A landmark decision looks set to see the historic meeting house, Hinemihi o te Ao Tawhito, return from halfway around the world to her home – Rotorua.
The meeting house, which safely sheltered people during the 1886 Tarawera Eruption, has been in England for almost 130 years but now the National Trust UK has agreed in principle to a carving exchange which will see her returned to her people, Ngāti Hinemihi of Rotorua.
Six carvings from the original meeting house will be returned home after the carvings were at some point removed from the original wharenui - and it has been a long time coming, said Ruakiri Fairhall.
"The feeling we are feeling now would've been the feeling of our people before the eruption. When life was rich, when food was plentiful."
Fairhall is leading the campaign, alongside others, to bring Hinemihi home but the journey has not stopped - Ngāti Hinemihi are working collaboratively to plan the building of a new wharenui at Clandon Park in England, to be named Te Hono (The Link or The Connection).
"For us, as New Zealanders, we need to take into consideration the sense of significance that the people of the United Kingdom have for Hinemihi. She means a lot to them."
Chairman of Ngā Kohinga Whakairo o Hinemihi, Rangitihi Pene, said all of Ngāti Hinemihi were absolutely delighted at the decision.
"This taonga means so much to our people and it will be an auspicious day when she is returned to us."
Hinemihi's construction began in 1880. Commissioned by Chief Aporo Wharekaniwha, head of the Ngāti Hinemihi sub-tribe, the carving was undertaken by two carvers, Wero Taroi and Tene Waitere using wood from native totara.
Few meeting houses bear female names but Aporo chose to name Hinemihi after a noted female ancestor, famous in legend for keeping the company of a giant lizard.
"Only six years after that, she was purchased for the sum of 50 pounds and shipped to England," Pene said.
In 2015 a massive fire gutted Clandon Manor providing the catalyst for a carving exchange. Heritage NZ initiated discussions with the National Trust UK.
Last week, the National Trust UK contacted Ngāti Hinemihi and Heritage NZ Pouhere Taonga to say they had agreed in principle to the exchange.
"We believe this will take about five to six years," Pene said.
It had yet to be agreed where Hinemihi o te Ao Tawhito would be placed upon her return with several possible locations under review.
From England, the National Trust's director of culture and engagement, John Orna-Ornstein, said the trust recognised the "deep spiritual relationship" local iwi had with Hinemihi but the journey was far from over.
"This is a long process. Hinemihi has listed building status and the relevant UK authorities need to give consent."
He said the trust was also seeking the formal assistance of the Charities Commission.
Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga chief executive Andrew Coleman said they were indebted to the National Trust's guardianship of these hugely significant carvings since being placed in their care in 1956.
"Heritage New Zealand believes this is a very positive and important step in seeing Ngāti Hinemihi taonga returned home."
Coleman said they agreed with the National Trust's view that this proposed exchange took forward the story of Hinemihi.
"It is in keeping with tikanga and te ao Māori principles that these carvings are returned."