Flowing Water: A story of the Waikato River will premiere at the Hamilton Gardens Arts Festival 2018.

It tells the epic story of the Waikato River and all the people nurtured by it — Māori, Pākehā, and later migrants — in a landmark production.

Singing, acting, kapa haka, film and dance come together in this ground-breaking and dazzling musical drama, written by acclaimed New Zealand writer Witi Ihimaera, in collaboration with well-known New Zealand composer Janet Jennings and Tom Roa of Ngāti Maniapoto and Waikato-Tainui.

Directed by John Drummond, the premiere features a large cast of well-known performers with strong local links.


Kararaina Walker plays Te Puea, and Amy Thomas plays Mrs Crawford. The cast includes Auckland-based Anna Mahon, Natasha Wilson and Joel Amosa, and back from the UK, James Ioelu.

Haani Huata leads Te Haona Kaha, whihc has been performing kapa haka since 2012, enacting the Māori scenes.

New Zealand's leading professional choir, Voices New Zealand, provides the backing vocal track while the Pākehā Chorus on stage is directed by Tim Carpenter. Well-known choreographer Turanga Merito, completes the artistic team.

Writer Witi Ihimaera wraps his magic around the story of the Waikato River and brings it to life for family and friends to enjoy.

Ihimaera says he was inspired to write this story, as it is a thrilling one and ideal for development as a musical drama.

"This is a story that is a celebration of the Waikato River, and its peoples. Flowing Water embodies the fortitude of the Waikato people.

"The story of the Waikato River is the story of New Zealand. We are proud to put the Waikato at the forefront of our country's history. This work has the potential to reflect, through one regional history, the history of New Zealand settlement itself," says Ihimaera.

Flowing Water begins in Māori mythology when the flowing waters were sent from Mt Tongariro to heal his sister Taupiri. Later, Polynesian settlers of the Tainui Waka were welcomed by water protectors, Taniwha, and reminded of the role they should play as kaitiaki (guardians) of the flowing waters. When the canoe voyagers first felt the river while out at sea, they remarked on the 'kato' — the pull of the River's strong current. The Maori word 'Waikato' means literally 'flowing water'.

Not all of New Zealand's history has been peaceful, and the drama includes enactments of two key conflicts — the Waikato Wars (in particular, the Battle of Rangiriri) and World War I (Gallipoli). Tom Roa, who wrote the Rangiriri battle scene, says his father's tūpuna fought there.

He hopes to engage New Zealanders in a deeper conversation about colonial history.

"We should know our past, we should embrace it, we should commemorate it — and then in knowing it we can use that as a guideline into our future" says Tom.

Composer Janet Jennings says she is excited to have the opportunity to tell through music a wonderful local story.

"I have loved the opportunity to set Witi's and Tom's words to music. There are big sounds appropriate for this vivid and dramatic story. We have aimed to be fast-paced and colourful. I think people will love it" says Janet.

Flowing Water was developed through support of many individuals, businesses, funders and iwi. Major sponsors are Waikato-Tainui, Mercury Energy, and Creative New Zealand.

What: Flowing Water — a theatrical event by Witi Ihimaera, Tom Roa and Janet Jennings

Where: Hamilton Gardens Arts Festival

When: Friday 16 and Saturday February 17, 8pm. Tickets available at www.ticketek.co.nz and the door.