Māori Rock Carvings, TAUPŌ

“Trip Facts”

  • Located in Mine Bay, Lake Taupō
  • We visited the carvings (this time) through Sail Barbary, which runs an eco sailing yacht (its backup motor is electric)
  • The trip was from, and returned to, Taupō centre city
  • 2.5hours scenic cruise, guided tour of the lake and lots of interesting info provided about the carvings, the carver, the lake, the area and the eco yacht
  • Cost: $49pp
  • Alternatively you can kayak, or potentially drive/walk then swim. Carvings need to be viewed from on the water.

If you’ve read the rest of our blog, you’ll know that a wee while ago we started gifting each other adventures in place of presents (like our bridge to nowhere and Kapiti Island trips). This trip was Mike’s birthday present from Oct 2021, even though we didn’t take the trip until Good Friday, 2022, (took us awhile with ongoing covid restrictions etc, you know how it’s been). We loved it so much we then gifted my dad 2 tickets for his 60th birthday at the end of April.

I had actually never heard about these carvings until just a couple years ago, despite growing up on about a 3 hour drive away. I think I first found out about them while searching Pinterest (of all places) for things to do in the North Island. As if turns out, lots of New Zealanders (aka many of my friends) also had no idea these existed. That’s despite them being widely recognised overseas.

You can kayak to the carvings, or take a tour guide sailing boat like we did. Originally we had the idea to take out alpacka packrafts, but we just didn’t get around to it. Then we were expecting a baby, (I was 8 months pregnant on this trip) and, deciding we still wanted to visit, and it might be awhile before we get the opportunity to paddle, sail boat it was. One day. Surely.

We miraculously managed to pick a day to visit that had the most beautiful weather. The lake was glassy and smooth, the sky blue, and there was just a light breeze (enough to actually use the sails, a little anyway). Lake Taupō is beautiful all the time, but days like this are just *chefs kiss*

The carvings themselves are located in Mines Bay, which is on the northern part of Lake Taupō, and is a residential (read: holiday home for the well financed) area. When we sailed past we saw people walking along the rangatira point walking track, which looks like an awesome walk to do sometime.

To get the best information on the carvings I highly recommend taking a tour with a local tour guide (which also supports local Iwi as some of the $$ you pay will go back to them). They are super knowledgeable and will tell you all about the lake (like how it is actually a volcanic crater left over from a massive eruption which was witnessed and recorded by people in ancient China), the local history, and about the artists involved in the creation of this magnificent sculpture (including funny tidbits about how they actually managed to pull this feat off).

Mine Bay, Lake Taupō
Surrounding sculptures of tupuna and kaitiaki

I hope the information I have remembered and recorded below is accurate and recounted respectfully.

The 14 meter main carving was sculpted over 4 years by Matahi Whakataka-Brightwell (and 3 other artists who all worked as a team), and completed in 1980. (Surprise, this is contemporary art work. Rock carving isn’t considered a traditional māori artform). Matahi’s grandmother, Te Huatahi Susie Gilbert, had asked Matahi to create a likeness of his ancestor, Ngātoroirangi, who was a visionary navigator and ancestor of the two local iwi, Tūwharetoa and Te arawa, having guided them to the Taupō area when Aotearoa was first populated by the indigenous Māori.

Originally, Matahi had searched for a totara tree to carve the likeness, but the area had been heavily deforested by logging operations, and instead he went with this massive rock location. The only problem was, he reportedly did not ask permission from the local Iwi and the project caused quite the uproar.

Note that Ngātoroirangi’s eyes do not have pupils, as expected in traditional carvings. We heard that this was because Matahi did not want his ancestor to see the trouble he caused. The carving itself tells you a lot of Ngātoroirangi’s character and skill set. Unfortunately the only thing I can recall is that his double lips mean he was gifted in speaking with birds/animals. (You’ll have to take a tour to learn more!)

Surrounding the main carving are a number of smaller carvings which represent other tupuna (ancestors), and kaitiaki (gaurdians) which are important in the history of local iwi. My fave is probably that of the taniwha, although the light made it hard to capture these smaller sculptures well when I only had my iPhone with me!

If you can’t tell already, I highly recommend taking this trip and seeing the carvings for yourself. Bonus, you’ll get to spend the morning or afternoon on the lake, which is always good for the soul. (If you go in the warmer months you can even take swim, which is always a good idea)

Happy exploring



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