The first stage of the long-awaited Hihiaua Cultural Centre gets under way in Whangārei next week.

Stage one of the Māori cultural showcase will entail the renovation of an existing workshop and construction of a waka shelter and launching gantry into the Waiarohia River.

That stage is expected to be completed by March next year when the plans for stage two, which are already under way, will come into effect.

Stage two will involve the creation of an iconic building with an auditorium featuring an outdoor/indoor performance stage, a conference and events centre, as well as exhibition and retail spaces.

Advertisement

"There is only one Hihiaua in the world and we hope our plans can exceed the expectations of all the people who have been involved in one way or another over the years," Hihiaua Cultural Centre Trust chairman Richard Drake said.

''The trust has worked long and hard to meet and overcome all the challenges along the way. We are finally able to say we are extremely excited to see this become a reality for the people of Tai Tokerau and our visitors.''

Both facilities comprising stage one will adjoin the Hatea Loop walkway on the Hihiaua peninsula and form the basis of a centre of Māori arts and cultural excellence.

It will eventually include space for a variety of artistic and cultural pursuits, a laboratory for Māori science and technology projects, an exhibition and retail space as well as the waka facilities.

A covered walkway will link both buildings, from where the public will be able to view activities and sometimes be invited to take part.

''The public will be able to experience for themselves aspects of our unique and dynamic culture through meaningful interaction with our people, our language, arts and culture,'' Drake said.

While the concept and plans have been more than a decade in the making, an injection of $1 million from the Government's Provincial Growth Fund announced in February has allowed the building project to go ahead.

That grant has been boosted by $500,000 from the Whangārei District Council and $675,000 from Foundation North, plus ongoing support from Te Puni Kokiri.

The Hihiaua Cultural Centre Trust was established in 2008 to create an iconic centre of Māori arts and cultural excellence on the site ideally situated between the Hātea and Waiarohia rivers.

The centre has been designed by Moller Architects and will be built by Whangārei company Arco Construction Ltd. Earlier estimates put the cost of the entire project $12m to $15m.