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The story behind the creation of the Mine Bay Māori rock carvings

Master carver Matahi Whakataka-Brightwell shares his story behind the remarkable Mine Bay Maori rock carvings on the edge of Lake Taupo, New Zealand.

The story behind the creation of the Mine Bay Māori rock carvings

The Mine Bay Maori rock carvings

The giant Mine Bay Maori rock carving of Ngatoroirangi on Lake Taupo has been hailed as one of New Zealand’s most extraordinary contemporary Maori artworks. Towering 14-metres above the deep water of Lake Taupo, the carving has become one of the North Island’s biggest tourist attractions.

When traditional marae-taught carver Matahi Whakataka-Brightwell paddled past a rock alcove on Lake Taupo in 1976, he had a vision of a tattooed face. His grandmother, Te Huatahi Susie Gilbert of Ngati Rauhoto, Ngati Tuwharetoa, Ngati Maiotaki and Ngati Whakaue, had asked the young carver to create a likeness of her ancestor Ngatoroirangi on a totara tree to create a permanent connection for her family to the land. When Matahi arrived in Taupo there was no totara tree to carve so he journeyed onto the lake for inspiration.

Matahi led a team of four artists to create the carvings.

The rock alcove at Mine Bay became the canvas for one of the most extraordinary contemporary artworks New Zealand has ever seen. Sculpted over the course of four years and completed in 1980, Matahi led a team of four artists, Jono Randell, Te Miringa Hohaia, Dave Hegglun and Steve Myhre, to create a spectacular carving of Ngatoroirangi on the rock face.

Surrounding Ngatoroirangi are smaller sculptures. These carvings depict tupuna (ancestors) and kaitiaki (guardians) that are pivotal to the history of the local Maori tribe. 

Matahi Whakataka-Brightwell: the artist           

Matahi Whakataka-Brightwell is one of the last traditional marae-taught carvers (Tohunga Whakairo) in New Zealand. As a 27th generation descendant of Ngatoroirangi, Matahi is passionate about his Maori heritage and is considered one of the fifty most remarkable people in New Zealand.

He is also the founder of waka ama in New Zealand, the sport of competitive racing of traditional Polynesian canoes, and was awarded the prestigious Blue Water Medal by the Royal Akarana Yacht Club in 1989 for his meritorious sailing from Tahiti to New Zealand in his hand-built 21m twin-hulled canoe called Hawaikinui.  

How to get to the carvings:

The Mine Bay Maori rock carvings are accessible by boat only, and can be reached by taking a scenic cruise, sailing or kayaking trip from Taupo Boat Harbour.

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Mine Bay Maori rock carvings

Mine Bay Maori rock carvings

Towering 14-metres above the deep water of Lake Taupo, the Mine Bay Maori rock carvings has become one of the North Island’s biggest tourist attractions. 

Māori culture experiences 

Art & culture 

5 ways to visit the Mine Bay Maori rock carvings 

Visit the Mine Bay Maori Rock Carvings

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  • Boat Cruises

    Chris Jolly Outdoors Taurikura Māori Cultural Scenic Cruise

    Hear the songs and stories of ancient Tuwharetoa, participate in interactive Maori performances and traditional games, learn to work the poi and even get your own moko tattoo on this special Lake Taupo Maori culture scenic cruise.

    $45 - $55 Book now
  • Cultural Attractions

    Chris Jolly Outdoors Lake Taupō Scenic Cruises

    Cruise to the famous Mine Bay Maori Rock Carvings and around the picturesque bays of Lake Taupo. A full commentary is given on the volcanic history and Maori mythology surrounding Lake Taupo. Great for families and those who want comfort on the water

    $40 - $46 Book now
  • Cultural Attractions

    Kayak to the Maori Rock Carvings with Canoe & Kayak

    Let Canoe & Kayak take you on a kayak adventure across stunning Lake Taupo while taking in all the beautiful views of the surrounding coastline and neighbouring mountains before getting up close and personal to the iconic Maori Rock Carvings.

    $99 Book now
  • Cultural Attractions

    Maori Rock Carvings with Taupo Kayaking Adventures

    Let us take you on a 1/2 day adventure kayaking to the impressive 14m high Maori Rock Carvings at Mine Bay, Lake Taupo. Only accessible by water, a visit to the carvings is one of the must do activity in Taupo.

    $110 Book now
  • Scenic Flights

    Taupō's Floatplane

    Enjoy a unique flightseeing experience over Tongariro National Park, the Bay of Plenty and, of course, Great Lake Taupo! Scenic flights by seaplane are a magical way of gaining a true perspective of one of NZ’s most scenic regions.

    $109 - $870
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  4. The story behind the creation of the Mine Bay Māori rock carvings