The manaakitanga (spirit) of Māori in Rotorua will play a key role to wrap aroha (love) around the city's Muslim community at a time when they and the rest of the city come to grips with the terrorist attack that took 50 lives in Christchurch.

Ngāti Whakaue and Te Arawa kaumatua Monty Morrison, who helped organised a vigil attended by hundreds on Saturday night at the tribe's paramount marae, Te Papaiouru, said local iwi had a reputation for welcoming its visitors and it would draw on those skills to provide support for grieving locals.

Morrison, who is also the kaumatua for the Rotorua Lakes Council, said council staff would come together tomorrow at 1.30pm for its own vigil as a mark of respect to those who were killed in Christchurch on Friday.

He said while race relations in New Zealand had come a long way, there was still room for improvement and he called on everyone - Māori and Pakeha - to teach more tolerance.


"We are a tolerant and loving country and we in Te Arawa have a special relationship with those who we live alongside.

A card left outside the Rotorua Islamic Centre. Photo / Ben Fraser
A card left outside the Rotorua Islamic Centre. Photo / Ben Fraser

"But there is a great need within our own families to be more tolerant. To act, care and nurture and to provide a better example to our children and their children.

"One of the things that we can do following the atrocity that has happened and the horror that has taken place is show our love. Te Arawa shares that grief and horror and we will readily stand beside this community.

"To the Muslim community here in Rotorua and the rest of the New Zealand, we will look after and care for you."

Monty Morrison
Monty Morrison

Meanwhile, the wider Rotorua community is continuing to show its support in the wake of
Friday's mosque attacks.

Flowers and messages of support are piling up outside the Rotorua Islamic Centre on Tarewa Rd and other vigils and services are being held to show support to those affected.

Rotorua mayor Steve Chadwick, who kept to her original plans to travel to Christchurch at the weekend, paid respects at Hagley Park in Christchurch today on behalf of the city.

On her mayoral Facebook page, she described being there as an "incredibly moving morning".


"We were overcome by the deep sadness at Hagley Park. Hundreds are pouring quietly in to pay their respects in a deep silence. We met a bride and groom from yesterday coming to place their flowers at the site. Such aroha and sharing. It felt the right thing from the people of Rotorua en route home."

On Friday night the council lowered its flags to half mast in support for Christchurch.

Chadwick said since the incident she had been flooded with ideas from people on how to mark the tragedy locally.

Mayor Steve Chadwick.
Mayor Steve Chadwick.

She encouraged people in Rotorua to reach out and support each other.

"We must not let anxiety and fear overwhelm us," she said.

"I think at home we've always welcomed diversity and we'll continue to welcome diversity and celebrate our differences, that's the manaakitanga we've always had in Rotorua and will continue to have."

John Paul College principal Patrick Walsh said the school was aghast at the news.

Flowers outside the Rotorua Islamic Centre. Photo / Ben Fraser
Flowers outside the Rotorua Islamic Centre. Photo / Ben Fraser

"As a faith-based community we were shocked that people who were practising their faith by praying were killed for it.

"We have a chapel where our students and staff prayer together. Everyone in New Zealand should have the right to go to their place of worship and pray irrespective if you are Catholic, Muslim, or Hindu or any other religion and know you will be safe."

Rotorua businesses are among those paying their respects in a financial way. Terrace Kitchen and Ponsonby Rd Lounge Bar have both posted on social media they will donate all profits from the weekend's trading to the victim's families.

The Arts Village is also accepting donations for Christchurch's Victim Support.

Love Soup co-founder Gina Peiffer said the charity had offered support to the Rotorua Muslim community.

"When we first started the Muslim community was one of the first to come forward to cook for our homeless ... They've been involved in the last four to five years.

"We don't know what we can do in the way of support. We are waiting to hear what they need but the door is open."

Public vigils

Rotorua will come together again on Friday at Te Manawa to pay its respects, exactly a week after the Christchurch murders.

It is being planned by Rotorua man Omar Al Omari, who immigrated from Palestine with his wife and children about three years ago.

The Muslim man is planning a one-minute silence. It will start at 2.40pm, the normal prayer time for Muslims here in Rotorua.

He said it was open to all who wanted to mark the occasion and had invited dignitaries including Chadwick, Rotorua MP Todd McClay and the police.

"I will talk on behalf of the Muslim community. We thank police for the actions they took. We have confidence in the Government and the police. We know we are safe here in a friendly environment among friendly people."

Al Omari said he was shocked when he heard the news.

"When I came to New Zealand I was aware the crime rate was low. I wanted to come to a safe area for my children. I didn't want them to go through what I had seen so when I saw this I was really shocked," he said.

"We want to send the message that nothing can separate us. Nothing can stop us doing what we can to contribute to New Zealand. The country that gave us the warmest hugs when we arrived."

Al Omari said he still felt safe in Rotorua.

"I trust everybody in New Zealand. Life will go on, those who have died are in a better place, we have pain but time will heal it, love will heal it."

A vigil was to be held tonight in Te Puke at Jubilee Park from 6.30pm and another is being held tomorrow in Whakatane, organised by the Whakatane District Council, from 7pm to 8pm on The Strand.

Whakatāne woman Polly Hamilton is also planning an event titled Support Ōtautahi (Christchurch) on Saturday from 10am to 12 noon at Whakatāne Miniature Railway and Skatepark. It can be found on Facebook.