Topic: Te Awanui (waka)

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Te Awanui was carved from a 300-year-old kauri tree by master carver Tuti Tukaokao in 1973 after a request by the city to the Māori Cultural and Promotional Committee. It was agreed that Tauranga Moana should have its own ceremonial waka (canoe) to use on special occasions when celebrating the history of Tauranga. The waka measures 46 feet (14 metres) in length. Te Awanui is the original name of Tauranga Harbour. Research and story by Debbie McCauley. Note: This article was reproduced in the 'Historical Review: Bay of Plenty Journal of History' (Volume 65, Number 1, May 2017, pp. 1-6).

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The idea of a ceremonial waka specially built for the city of Tauranga was first suggested when planning was underway for the visit of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II in 1970.The Queen and His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh had firstly visited Tauranga on 9 February 1963 aboard the Royal Yacht Britannia. Their second visit was on 22 March 1970. Investigations into a suitable waka to meet and escort Britannia into her Tauranga mooring yielded no result and so the proposal to construct a waka belonging to the city and to the people of Tauranga Moana was born. Bill Ohia said that it was 'a project for the people - both Māori and Pākehā '

The last recorded building of a war canoe (waka taua) in the area took place at Te Tumu, near Te Puke, 125 years before Te Awanui was carved. This waka was used by the Ngāi Te Rangi people, mainly between Te Tumu and Otūmoetai. The name for the new waka, Te Awanui, was suggested by Eddie Heke.

Tauranga born Master Carver Tuti (Tony) Tukaokao (1929-2001) was selected to create the 46ft. long ceremonial waka. He incorporated carving forms from throughout New Zealand. The base of the prow features a carving form used by the Ngāpuhi people, and other influences are from Taranaki, Gisborne and the East Coast of the Bay of Plenty to Te Kaha. Included were carving techniques Tukaokao had learnt in Rotorua from the Arawa people whilst tutoring at the Māori Arts and Crafts School. He followed no definite plan, but incorporated his own ideas into sections of the design as he went along, the idea being that it would be different from anything he had carved in the past.

Te Awanui (waka)

An extensive search was undertaken for a tōtara or kauri tree suitable for a waka, but the perfect specimen could not be found. Finally Tukaokao approached Douglas John Baker (1926-2006) who owned RE & DJ Baker Sawmillers (later Baker Timber Supplies Ltd), of Katikati and who was also a fellow Legion of Frontiersman. Doug discovered the perfect 24 metre kauri tree within a stand on the farm of Roy W. Kennedy at Waitawheta (in the hills of Waikino and Waihi). The Kennedy family were only too happy to gift the kauri tree to the project.

The 300-year-old kauri tree selected for the waka was cut during a traditional Māori ceremony. Elders from Ngāi Te Rangi, Ngāiti Ranginui and Ngāiti Pukenga iwi performed a blessing at the foot of the tree before it was felled on 23 January 1971. The approval of Tāne Mahuta, Māori god of the forests and birds, was sought. The karakia (prayers) were incanted by Tawa Williams and ceremonial water splashed on the kauri’s trunk which measured 5ft. 3 inches at its base.

Veteran bushman and Doug Baker's father, Walter Augustus Pelham Baker (1902-1992), who was of Māori descent, was then called upon. A crowd of around 100 people observed as it took three quarters of an hour for father and son to fell the kauri with a chainsaw. Lower limbs were saved and carefully trimmed for future use as paddles, carved adornments, and other extras to be added to the exterior of the finished waka. Roy and Kevin Kennedy kindly supplied the workforce with lunches and cups of tea.

Doug Baker arranged for Mount Maunganui contractor Matt Hale to transport the log from Waitawheta to the northern end of The Strand in Tauranga where A.A. Edwards and Sons Ltd Cranes were ready to unload it. Both firms donated their time to the project in order to see the kauri trunk delivered straight into the heart of Tauranga. Meanwhile a rough shelter had been erected in the central city to shelter the carvers. This position meant that members of the public could visit and watch the carving of the waka unfold, a re-creation of a tradition not seen for many years in Tauranga Moana.

It was decided to construct the waka in two sections as the kauri was not large enough to create a waka of the size required. Before work could commence the timber was covered in damp sacking while it slowly seasoned. During this time planning, designing, and much other preliminary work was carried out. By early March 1971 the shape of one half of the hull had been hollowed out by adze and the second section started. When this was finished Doug Baker arranged for both halves to be transported to the Waipa Sawmill in Rotorua in order to be treated and so prolong the life of the waka.The Department of Scientific and Industrial Research volunteered themselves to transport and treat the log before returning it safely to Tauranga.

In 1973 Connie Harper wrote that the two halves of the waka were, ‘joined by a mixture of butt and lap join which resembles a dovetail. The join is pegged like the blade of a cricket bat.’ A waka with more than one piece is known as a waka haumi (extra piece). Ernest Bush wrote in 1973 that, ‘The traditional Maori joint known as haumi ensures that the canoe will ride safely in deep waters and through the roughest of storms; proof of the safety and the security of the haumi lies in the long and safe voyages of the great canoes of the past.

Any usable pieces from the kauri were kept aside at the felling. Once the hollowed out sections of the waka had been created, another visit was made to the Kennedy farm at Waitawheta to retrieve this spare timber. These pieces were used to create decorative pieces and narrow solid seating. A tanekaha, which is a medium-sized forest tree, was donated to the project for the paddles. Forty paddles in all were carved, thirty as working paddles and ten as ornamental paddles carved with traditional patterns.

Te Awanui ornamental paddle

David Abernathy (treasurer of the Tauranga Māori Cultural and Promotional Committee which was formed in 1960) and past Tauranga Chamber of Commerce chairman Noel Nicholls enthusiastically took up the challenge of fundraising for Te Awanui. Ideas like selling chips of wood from the waka log in plastic bags and holding a competition to guess the weight of the waka were some ideas put forward. Even leftover limbs from the kauri were sliced and sold as many locals wanted a souvenir from the building of Te Awanui. Every secondary and primary school in the Western Bay of Plenty sponsored a paddle and business houses bought extra paddles at $50 or $100 for a carved one. Mayor of Tauranga at the time, Bob Owens, donated a sum towards the project and the Tauranga City Council was very supportive. In the end everyone wanted to help as Te Awanui became a Tauranga Moana community effort.

Traditional carving runs the full length of the gunwale of Te Awanui, culminating in the rising bow with a mokoed figurehead below. At the base of the stem-like stern piece is depicted Tangaroa, Māori god of the sea. A minimum of 15 people are required to operate the waka, but it can handle up to 30 paddlers. A Māori waka does not ride the waves but cuts right through them which results in the waka shipping an enormous amount of water and necessitates constant bailing.

By November of 1972 the 300-year-old kauri tree, which had taken less than an hour to fell, was transformed. On a dull rainy day in Tauranga on 10 February 1973, and on a noonday tide, Te Awanui was carried from shelter to the water for the first time. The launching place was from the beach that extends along the front of Memorial Park, an area which is known by local Māori as Hawaii. Tawa Williams performed the karakia over the finished project. People lined the banks of the harbour three rows deep along the route of the maiden voyage to marvel at Te Awanui’s splendour. Built over 22 months, the ornately carved canoe become a symbol of unity for the people of Tauranga Moana.

Tribal committees as well as fundraisers had taken on the important task of choosing the first crew of Te Awanui. The paddling chant of Te Awanui was compiled by Turi Te Kani, Bonjean Te Kani and George Mikaere:

Te Tau o Te Awanui
Kaea: Te Rongo O te Waka e
Hau Tonu Mai O MAUAO Ah Ha Ha
Tikina Rawa Tia I WAITAWHETA,
Te Uri O Tane Amohia Mai Ana Ki
Roto O TAURANGA E Takoto Nei
Ah-Ha-Ha! Tena Koa e Tuti e,
Kai A Koe Tonu Nga Mahi O Nehe\Hanga-Ia Mai Ra a Te Awanui,
Kaea, (1st): Kia Huka e Te Wai O Taku Hoe
Hia Huka e Te Wai O Taku Hoe
Kia Tarehua.
E Kite Ai Au Nga Puke Whakamana Mana
Kaea: Ka Rere e, Ka Rere e,
Ka Rere Te Pitau Whakareia
Te Au O Te Moana Ki Tuhua
Kia Takahia Atu Te Rohe
Whaka-Tapu a MURIWAI
Kia Eke Rawa Ki Runga-Ki Te-Tihi
O Hikurangi
Kua Whiti Te-Ra Ki Tua O
Translation to English by Leonard Lambert
Down it spreads, down on the wafting breeze from heights of sea-girdled Mauao
– word of the canoe to Waitawheta
then, bearing back the off-spring of Tane lies here in Tauranga.
So now, O Tuti, you who possess the skills of our forebears,
Will you build for me a craft of splendour
I shall name Te Awanui;
Build that I may know again
The churning of the waters beneath my paddle;
Build that I may feel again
The rhythm of my paddle,
And the blade of my paddle
Sweeping the waters high, high as the heavens
Lifting me to the peaks – the lofty peaks
of fabulous Rongomaihiti.
It moves, it glides – swifter, swifter
Canoe of my Mana,
Out towards the great sea of Tuhua.
Eastwards we voyage across sacred waters of
My ancestor Muriwai.
In ecstasy I paddle this canoe
As high as Hikurangi.
“The sun rises again beyond legendary Tawauwau.”

Te Awanui (1975)

Mural of Te Awanui as paddled up the Uretara River to take part in the 1975 Centennial celebrations of Katikati’s European settlement.

Te Urunga, the shelter for the waka Te Awanui, was constructed at the northern end of The Strand in Tauranga and opened on 6 December 1975. Charles Wood’s boatyard and slip were originally located in the area, and then Joseph Brain’s shipyard (Brain Watkins House) from the 1880s until around 1922 when the land was required for the railway and redevelopment of central Tauranga. The site is the location of the original shoreline before this reclamation was carried out. The Tauranga Harbour Board had an office on the plot before Te Awanui was positioned there. Te Urunga’s modern design interprets traditional Māori building forms with painted decorative motifs on the rafters and columns at the front of the structure.

Te Urunga (Te Awanui waka shelter)

Te Awanui was transported to Rotorua on 2 March 1976 to be a feature at the South Pacific Arts Festival.

In 1990 Waitangi celebrations marked 150 years since the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi. Te Awanui was transported to Opua (Bay of Islands) by Bob Richards Heavy Transport Ltd in Mount Maunganui and escorted by kaumatua from Tauranga Moana. The waka was one of 24 which were paddled from Opua to Russell in order to greet the Queen when she arrived at Waitangi.

As part of the 2011 Tauranga Moana Matariki Festival major restoration work on Te Awanui was undertaken, led by Tauranga City Council’s Māori Culture and Heritage Manager Dean Flavell. Most of the restoration work involved removing the old paint, repainting and strengthening the existing woodwork of what has become an important unifying icon to the people of Tauranga Moana.

by Debbie McCauley (2013).


  • The Te Awanui waka was carved by master carver Tuti Tukaokao in 1973 at the request of the Tauranga City Council.
  • Council wanted its own ceremonial waka to use on special occasions when celebrating the history of the region.
  • Te Awanui waka is currently housed at the northern end of The Strand opposite the Tauranga Moana Trust Board. It will be re-located to the waterfront as part of the upgrade project.



  • Bay of Plenty Mirror (1973, February 6). Maori Canoe To Be Launched (pp. 1 & 8).
  • Bay of Plenty Mirror (1973, February 13). Te Awanui (pp. 1, 6 & 7).
  • Bay of Plenty Mirror (1973, March 31). Warriors All! (p. 1).
  • Bay of Plenty Times (1971, ?). Big carving project could start in month (p. ?).
  • Bay of Plenty Times (1971, January 16). Maori canoe to be carved on Strand (p. ?).
  • Bay of Plenty Times (1971, January 23). New role for 80ft kauri (p. ?).
  • Bay of Plenty Times (1971, January 28). Planning vital to carver in canoe building (p. ?).
  • Bay of Plenty Times (1971, January 19). Canoe kauri may be centuries old (p. 1)
  • Bay of Plenty Times (1971, February 24). Preparations for the carving of the Maori war canoe (p. 6).
  • Bay of Plenty Times (1971, June). Photograph of shaped hull (p. 1).
  • Bay of Plenty Times (1972, September 13). Carved figurehead (p. ?).
  • Bay of Plenty Times (1972, September?). Paddles Nearly Ready (p. ?).
  • Bay of Plenty Times (1972, October 10). Canoe now in one piece. (p. 1).
  • Bay of Plenty Times (1972, November 17). War canoe ready for sea (p. ?).
  • Bay of Plenty Times (1973, January 10). Full tradition for canoe launching (p. ?).
  • Bay of Plenty Times (1973, February 10). Canoe launch crowds sing in the rain (p. 1).
  • Bay of Plenty Times (1973, February 10). A war canoe is born (p. 6).
  • Bay of Plenty Times (1974, February 5). Boat race to raise funds (p. ?).
  • Bay of Plenty Times (1975, April 9). Intricate designs Mr Tukaokao has carved on a miniature Maori canoe (p. ?).
  • Bay of Plenty Times (1975, April 23). Story of canoe to travel (p. ?).
  • Bay of Plenty Times (1975, November 4). Ceremony will cap 5-year effort (p. ?).
  • Bay of Plenty Times (1975, December 5). Shelter prepared for opening (p. ?).
  • Bay of Plenty Times (1975, December 6). Many Attending Opening (p. ?).
  • Bay of Plenty Times (1975, December 8). Need for racial harmony stressed at ceremony (pp. ? & 7).
  • Bay of Plenty Times (1976, February 2). Canoe to go to Rotorua (p. ?).
  • Bay of Plenty Times (1976, March 2). Farewell ceremony for Maori canoe (p. ?).
  • Bay of Plenty Times (1976, March 6). South Pacific Arts Festival (p. ?) - Te Awanui at Rotorua Sportsdrome.
  • Bay of Plenty Times (1977, February 5). South Pacific Television crew film Te Awanui landing at Memorial Park (p. ?).
  • Bay of Plenty Times (1990, January 12). Tauranga waka nine paddlers short (p. ?) - for 1990 Waitangi festivities.
  • Best, Elsdon (1925). The Maori canoe.
  • Bowen, Terehia (1988) - unsourced newspaper article.
  • Bush, Ernest E. (November 1973). Te Ao Hou.
  • Harper, Connie (1973, June 17). Ohinemuri Regional History Journal.
  • Morris, William E. (1973, February). Te Awanui: The Story of a Canoe.
  • Mount News (1990, January 17). A call for more paddlers for canoe ceremony (p. ?).
  • New Zealand Herald (1971, January 25). Forest Giant Felled To Make Maori Canoe (p. ?).
  • New Zealand Herald (1973, February 12). Canoe Launched (p. 3).
  • Ngati Ranginui Iwi (1990, January 18-20). Takitimu II: Launching Activities Programme, Tauranga Marina
  • Sunlive (2011, June 10). Waka Restoration Underway. 
  • Tata, Gregory (1990). Takitimu: The Waka and it's People.
  • Tauranga City Council (n.d.). Tauranga CBD Heritage Study Draft Record Form.
  • Tauranga City Libraries: Research Collections, Maori Vertical File - WAKA Te Awanui.
  • Val Baker (personal communication, grandaughter of Wally Baker 1902-1992).


How to cite this page: McCauley, Debbie (2013). Te Awanui (waka). Retrieved from (Tauranga Memories, last updated: *insert date*). In-text citation: (McCauley, 2013)

This page was archived at Perma cc March 2017

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