4500-year-old kauri to grace kapa haka stage

16:00, Feb 07 2013
Karl Johnstone with the kauri carving
ON THE MOVE: Karl Johnstone with the kauri carving as it is transported to Rotorua for the Te Matatini national kapa haka festival.

A large Maori carving, chiselled from 4500-year-old Northland swamp kauri, is ready to take its place at centre stage for the upcoming Te Matatini national kapa haka festival in Rotorua.

A party of 50 escorted the 26-tonne mahau, or frontage, carving as it was transported in three sections on semi-trailers from the New Zealand Maori Arts and Crafts Institute at Whakarewarewa, to the competition venue at Rotorua International Stadium yesterday.

Maori Arts and Crafts Institute director and head carver Karl Johnstone said the mahau carving consisted of two front posts, or amo; maihi, or fascia; and a tekoteko figure at the apex of the frame.

A large headpiece, or koruru, was carved separately, from totara.

When pieced together the carving, believed to be the biggest undertaken in New Zealand, will be bolted upright on to a steel structure.

"It's like a giant Lego-type setup," Mr Johnstone said. The carving had taken 20 carvers at the institute about 15,000 man hours to complete during four months since August.


A 10-metre-long swamp kauri log, 3m in diameter, was trucked down from Kaihu, near Dargaville. The log was then dried and later cut in half by chainsaw to begin the carving.

Mr Johnstone said the institute's carbon dating had estimated the log to be 4500 years old - about the same age as the pyramids at Giza.

"We know of kauri which are much older, perhaps 60,000 years, so this one was quite young. However, because it was young wood, it was easier to carve. It wasn't dried out and splitting like the older trees can be."

Te Matatini Society executive director Darrin Apanui said the 13.5m-high and 30m-wide carving would frame the stage on which the kapa haka groups would perform when the five-day competition began on February 20.

"We wanted to frame the stage in a way which would highlight the very best in kapa haka and performing arts from around the country," he said.

Almost 1700 kapa haka performers from 41 teams will compete at this year's nationals in Rotorua. Organisers estimate about 15,000 people will attend.

The Dominion Post