It's been said that arriving in Kororāreka/Russell is a bit underwhelming, with nothing distinctive or special to the area to greet visitors, let alone to honour its long, rich Māori history. There's the sign by Matauwhi Bay, mostly overgrown, and nothing on the wharf except a lot of advertising, but that's about to change thanks to a bold new initiative that began with Kororāreka Marae, was picked up by the original wharf trust and then by its successor, the Russell Community Wharf Trust.
The plan is to install two whakairo/carvings as a unique and impressive welcome to the town. One will be set out to sea, off the front of the wharf, and another at the Strand entrance. The carver has been chosen, the designs enthusiastically accepted, and funding is being sought.
There had been some confusion regarding whether the $100,000 contingency fund originally allocated as part of the wharf refurbishment by Far North Holdings was still available, and would apply to the carvings, but that had now been resolved according to wharf trustee Deb Rewiri.
"Everyone, including Far North Holdings, and the community have got together to see what could be done, the money is now there, and we can't wait for Tony to get started. We couldn't be more pleased," she said.
Whakairo tohunga Tony Makiha, from Mystix Studio, at Puketona, has laid out a plan for two large carvings, a wero and a waharoa/gateway, the first of which will be just in front of the wharf, with FNHL's help. Both will be carved from tōtara from Oromāhoe, which will be laminated to protect them from the elements.
The 2.5m taiaha-wielding warrior will stand on a column that will be fixed to the seabed, and will be clearly visible from well offshore, welcoming visitors in a culturally appropriate manner, and saying 'This is our whenua, please respect it.'
While there would be strong bicultural themes to both carvings, Makiha said he wanted the figures to represent the area but also to speak to all New Zealanders, and to overseas visitors.
One side of the Kororāreka waharoa will reference some of the first manuhiri/visitors to land there, whalers and sailors, the design representing both a reiputa (whale tooth) and a hikuaua (fish tail). Motifs on the other leg will pay tribute to the Ngāti Manu people, whose descendants still live in and around Russell.
The proposals and designs have so far met with widespread support. Not one voice was raised in dissent at a packed meeting at Haratu Marae last year, called by the Community Wharf Trust, which was almost unheard of in Russell.
The project is expected to cost around $100,000, with well over $10,000 for the installation, Makiha saying carving should take around eight months.
"This was originally Howard Reti's vision," Rewiri said.
"Tony's design at last makes it clear to visitors who land here that they are arriving somewhere very special, with a long and proud Māori tradition, and it's great that that feeling seems to be very much reflected in the general community. People are really enthusiastic about it. And from a tourism point of view it will be a fantastic addition to our collection of history-based attractions, and of course of inestimable value as a unique advertisement and branding for Kororāreka."