History of the Maori Rock Carvings

In 1976, traditional marae-taught carver Matahi Whakataka-Brightwell paddled past a rock alcove on Lake Taupo and had a vision of a tattooed face.

Matahi Whakataka-Brightwell and Jono Randell during the sculpting of the carvings in 1976.

Matahi Whakataka-Brightwell's grandmother Te Huatahi Susie Gilbert asked him to create a likeness of their ancestor Ngatoroirangi. She wanted to create a permanent connection for her family to their land in Great Lake Taupo. The rock alcove at Mine Bay became the canvas for these extraordinary contemporary Maori carvings.

Matahi led a team of four artists, Jono Randell, Te Miringa Hohaia, Dave Hegglun and Steve Myhre. Together they sculpted the carvings over four years from 1976 to 1980.

Wearing nothing but safety goggles and a pair of speedos, the carvers marked out the artwork using chalk, string lines and spray paint, then sculpted it by hand.

In recognition of the multi-cultural nature of New Zealand, the carvers also carved two smaller figures of Celtic design, which depict the south wind and a mermaid.

The carving now towers fourteen metres above the deep water of Lake Taupo and is one of the North Island’s biggest tourist attractions.

Read more about the what each carving represents and how to get to the Maori rock carvings.

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