Thomas Mitai is lucky to be alive and he's grateful.

In February the prominent and talented singer, kapa haka performer, filmmaker, member of Ringatū Church and manager of Te Whare Wānanga o Awanuiārangi Tech Pā Studio was on his way to work when he had a head-on car crash.

The crash happened on State Highway 2, Wainui Rd, between Ōpōtiki and Whakatāne.

Mitai suffered multiple injuries including eight fractured ribs, punctured lungs, a lacerated spleen, haematoma on his liver, a broken leg and several cuts.


"I just came around the corner and the other car was on the wrong side of the road. They were tourists, they were lucky, they weren't badly injured," he said.

"I managed to stay conscious, but I was in a bad way. I couldn't breathe and I lost a lot of blood."

He was taken to Whakatāne Hospital and transferred to the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) at Tauranga Hospital.

"I had a nasal oxygen tube to help me breathe and at some stage I had two blood transfusions."

The crash happened just weeks out from Te Matatini Kapa Haka Festival, the country's bi-annual kapa haka showcase.

When word got around that Mitai, a key talent in the Ōpōtiki Mai Tawhiti group and well known in the wider kapa haka movement, had been in a major car crash, people came from all over the country to see him.

"I have huge respect for those who treated and cared for me in hospital. They accepted and acknowledged my Māoritanga, Ringatū faith and whānaungatanga. Having my whānau and friends at my bedside gave me strength. For me, that was everything and a key part of my recovery."

Every evening, his father Richard, a Ringatū tohunga, would hold a karakia at his hospital bedside.


Staff and patients would gather around as well.

There was waiata too.

Blessed with a baritone voice, Mitai was no stranger to performing solo or as a duet at major sporting and cultural events across the country.

"I'd crumble if I couldn't sing, it's who I am. Their presence and hearing them sing while I rested really lifted my spirit."

Recently Mitai returned to the hospital bringing morning tea for staff and gifting a carved waka hoe (paddle) to ICU as a symbol of his gratitude for the care he'd received.

Mitai said the message etched on the waka hoe is one for all.

"Kia mau ki tō hoe. E hoe tō waka. Hold on to your paddle. Continue your journey."

Mitai was having physiotherapy as he continued his journey to recovery. The crash had also made him think about other things he could do to improve his health.

"I'm more mindful about exercise and eating well. I've stopped drinking so many fizzy drinks and since the crash I've lost about 30kg."