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Wairarapa Moana celebrated

Ceramic eels installation by Sam Ludden. PHOTOS/SUPPLIED

Wairarapa Moana Wetlands Project held an open day at Lake Domain on Sunday to celebrate Wairarapa Moana’s recognition as an ‘internationally significant’ wetland under the Ramsar Convention.

Wairarapa Moana is one of the largest remaining wetland complexes in New Zealand, a spokesperson said.

Nine organisations had joined, many non-government, working to restore Wairarapa Moana to its former glory, and had stalls with engaging displays.

Warren Maxwell and a group of children with “Koro” the old totara log.

In one of the more distinctive displays at Whakarongo ki te taiao, acclaimed musician Warren Maxwell resurrected the remains of a fallen totara tree found at Wairarapa Moana, transforming the log into a musical instrument.

Stretching strings to a section and fixing stereo contact mics linking to an effects pedal and PA system, he fused an old log with new technologies, a spokesperson said.

The result was an eery sound of murmurs and vibrations that helped to unlock some of the mystery of this once magnificent tree and the land where it had stood.

Excited rangatahi [young people] experimenting with the sounds of “Koro”, the name Maxwell gave the old totara log, captured the essence of Whakarongo ki te taiao, which translates to “feeling the land’s rhythms”.

There was also live music and interactive artworks, including installations from artists Siv Fjaerestad, Sam Ludden, and Warren Maxwell.

As a recognised driving force behind many musical projects, Maxwell said he came up with his idea as a way to indigenise his music practice and reconnect to the natural world.

“I have been really lucky to have been brought up using western music pedagogy, but my Maori indigenous side is going, ‘what did my ancestors use to inspire music’.

“So I want to augment my very privileged music background with researching indigenous stuff,” Maxwell said.

Experimenting and experiencing the sounds of “Koro”, an old Totara log now musical instrument thanks to Warren Maxwell.

Maxwell found the log washed up on the shore where the Tauherenikau River enters Lake Wairarapa.

“He feels like a Koro to me, an old grandpa,” Maxwell said.

Speaking at Sunday’s event, Greater Wellington Wairarapa committee chairwoman and councillor Adrienne Staples said the Wairarapa Moana Wetlands Project’s vision began in 2007 to ensure this taonga was cherished as a place of cultural and historical significance that inspires future generations.

Staples said the next step was developing a “master plan” that would include community input to ensure maximum progress could be made.

Over past years, input had come from far and wide, including Victoria University’s school of landscape architecture, which five years ago came up with some concept designs for various beautification projects
around the moana.

Some of these were on display at a stall hosted by Rawiri Smith of Kahungunu ki Wairarapa.

Smith said that he hoped they might become a reality one day, pointing to the various funding initiatives announced last year earmarked for Wairarapa Moana.

Funding opportunities included $3.5 million from the Ministry of the Environment through the Jobs for Nature programme, which has been scaling up restoration efforts at wetlands.

Showing what a collective effort can achieve was Featherston-based group, Pae Tu Mokai o Tauira, who last year undertook a planting project at the Lake Domain Reserve entrance.

Spokesperson Narida Hooper said they used the Hugelkultur technique, which works by burying woody materials under the soil, then growing plants on top or between the buried trenches.

The wood in the bed acted as a sponge, providing moisture to the plants and the decomposing wood continually providing nutrients.

The project has been hugely successful, with nearly all of the plantings thriving in the harsh conditions.

They have now been providing habitat for mighty totara, the likes of Warren Maxwell’s koro, to once again stand tall over this wetland treasure, she said.

The Wairarapa Moana Wetlands Project is a collaboration among Ngati Kahugnunu ki Wairarapa, Rangitane o Wairarapa, the Department of Conservation, South Wairarapa District Council, and Greater Wellington Regional Council.

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