An almost 120-year-old relationship between two peoples born out of shared respect for the dead has been honoured with a new memorial in Hokianga.
When the SS Ventnor sank off Hokianga Heads in 1902 it didn't just claim the lives of 13 crew, it also took the remains of 499 Chinese gold miners to the bottom of the sea.
The men's exhumed remains had been on their way to their home villages for burial but, according to Chinese tradition, with the bodies lost and no graves for families to tend to, their spirits risked wandering forever in the afterlife.
Many of the remains washed up along the coast where they were found by people of Te Roroa and Te Rarawa, who buried them alongside their own dead.
The new memorial not only honours the 499 miners and the ship's crew, it also gives thanks to Māori for taking care of the remains.
It was built at the Manea Footprints of Kupe Centre in Ōpononi where an emotional dedication ceremony was attended by more than 200 members of New Zealand's Chinese community, iwi, government ministers and MPs.
Saturday's ceremony was the first time the names of all lost miners and crew had been read aloud.
The miners' descendants then performed the rituals of Ching Ming, or ''tomb sweeping day'', in which offerings of food and incense are made to the dead, and a dance troupe performed a white lion dance.
Race Relations Commissioner Meng Foon, who led the memorial project for the NZ Chinese Association, said the dance was reserved for the most significant occasions and had not been performed in New Zealand before.
Earlier he told the crowd sheltering from heavy rain inside Manea that the dedication was a chance, after almost 120 years, to acknowledge ancestors lost on the Ventnor.
''It's a big day for us and for all the families involved in this history. Not just Chinese, but the iwi, the home peoples, who have looked after the Chinese remains for all these years. We owe them a big debt of gratitude."
Peter Sew Hoy, a descendant of Dunedin merchant Choie Sew Hoy who organised the repatriation of the remains and whose body was also on the ship, said families finally had a place they could visit and remember.
During the project he had been surprised to discover many parallels between Māori and Chinese cultures, such as the importance of family and respect for ancestors.
Gordon Wu said as a child he had always been told his great-grandfather had died at sea.
He had discovered only in recent years that his ancestor came to New Zealand as a young man to work in the gold fields but died before he could return to his wife. His body was among those lost with the Ventnor.
Wu thanked Hokianga iwi for the ''reverence and care'' they showed the miners' remains. Others thanked Te Hua o te Kawariki Trust for their manaakitanga (hospitality) in allowing the memorial to be built at Manea.
Both the centre and the memorial received funding from the Provincial Growth Fund overseen by former Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones.
Jones recalled how he had been told the Ventnor story and shown where some of the remains had been buried during a visit to Kawerua, in Waipoua Forest, in 1985.
He was surprised the story was, until recently, not widely known.
''I salute your efforts to ensure this historic incident is etched with pride and profile in the history of Aotearoa New Zealand,'' he said.
Other MPs who spoke included Labour MP Naisi Chen, in Mandarin and English, and Diversity Minister Priyanca Radhakrishnan.
By weaving together the history of two cultures the memorial would strengthen the collective identity of New Zealanders, she said.
Tai Tokerau MP Kelvin Davis said the memorial helped cement Chinese New Zealanders' place in the country's history and acknowledged an enduring connection with Hokianga Māori.
''Your ancestors lie with our ancestors in this soil. There is no difference. They lie with us. They are at home.''
The memorial, which is made of Corten steel and concrete, was designed by Richard Tam and Rob Tse, both descended from early Chinese settlers.
Originally it was to have been built at Rawene cemetery but heavy rain while the foundations were being dug caused nearby graves to collapse, forcing a change of location.