A 10m long sculpture called Tohorā by internationally renowned New Zealand artist Kereama Taepa has been unveiled in Maclean Park Paraparaumu Beach.

A blessing featuring various dignitaries took place on Friday morning.

"I'm blown away with the ceremony and the way I was received," Taepa said.

"Just completely honoured and privileged."

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Taepa said the project stemmed from the Maclean Park upgrade programme, where the council's public arts panel were seeking an artwork for the park, which led to public proposals.

"I was lucky enough to be selected as the artist."

Tohora artwork in Maclean Park. Photo / David Haxton
Tohora artwork in Maclean Park. Photo / David Haxton

He said the concept evolved from the park's community consultation as well as discussions with iwi.

"The idea was more anchored around that notion of journeys and travel.

"The Tohorā specifically relates to the whales and the way they migrate through the Rauoterangi Channel, between Kāpiti Island and the mainland."

Taepa, from Papamoa, used cast concrete from Hutt Concrete Products as the main medium.

The sculpture also features ambient lighting as well as a sound system that emits whale sounds.

"It's a literal pathway so the idea is that you can walk on top of it and interact with it.

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"There's a sensor in the middle which triggers some audio, when someone walks over it, allowing them to hear the sounds of whales and dolphins.

"One of the major things that the public arts panel was looking for was work that was integrated into the development.

"Usually when you see public art pieces they're big and monumental which you can't interact with, it's just a thing to look at. So my approach is about interacting with it and making it a part of the place as opposed to just something to look at in the space.

Kereama Taepa with his artwork Tohora. Photo / David Haxton
Kereama Taepa with his artwork Tohora. Photo / David Haxton

"The whole idea is that you need to interact with this work to fully understand it."

Kāpiti Coast District Council estimated the final cost at about $145,000.

"The costs of this project were committed before Covid-19 arrived and a proportion of the costs were paid out in previous financial years," a spokesman said.

"Design, fabrication and installation of the work has been funded from the Public Art Acquisitions fund."

Kāpiti mayor K Gurunathan told the gathering that his first encounter with these "eco ambassadors of the deep" was in 1996 when he was working as a journalist.

Three sperm whales were stranded along Queen Elizabeth Park and Paekākāriki.

"The one at Paekākāriki beached on the rocks was still alive, its vent hole still moving, colossal animal, dying, in front of a crowd, children crying, an ancient sadness, a sacredness.

"I remember the two remarkable Māori women who were managing the iwi protocols for recovery.

"Ramari Stewart, who became an international whale recovery expert, and Tunghia Baker of Ōtaki.

"I remember them telling me an amazing story handed down from their oral history.

Closeup of Tohora. Photo / David Haxton
Closeup of Tohora. Photo / David Haxton

"In the days before the arrival of the Pākehā, the whales used to arrive by their hundreds to the Kāpiti waters during the mating season.

"Ramari said their sounds, their whale songs, reverberated from the island waters to the hills and back.

"The tragic sadness is that the arrival of the Pākehā was also the arrival of the demands of the Britain's Industrial Revolution and the demand for whale oil to lubricate their industrial machines.

"The result was the horrific slaughter of whales including the use of Māori labour to do this and in the process the undermining of Māori's sustainable relationship with Tohorā and the ecology.

"In the last few decades there has been a movement to reclaim a sustainable relationship with our environment.

"Whales have become the ambassadors of this message."