This is Us – he waka eke noa

Artist Michelle Estall with the waka designed by Quinton Bidois

The unveiling of a beautifully painted seven-metre long waka at the Historic Village on Saturday, June 27, marks the beginning of a creative response designed to form stronger ties between Tauranga’s diverse cultural communities.

“Many of us were deeply affected by the shootings in Christchurch last year and wanted to do something that celebrated our diverse cultural communities that make New Zealand/Aotearoa what it is,” says Tauranga Sunrise Rotary Club president Warren Scobie.

The club held a meeting soon after the terrorist attack to discuss a response that was positive, practical and would build community. Members talked about how the Welcome Wall in Paris was a gathering place where people could be together and support each other. Australia also has a Welcome Wall.

A small group of Rotarians set out to explore creating a place for Tauranga that could be that gathering place, to give Tauranga a beating heart where people could see and celebrate their own culture and those of others.

After discussion with Tauranga’s community development officer Haidee Kalirai and Simone Anderson from The Incubator, the concept of how people had journeyed historically to arrive in Tauranga, from early Maori to the present day formed. The project developed around a carved and painted waka which conveys how we all journey through time, building and evolving our community, and that together we can do that better if we know where we all come from and where we would like to go.

The concept of ‘This is us - he waka eke noa’, - people pulling together, also coincidentally matches Rotary’s theme for this year of ‘Rotary connects the world’, with Matariki presenting a timely opportunity to launch the project.

Matariki was traditionally a time that brought communities together to share and to learn from each other which is our hope for ‘This is Us – he waka eke noa’,” says Warren.

Following on from the public launch on Saturday, the project will involve a series of workshops to be held in July, where participants will share stories of how they or their ancestors came to New Zealand. They will hear about the history and cultural significance of the wetlands opposite the Historic Village and share their vision for Tauranga. Each participant is invited to decorate a hoe - waka paddle, which will be displayed at The Incubator in late August.

“Art is a universal language that can help bring people together,” says Warren. “‘This is Us’ is more than a creative project and art exhibition – it is about going on a journey that encourages storytelling, connection and unity.”

“Matariki is the perfect time for us to launch this project. It is an opportunity to reflect and celebrate our history and to make plans for the new layers of our future. The whakatauki ‘Ka mua, ka muri’ means that we should look to the past to inform our future and is the essence of what this is about.”

The waka, which will remain on display at The Historic Village during the project, was designed by Quinton Bidois and painted by Michelle Estall, both local artists.

Warren says that while the culmination of the project would be the August art exhibition, the purpose was to encourage connection, understanding and unity through the sharing of stories about the peopling of the Bay of Plenty - beginning with the stories of earliest Maori settlers through to hearing from some of our newest immigrants.

“The waka represents not only the first journey over water by Kupe, but a journey that each immigrant has made when moving to New Zealand,” says Warren.

‘This is Us – he waka eke noa’ additionally provides a way for people to reconnect after the isolation caused by COVID-19. Collecting stories, knowing others and working together also resonates with people’s desire to counter racism and misunderstandings based on mistrust.

The launch of ’This is Us – he waka eke noa’ will be held at 10.30am on Saturday, June 27, at Forrester’s Hall Green at the Historic Village, 17th Ave.

Anyone wanting to register for the workshops can do so at

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