soon become the country's largest carved structure _ the mahau (porch front) to frame Te Matatini stage in Rotorua next year.
With a length of 30m, a height of 13m and a weight of 29 tonnes, it is thought the mahau will be the largest carving made in New Zealand and it is hoped it will be used at each coming Te Matatini festival, plus other events around New Zealand and the world.
Carved out of native wood, the mahau includes totara and a 4500-year-old kauri, a large portion of which had been donated to the project.
The mahau has been funded equally between the New Zealand Maori Arts and Crafts Institute and Te Matatini Society Incorporated and will first be showcased at the next Te Matatini kapa haka festival in Rotorua this February.
Various regional styles of Maori wood carving have been used in the mahau, as well as more generic forms so it would be representative of the whole motu (country).
Twenty carvers have been involved in the project, some of whom have decades of experience and others who are new to the wood carving school at the institute.
Institute director Karl Johnstone said the carving styles were rohe (regionally) specific and unique languages in their own right.
"While the quality of the carving speaks for itself, the korero that it conveys is what's most important. The stories represented by the mahau tie all our art practices to their origins. This is an ambitious project for our institute, we have utilised every inch of space that we have at the carving school and more, with some of the carving taking place in the carpark.''
Mr Johnstone said that while the engineering on the mahau had been a real challenge, it was one well worth facing. He said talks were being held as to where the mahau could be used outside of Te Matatini as they didn't want to have to hide it away in storage. Mr Johnstone said as something "obviously New Zealand'', the mahau would be a unique differentiating point at international events.
"Being able to represent New Zealand with a waharoa like this is a great opportunity for us.''
Te Matatini executive director Darrin Apanui said the aim was to create a structure that would frame the performing arts during Te Matatini 2013, but which had value in the future as a "cultural doorway'', through which all things Kiwi could be showcased.
He said it was an opportunity for kapa haka groups to perform, framed by an excellent art form.