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The story behind the creation of the Ngatoroirangi Mine Bay Maori Rock Carvings

Master carver Matahi Whakataka-Brightwell shares his story behind the remarkable Ngatoroirangi 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 Ngatoroirangi Mine Bay Maori Rock Carvings

The giant 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 Ngatoroirangi 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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Visit the Mine Bay Maori Rock Carvings

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  • Kayaking

    Maori Rock Carvings with Taupo Kayaking Adventures

    We will take you on a 1/2 day adventure kayaking to the impressive 14m high Maori Rock Carvings at Mine Bay, Lake Taupo. Only close-up viewing is accessible by water, a visit to the carvings is the must do activity in Taupo.

    $120 Book now
  • Water activities

    Taupo Watersports - Jet Ski Hire

    The most high-tech jet ski experience on Lake Taupo. No experience needed - Hire & drive the jet ski yourself. Blast around the bay or go on a self-guided tour by following the GPS map on the ski to the iconic Maori rock carvings.

    $110 - $330 Book now
  • Water activities

    Taupo Jet Ski Tours

    Come and get out on Lake Taupō, Let us take you on a tour to visit one of Taupõ's iconic tourist attractions, The Māori Carving's and enjoy an adrenaline rush on our Beautiful Lake Taupō getting there.

    $200 - $250
  • Kayaking

    Kayak to the Maori Rock Carvings with Canoe & Kayak

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

    $115
  • Boat cruises

    Ernest Kemp Scenic Cruise Lake Taupo

    Daily scenic cruises to the Maori Rock Carvings onboard the Ernest Kemp, a replica steamboat. Ernest Kemp cruises daily all year round - four times during summer and twice in winter. Enjoy stunning Lake Taupo and the carvings on this 2 hour cruise.

    $35 - $45 Book now
  • Scenic flights

    INFLITE Experiences Taupo - Overview

    INFLITE Experiences Taupo offers unforgettable helicopter tours, showing the best of Taupo's powerful volcanoes, thermal reserves, tranquil wilderness areas, colourful local lakes, sparkling rivers and coastlines.

    $99 - $790
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