University of Waikato staff have taken their first footsteps inside Tauranga's new $60 million campus, which will welcome more than 950 students into the CBD on completion.
About 100 people were the first to be welcomed inside the university's new CBD campus on Durham St during a blessing before sunrise yesterday.
The building was opened by kaumātua from Tauranga Moana, Waikato and the Kīngitanga, as well as university staff.
The new campus is expected to welcome more than 950 students into the CBD by the time the building is fully completed later this year.
The building will open incrementally to students, staff and wider community as other parts of the campus are completed throughout the year.
Deputy vice-chancellor Professor Alister Jones said he was excited to be able to welcome the first students into their new study hub from Monday.
"It is exciting. It is a significant milestone," he said.
"There is still a lot of work to do but the students who walked through on Monday were really excited."
Jones said numbers were well up on last year with about 900 individual students already enrolled as of Monday - about 250 more than this time last year.
"Numbers are growing daily," he said.
The most popular subjects included teaching, business, social sciences, science and social work, Jones said.
However, he said there had been a 30 per cent increase in numbers across all programmes with the attraction being the new campus.
"We are also offering full programmes here now, that is the difference."
A number of Māori artworks inside the new campus were also unveiled during the dawn blessing, including an 18m-high poutokomanawa panel in the building's central atrium.
Renowned carver and artist Whare Thompson said the poutokomanawa reflected the Māori mythology of Tane and Tawhaki's ascent of the 12 realms to receive the three baskets of knowledge.
"The panel talks about the journey of both of them to the heavens and returning back again with the basket of knowledge," he said.
Thompson was one of 10 artists tasked with bringing the new campus to life through Māori carvings and artworks, including the new multifunction centre for cultural activities named Te Manawaroa.
Outside the building in the campus courtyard stands another of their work - the Pouwhenua Te Toka a Tirikawa, which Thompson said helped to tell the story of the local history.
"This piece speaks about the local rock at Mauao, the north rock," he said.
Education Tauranga regional manager Anne Young said the dawn karakia was a significant first step for the university.
Young said the ceremony celebrated the new campus not only with people involved in its development but also the wider community and those who will be involved in its future.
"The blessing is a really important demonstration of the cultural significance of the campus to tangata whenua and Tauranga city, as well as ensuring the spiritual wellbeing of everyone who will use the new campus," she said.
Deputy Mayor Kelvin Clout was excited to see the "dream of a university campus here in Tauranga become a reality".
"This is the culmination of a major collaborative effort between all stakeholders. I'm proud that Tauranga City Council played a key role in providing the land for this institute of higher learning," he said.
Clout said having the university located in the CBD will provide huge economic, social, cultural and environmental benefits for the city and region.
Customisable teaching spaces
A 200-seat lecture theatre
A multi-function space
Common areas for studying and socialising