Politicians have defended a planned $2 million plastic waka as a "spectacular" addition to Auckland's waterfront.

The waka-shaped pavilion is to be erected on Auckland's waterfront, close to Queen's Wharf for the Rugby World Cup in September.

The 60m long, 15m high structure is expected to cost around $1,988,000, with about $1.8 million provided by the Government.

Ngati Whatua o Orakei, who will own the pavilion, will contribute $100,000.

Orakei councillor Cameron Brewer rejected Labour Party MP Shane Jones' claim the project was "idiocy" and would expose Maori to ridicule.

"This is no crass bouncy castle. This will look spectacular and good on Ngati Whatua for taking the lead on this.

"Importantly, this will put Maori up in lights for what is the third largest sporting tournament in the world.

"The 40,000 extra visitors in Auckland for October will have rugby on their minds. If we are to successfully communicate any Maori or cultural messages they need to be very obvious."

National MP Tau Henare said the taxpayer-funded waka was a "fantastic" idea and a great use of contemporary art.

Maori Affairs Minister Dr Pita Sharples earlier said the waka would provide the "cultural heart of the entertainment programme on Auckland's waterfront".

The waka is going to be used to "showcase the very best of Maori arts, culture, business and enterprise" during the tournament, Dr Sharples said.

"The haka is inextricably identified with All Black rugby, and Maori culture is a uniquely recognisable characteristic of New Zealand. This programme builds on our distinctive brand to promote New Zealand as a top visitor destination, and a place to do business," he said.

Ngati Whatua o Orakei wants the waka to be similar to the giant plastic rugby ball which first featured at the last world cup.
"Construction is getting under way, and we are assembling the world's best Maori arts and cultural programme, to reflect the diversity of Maori excellence, and to appeal to the greatest audience," Dr Sharples said.

A trustee for the hapu, Ngarimu Blair, said the waka would help promote "brand Maori" at the Rugby World Cup and other international events.

"We think that it has depth and value for the type of structure that it is and the type of structure that will get world media attention," he told Newstalk ZB.

"It's purposely designed so that it can be deconstructed, put into containers, travel around the world, travel around the country and we're already fielding significant interest from Maori and from abroad."

However, ACT leader Rodney Hide told Newstalk ZB it was shocking the Government has contributed almost $2 million to the project, given the Government is already borrowing more than $300 million a week.

"It would've been hard to believe at any stage that we would spend that much money on a waka that the people of New Zealand won't even own."

Mr Hide said it was also hard to believe the waka was to be made out of plastic.

The Green Party says the waka project should have gone out to tender so other iwi could have got involved.

Labour MP Shane Jones said the structure was a "panic-stricken stunt" to add a greater Maori element to the tournament.

"In these times of austerity, this is a shallow, costly idea that should at least have been put out to tender if the Government decided it was such a marvellous concept," Mr Jones said.

"The same amount of money could produce a fleet of beautiful waka, authentically handcrafted from kauri or totara.

"The real Maori contribution to the RWC will come from Maori people themselves. Maori will feel far more pride at seeing Piri Weepu and Hosea Gear holding the cup aloft than they will at anything else. They certainly don't want to be exposed to ridicule by this piece of idiocy."

But Dr Sharples said the project would have benefits for the whole country.

"The great thing about this project is that it promises lasting benefits. The waka pavilion will be an asset for Auckland, and the promotion will have ongoing economic benefits for Auckland and New Zealand as a whole," said Dr Sharples.

"I look forward to a formal launch of the waka project in due course."

- with Newstalk ZB