A whale tail sculpture stolen shortly after the owner died has made its way home after being missing for more than six months.

Its owner, Kerry Strongman, was a master carver and sculptor renown for creating colossal swamp-kauri carvings which he called "jewellery for giants".

He died on January 7 after suffering a stroke and a day later the "exceptional" work was stolen from Te Hana.

The whale tail is 4ft long and 3ft tall, with kauri gum and amethyst pieces attached to the base.


The officer in charge at Wellsford, Sergeant Geoff Medland, said a window had been smashed and a bedroom was ransacked during the theft.

"Everybody was quite upset by it," he said.

"He was a well-known and respected local man."

Strongman was known for taking people who were struggling under his wing and teaching them how to carve, Medland said.

The sculpture was first spotted by police strapped to the top of car in Helensville, but it was not known at that time that it was stolen, he said.

"We grabbed some details and let it go."

The sculpture then travelled up north where the burglar attempted to sell it but it appeared no one wanted to take it and "experience bad mākutu".

"He tried to get rid of it to a number of people up there."

 The late master carver Kerry Strongman with a swamp kauri carving he donated to a Far North marae in 2013.
The late master carver Kerry Strongman with a swamp kauri carving he donated to a Far North marae in 2013.

The offender returned to Auckland last week and again attempted to get rid of it by offering it to a marae, he said.

But the marae it was offered to stood firm and said that it should be handed in to police.

It was then left at the Clevedon Police Station.

"We urge him to come in and see us because we know he is possibly still worried about the mākutu," Medland said.

"To put things right he needs to come see me."

Medland said he had remained hopeful throughout that the piece would be returned.

"I had spoken with a local kaumātua and there was a belief that stolen items which have a lot of mana will return to their rightful owners.

"There was no doubt it was going to come back."

It was a distinctive piece, Medland said.

Yesterday, it was returned to a person who was acting on behalf of the estate after a blessing, he said.

It would be gifted to an organisation in the Wellsford area after it was repaired so that the community could see it and enjoy it, he said.