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The Ngatoroirangi Mine Bay Maori rock carvings are accessible by boat only, and can be reached by taking a scenic cruise, sailing boat or kayaking trip from Taupo Boat Harbour.
When traditional marae-taught carver Matahi 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.
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.
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.
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 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.
Artist Matahi Brightwell will lead a small team to clean and re-sculpt the carvings in order to return them to their original state. The first phase of the restoration began in February 2019. Find out more about the Maori rock carvings restoration project.