A new museum being built at a remote North Hokianga marae will rival any in the Far North, a curator says.

Construction of Raiātea Resource Centre, at Motuti Marae between Kohukohu and Mitimiti, is well under way with the roof of the two-storey building now nearing completion.

Most items in the collection — which include Māori and Polynesian artefacts and objects relating to the history of the Catholic church in New Zealand — were collected by the late Pā Henare Tate over a period of 30 years. Some were donated to Motuti Marae by international visitors.

The curator of Museum at Te Ahu in Kaitaia, Whina Te Whiu, said Te Ahu currently had the biggest publicly-accessible collection of historic artefacts in the Far North.

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"But this will give Te Ahu a run for its money," she said.

Conrad Smith, of Kaitaia firm Pouwhenua, builds the Raiātea Resource Centre with sons Ruana Te Whenua Smith and Dylan Smith (front). Photo / Peter de Graaf
Conrad Smith, of Kaitaia firm Pouwhenua, builds the Raiātea Resource Centre with sons Ruana Te Whenua Smith and Dylan Smith (front). Photo / Peter de Graaf

The Raiātea collection comprised more than 10,000 items including carvings from Polynesia and Micronesia, and Māori artefacts gifted to Pā Tate such as carvings, tukutuku panels, cloaks and taonga pūoro (traditional musical instruments).

Other taonga include early photographs and glass-plate negatives, printed documents, letters and maps.

Te Whiu, who also coordinates the Raiātea collection, said many items related to Catholic history but from a Māori perspective.

Pā Tate had catalogued and ordered the collection meticulously, she said.

''What makes this collection unique is that there is a lot of Catholic content but it's not owned or managed by the church, it's managed by the community.''

The project, which was expected to cost just under $1 million, was being funded by community grants from NZ Lotteries' Environment and Heritage Fund and Foundation North, as well as by fundraising and the hapū themselves. The Far North District Council and other organisations had also assisted.

The building, by Kaitaia firm Pouwhenua, is expected to be complete by July with interior design and fit-out ready for opening in summer 2020.

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''The strength of Te Ahu's collection is in colonial history but it's not as strong in Māori history and genealogy — and that's exactly where Raiātea is strong,'' Te Whiu said.

Pā Henare Tate officiating at the burial of artist Ralph Hotere in 2013. Photo / Peter de Graaf
Pā Henare Tate officiating at the burial of artist Ralph Hotere in 2013. Photo / Peter de Graaf

Sister Magdalen, of the Sisters of Compassion, said the resource centre was the culmination of a long-held dream by Pā Tate.

''He planted the seeds and did the preparation work,'' she said.

The name Raiātea has double significance. It is a sacred island in French Polynesia which many Hokianga people regard as their spiritual home but it was also the name of the ship hired in Tahiti by Bishop Jean Baptiste Pompallier when he brought Catholicism to New Zealand, arriving in Hokianga in 1838.

The Raiātea collection is currently spread over five buildings at the marae — including a garage and a private home — making it difficult to access and putting its preservation at risk.

Pā Tate died in 2017.

■ Fundraising for Raiātea is continuing. If you want to contribute, contact Sister Magdalen on tamatea.motuti@xtra.co.nz or (09) 405 2240. Proceeds from the sale of Pa Tate's books also go to the project.