John Daly-Peoples reviews Ngātokimatawhaorua for New Zealand Arts Review


Anyone who has attended the ceremonies around the annual Waitangi Day commemorations will have seen the massive waka Ngātokimatawhaorua which is launched each year as part of the celebrations. The craft which is housed on the Treaty grounds is also seen by thousands of people each year.

The vessel is 37.5 metres long, requires at least 76 paddlers, and can seat up to 120 people. It is lashed with more than 1km of rope, and weighs six tonnes when dry, 12 tonnes once it is wet and in the water.

It was built to mark the 100th anniversary of the Treaty of Waitangi in 1940. The job of carving the waka from three kauri trunks had begun in 1934 and involved many men and a team of 24 bullocks over many weeks to haul the hull’s sections out of the forest.

A new book Ngātokimatawhaorua written by Jeff Evans explores the history of the craft which is considered to be one of the largest of its type in the world.

Evans says he was drawn to the waka’s story because “Ngātokimatawhaorua is an iconic waka taua, and not just for its size. It is intrinsically connected to the commemoration of the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi, so holds a special place in the history of Aotearoa New Zealand. Interacting with the waka in any way — whether it be as a crew person, a support person, a visitor to the Treaty Grounds, or as a spectator when it is out on the water — leaves an indelible memory, and that was certainly the case for me. The sight of a full crew paddling the waka on Waitangi Day should be witnessed by every New Zealander”.

The author takes the reader on three major journeys in telling about the craft. There is the history of its name, the history of its construction as well as the authors own journey to retrace the history of the boat.

Read the full review here.