Visitors to the eastern side of Te Apiti – Manawatū Gorge will now be greeted by Te Hononga Maunga, a carved entrance at the Ballance Bridge carpark designed to provide blessing and safe passage to all who pass by.
These form part of the entrance to Te Apiti walkway, near the Manawatu Gorge on the outskirts of Woodville, with the area acknowledged as a hidden gem in our region.
Rangitāne o Tamaki nui-ā-Rua kaumātua Manahi Paewai blessed the carvings in a dawn ceremony this week, prior to the Minister of Conservation Eugenie Sage joining Te Apiti – Manawatū Gorge Governance Group members for a ribbon cutting event.
Paewai said the name Te Hononga Maunga refers to the unique position of the gorge between two mountain ranges and was a revered place to Rangitāne.
"Rangitāne people, who resided east and west of Te Apiti would recite karakia (prayers) when travelling through to invoke safe passage," he said.
"These carvings, among other things, represent karakia for those who visit. They are also sister carvings to the ones at the Ashhurst entrance so regardless of whether you do a return trip from one side, or walk from one end to the other, visitors are blessed at the beginning and end of their journey."
Tararua District councillor Alison Franklin said it was an incredibly moving ceremony.
"The carvings are stunning."
Carver Craig Kawana told the Minister the story of the history of Te Apiti, giving her a far greater understanding of what Te Apiti means, not only to the Tararua District, to the entire region.
Governance Group and Horizons Regional Council chairman Bruce Gordon said in addition to the carving ceremony, the Minister has been invited to see some of the work being done to enhance the biodiversity, recreational, educational and cultural values of the Gorge.
"The Gorge Governance Group was established in 2016, formalising a collaboration of various organisations that had been under way for over a decade. This project work has helped contribute to the overall experience for approximately 70,000 visitors a year," he said.
And Collis said she was encouraging everyone to see the area for themselves over the holiday break.
"They can take a short 20-minute walk through the beautiful native bush, or for the more energetic, the full two-hour walk," she said.
"The entrance also includes a full history of both Maori and European in the area and illustrates the biodiversity of this unique Gorge."
The Minister also travelled to Te Waha o te Kuri, - Ferry Reserve - where Collis explained the impacts of the closure of State Highway 3 through the Manawatu Gorge, as well as describing how special Ferry Reserve has become as a place for people to connect with the gorge.
"The walkway and boardwalk at the reserve have been completed and will prove popular as it meanders through the beautiful wetlands," she said.
Ferry Reserve has been developed with funding obtained by the Te Apiti Governance Group, who applied to the mid-sized tourism fund. Tararua District Council has now added a barbecue for use by campers and visitors.
"The Woodville Domain Board has acted as guardian for many years, caring for the area, developing and completing the walkway and now, seeing campers and travellers enjoy the area, it's rewarding for their members," Collis said.
During the last holiday season 3000 campers stayed at the Ferry Reserve and it is anticipated this figure will rise this year.
"Tourism contributes significantly to the economy of the Tararua District and I'm excited by the proposed addition of a toilet block at the Mangatainoka Reserve, further south, made possible by funding from the Primary Growth Fund," Collis said.
"Every overnight stay is an opportunity for us to showcase the wonderful attractions we have to offer throughout Tararua and the camping facilities in every town are incredibly well used and often.
"Those of us who live here, are surprised when we see the visitor numbers. Every tourism dollar brought into a rural community goes back around that community up to six times.
"With a stunning landscape and relaxed pace of life, the Tararua District presents a real opportunity for tourism."