Barely a tangi goes by when the departed are not farewelled by the haunting saxophone melodies of Minarepa (Mina) Mitai-Ngatai.

Now it's the community's turn to farewell the accomplished musician, father, carver and yachtsman.

Rotorua's man with "a golden sax" died at his home in Rotorua yesterday, at the age of 84, due to illness.

The self-taught musician first picked up a saxophone at age 19 and went on to perform at Soundshell dances in the 60s, at the Lakehouse in the 70s and then six nights a week at his whānau-run cultural enterprise Mitai.


He was awarded a Queen's Service Medal in 2015 for his services to Māori and the community.

The family spokeswoman, daughter-in-law Lara Northcroft, said Mitai-Ngatai was a family man who brought his kids up with love, laughter and music, and whose door was always open.

"Mina loved learning about and trying new things. He was a healthy, fit and active 84-year-old and he accomplished a lot in his life," Northcroft said.

"He was generous with his love and time and he made so many friends over the years."

Northcroft said music was Mitai-Ngatai's way of contributing.

"Most people would know Mina from playing his saxophone at the Kuirau markets and at the many tangihanga around Aotearoa.

"He said it was his way of contributing to the families and the marae instead of being on the paepae [speakers bench]."

Rotorua musician Richard Anaru said it was a very sad day.


"Mina was from an older generation of the wider musical whānau in Rotorua and he was just a lovely man.

Mina Mitai-Ngatai, with his saxophone in front of one of his carvings in 2004. Photo / File
Mina Mitai-Ngatai, with his saxophone in front of one of his carvings in 2004. Photo / File

"He added to the music scene that was here and was very much part of the fabric of what defined Rotorua's music."

Anaru said Mitai-Ngatai had a wonderful way with his saxophone, but that was overshadowed by his way with people.

"He was the sort of person that was just always there, and always did his bit."

Northcroft said Mitai-Ngatai had many talents; yachting, carving, painting, hockey and tennis - even line dancing.

"He was one of those people who was good at everything he tried. And he was determined to master those things that he loved."

Growing up in Matata, the ocean was his swimming pool.

When he wasn't out on the water, he was a passionate sportsman, and encouraged all his mokopuna to play hockey. His grandson Leo Mitai-Wells is in the Black Sticks.

When the Rotorua Daily Post interviewed Mitai-Ngatai in 2010 he said his personal philosophy was "family's everything".

That was the case all his life, Northcroft said.

"One of the last things he talked about was how much he loved his family and how lucky he was to have them."

He has a face that thousands have seen as Tuhoto, Tarawera's tohunga in the Rotorua museum's movie of the mountain's eruption.

He had distinctive long hair, simply because he got sick of cutting it.

St Faith's vestry member Ann Somerville said she admired Mitai-Ngatai greatly.

"I thought he was a wonderful man and he just did the most generous thing, performing at tangi.

"He was a man of great knowledge and mana."

St Faith's Reverend Tom Poata said Mitai-Ngatai was "always there" performing at tangi.

"In a way he added something different, I don't know what," Poata said.

"He loved music and in those times music might be just what you need."

Mitai-Ngatai will be brought on to Taheke Marae at 2pm tomorrow with a burial service on Sunday at 11am.

He is survived by four sons, four daughters plus whāngai (adopted) son and daughter. He was the grandfather of 34 and great-grandfather to 31. His wife Margaret died in 2002.