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Fallen totara gets new life

The fallen totara tree is estimated to be from 800 to 900 years old and weigh about 10 tons. PHOTO/SUPPLIED

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A fallen totara tree estimated to be from 800 to 900 years old will find new life as a whakairo [traditional Maori carving] which will be displayed at Pukaha National Wildlife Centre’s education building.

Weighing about 10 tons and at 7.2 metres long, it took more than a year of planning to extract the fallen totara from the Wakamoekau Creek, north of Masterton.

The trunk was gifted by farmer Richard White and the prized wood will provide material for 11 carvings.

Pukaha cultural adviser Wayne Pitau, who descends from the hapu Ngati Hamua and Rangitane iwi of Wairarapa, said he knew straight away it was going to be something great for his iwi and hapu when he first saw it.

“When I saw how large the tree was, I realised, ‘this is bigger than me in so many ways’.

“For me, carving this totara tree is giving mana to our people and our whakapapa in terms of our connection to Pukaha which was once known as Te Tapere Nui o Whatonga.”

He said it was an opportunity to intertwine tikanga in internal practices and origin stories when discussing native wildlife with visitors.

“It also shares an iwi perspective while welcoming non-Maori to gain a more in-depth understanding of Maori culture through art.”

Pitau and a team of qualified carvers and trainees would undertake the mammoth project.

“It’s humbling to be a part of this process and I look forward to seeing it finally come to life,” he said.

The project also feeds into wider efforts by Pukaha to raise cultural awareness which started in October last year.

The totara was extracted as part of a joint funding effort by Greater Wellington Regional Council, the Department of Conservation and JPS Earthmoving Ltd.

Regional council flood protection area engineer Des Peterson said it was no easy feat to get the log out of the creek.

“There were a few hoops to jump through as the log was on private property, it required summer conditions and some funding for the extraction. But in the end, we got there as everyone was keen to get on board and help to extract the log.”

Carving will start in the next few months and is estimated to take about 10 to 12 months to complete, in time for the opening of Pukaha’s new education building.


  1. Kia ora what a beautiful Kaupapa I travel through ekatahuna to masterton to Wellington my auntie an uncle have a dairy farm in eketahuna as a young fulla we use to milk cows an work on the farm I’m a carver artist at the the moment I’m carving in Wellington I would to meet the organizer an come an mihi to the log
    If you are looking for a carver or two I’ll be keen for years when working on the farm I always thought there were big trees throughout Rangitane Nga mihi Kia Koutou Simon lardelli

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