Whatonga sculpture watches over walkers

Last updated 09:00 12/04/2014

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Walkers on the Manawatu Gorge track will be watched over by Whatonga, an impressive steel sculpture unveiled at a dawn ceremony yesterday.

Standing more than 6 metres tall, Whatonga is a contemporary sculpture and was paid for by the Manawatu Gorge Biodiversity stakeholder group. It depicts historical seafarer and Rangitane chief Whatonga, who came to these shores in the 12th century, as one of the captains of the Kurahaupo Waka.

"The purpose of the gorge project is to enhance the biodiversity, recreational, scenic and cultural values of the gorge," gorge landowner and biodiversity group member Tom Shannon said.

"Whatonga does just that, it identifies the spirit of the gorge and its iwi connection."

Members from Rangitane o Manawatu and Rangitane o Tamaki nui a Rua did the blessing at the dawn ceremony.

The sculpture features intricate pattern work that depicts the sailing history of Whatonga as well as the logos of the gorge project partners.

"It was a very spiritual and moving moment for the iwi," Tanenuiarangi Manawatu Incorporated chief executive Danielle Harris said. "Recognition of Whatonga as a significant tupuna in this region is long overdue and a positive step in strengthening Rangitane mana in the region."

Signage has also been installed telling the history of Whatonga and the stories within the sculpture itself.

Destination Manawatu welcomed the new sculpture as a further asset in an increasingly popular recreational area.

"While we are excited at the opportunity Whatonga creates, we are also going to be careful around ensuring it, and Te Apiti in general, is treasured and protected," Destination Manawatu chief executive Lance Bickford said.

Destination Manawatu will also be working on raising the national awareness of Te Apiti - Manawatu Gorge as a destination, by highlighting its various activities and operators in a major marketing campaign this year.

The installation of Whatonga is one of several projects instigated by the Manawatu Gorge Biodiversity group. These include a website, teapiti.com, and plans for new signage throughout the gorge will be updated with the new branding.

Work is under way on new cycle areas in the gorge and above the Bridge Cafe, and a trial bus ran out to the gorge from Palmerston North over summer.

"All of these activities enhance the gorge experience for locals and visitors to our region," Shannon said.

"This is so heartening as we want to show off one of our most valuable assets."

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- Manawatu Standard

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