Sunday, 27 September 2020


“Te Pōwhiri” is taking shape

Tuia - Encounters 250 is a nationwide commemoration of the 250th anniversary of the first onshore encounters between Māori and Europeans. Through the commemoration, New Zealanders are encouraged to have conversations about our history. The Mercury 250 Trust (a trust established to coordinate the local commemoration activities), Ngāti Hei and the Mercury Bay community are together planning a series of formal and informal events - collectively known as “Te Pōwhiri” - in Whitianga, Te Whanganui o Hei/Mercury Bay and throughout the Coromandel Peninsula to mark this significant anniversary.

A book, commissioned by the Mercury 250 Trust and supported by the Lottery Tuia Programme, “When Toawaka met Cook,” was co-authored by historians John Steele and Richard Gates and will be launched in June. Then book is an account of the 12 extraordinary days in November 1769 when James Cook and his Endeavour crew met tangata whenua (local people) - Ngāti Hei chief, Toawaka, and his people - in Te Whanganui o Hei/Mercury Bay in a historic and groundbreaking encounter between Māori and Europeans.

“The book is a sequence of short stories, which we tried to put together for as wide a readership as possible, not just historians or academics,” says John Steele. “We wanted something which young people, teachers, residents, holiday makers or tourists could pick up any time, come away with a better sense of what happened in Mercury Bay 250 years ago and hopefully keep on the shelf. The book aims to describe a rich and authentic detail of what happened during this time. We also wanted to convey the Maori and Ngāti Hei reaction and provide some balance and indigenous perspective for the first time. What was in their minds and what was their reaction to the arrival of these strangers?”

The Purangi Heritage Project is an initiative created by a group of residents in Cooks Beach who submitted a proposal for a heritage upgrade, identifying four or five key historic sites at the Purangi, believing that these could then be promoted as a valuable addition to the proposed walkway from Whitianga to Cathedral Cove and Hahei.

The project is being supported in part by the Mercury Bay 250 Trust through Lotteries Tuia Programme funding and includes a bronze replica sextant by prominent New Zealand sculptor, Bill Hayes, specially commissioned to sit atop the Transit of Mercury cairn at Cooks Beach. The project involves a slight relocation of the cairn from where it was previously situated and a special marker buoy on the spot where HMB Endeavour was moored for 12 days in November 1769.

There will also be an inclusion of new heritage signs, outlining the historical significance, early life and ecological features of the area. Thames-Coromandel District Council, Waikato Regional Council and the Whitianga Harbourmaster are also involved in the project.

In October 2019, a hugely significant event and the key ceremony for Te Pōwhiri - the Pōwhiri - will take place at Wharekaho, below the famous Wharetaewa Pa, to commemorate that first amicable encounter between Māori and Pākeha 250 years ago. Apart from the current Davis homestead and stock paddocks, the site remains largely untouched since the actual event.

The centrepiece of the commemoration will be a flotilla of vessels that celebrates the long voyaging traditions of Aotearoa New Zealand. The flotilla - to be known as the “Tuia 250 Voyage” - will include six core vessels - two waka hourua (double-hulled canoes), a va’a moana from Tahiti, two heritage ships (including the replica of HMB Endeavour based at the Australian National Maritime Museum in Sydney) and one youth ship, which will sail together to sites around New Zealand later this year. The flotilla is scheduled to sail into Te Whanganui o Hei/Mercury Bay on the morning of Friday 18 October and will leave on Monday 21 October. 

Around mid-morning on Friday 18 October, the flotilla will sail to Wharekaho and land at the north end of the beach as the Europeans did in 1769. The crews and manuhiri (visitors) will be guided by Ngāti Hei descendants of the great chief Toawaka along the foreshore and towards the southern end of Wharekaho, in the footsteps of Cook and his crew, entering the site of the the Pōwhiri.

Detail of how you can be involved in the Pōwhiri will be released soon.

Following on from the Pōwhiri, on Saturday 19 October The Tuia Stage - a free 12-hour outdoor cultural showcase of performing artists from around the Coromandel, including poets, musicians, kapa haka groups, dancers and storytellers, all delivering a story of what Tuia - Encounters 250 means to them - will be held. Featuring an abundance of original material, The Tuia Stage is a family-friendly and alcohol-free event funded by the Lottery Tuia Programme and presented by Creative Mercury Bay in Whakau Reserve/Taylor’s Mistake, Whitianga from 10:00am to 10:00pm.

Many other projects and events reflecting the kaupapa of Tuia - Encounters 250 and Te Pōwhiri are planned throughout 2019 and 2020 in Te Whanganui o Hei/Mercury Bay. More information about these projects and events, some local initiatives and some nationally organised, will be revealed as and when the details are confirmed.

Pictured: Haunui (pictured here during a previous visit to Whitianga), will be one of the two waka houra (double-hulled canoes) forming part of the “Tuia 250 Voyage” flotilla that is scheduled to arrive in The Whanganui o Hei/Mercury Bay on Friday 18 October. The other waka houra is Ngahiraka Mai Tawhiti. One va’a moana from Tahiti, Fa’afaite i te Ao Mā’ohi, two heritage ships, the replica of HMB Endeavour and the R.Tucker Thompson from the Bay of Islands and one youth ship, the Spirit of New Zealand, will also form part of the flotilla.


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