Waka display a chance to see history unveiled

21:33, Nov 29 2012
Dilys Johns
RARE OPPORTUNITY: Senior research fellow Dilys Johns, of the University of Auckland, at the Southland Museum and Art Gallery with the waka found in Mokomoko Inlet, near Omaui. Behind Ms Johns, the waka is being lasered, which will create a 3-D record.

Visitors to the Southland Museum and Art Gallery will be the first in New Zealand to see an artefact being conserved when a historic waka unearthed at Mokomoko Inlet goes on display early next year.

University of Auckland senior research fellow in conservation Dilys Johns, an expert in wet wood conservation, said yesterday visitors to the museum would get a chance to view the exhibited waka during its conservation from mid-January.

The waka will be placed in a specially designed clear tank and displayed in the museum while being treated with a chemical fluid before being dried out.

Ms Johns said the soaking process could take up to three years, with a further year for the wood to dry out.

She said it would be the first time in New Zealand an artefact would be on public display while it was being conserved.

"Normally the conservation process takes place behind closed doors in a laboratory," she said.


She has returned to Invercargill with University of Auckland Department of Anthropology photo archivist Tim Mackrell.

The pair are using laser imaging to produce a 3-D image of the waka to build a more complete picture of the artefact.

This would be used to help determine the size and type of the waka discovered last year by Invercargill historian and city councillor Lloyd Esler, Ms Johns said.

The incomplete waka was at least 3.5 metres long with a flat bottom that suggested it could have been used for fishing, she said.

Determining the age of the waka was more difficult.

"We could determine the age of the wood, but that would only tell us how old the tree was, not the waka," Ms Johns said.

When the waka was discovered, Te Rau Aroha Marae member Bubba Thompson estimated it could have originated from the early 1800s, saying it was a waka tiwai - a small waka probably used by Maori to paddle around the bay and catch fish from.

Ms Johns said the waka discovery at Mokomoko and another on display in the museum from Masons Bay helped historians gain an understanding about the sea-faring nature of past people. neil.ratley@stl.co.nz

The Southland Times