The two pou damaged by vandals in September have been returned to their rightful position in the Mangorewa Gorge on State Highway 36 between Rotorua and Tauranga.
The pou represent the relationship between tangata whenua (people of the land), their ancestors and their turangawaewae (place of standing). They acknowledge all those who have worked on the highway in the past, those who will work on it in the future and those who use the highway.
Following the September attack, the pou were returned to their respective marae, rebuilt and repainted by their iwi – Rotorua’s Ngati Rangiwewehi and Tauranga’s Ngai Tamarawaho.
NZ Transport Agency (NZTA) State Highway Manager Rod James said it was hoped that just as the pou stand as guardians of the area, all road users would now become their guardians and watch out over them.
“The NZTA is very grateful to Ngati Rangiwewehi and Ngai Tamarawaho for the time and effort they’ve put into restoring these precious taonga. We’re pleased to have them back in time for summer holiday road users to appreciate them,” said Mr James.
The Mangorewa Gorge is rich in both Tamarawaho and Rangiwewehi history, as a refuge area as well for food gathering. The Ngati Rangiwewehi and Ngai Tamarawaho rohe (areas) meet at the river.
Ngai Tamarawaho Whanau began building the road from Tauranga in 1870, also supplying trees and building the first bridge across the gorge. From Rotorua, Ngati Rangiwewehi were instrumental in developing the road from its earliest beginnings through to what it is today.
Te Rangikaheke Bidois, Ngati Rangiwewehi Chairperson said Ngati Rangiwewehi have resided in the area for over 350 years. “The pouwhenua installed on the Rotorua side is in remembrance of Kereru, the ancestor through whom our Iwi gained its interests in the area. It is a symbolic representation of safe passage through the Mangorewa Gorge for all travellers using this road.”
“We are back where we belong,” said Ngai Tamarawaho representative Peri Kohu. “Our forbearers will be happy and our future generations will have a sign post.”
Rotorua Mayor Kevin Winter is also pleased to see the pou back where they belong.
“The pou play an important role connecting the area’s past to the present and linking the people who live here and use the highway to those who were here before us. These pou remind us of this area’s rich history and are precious to us all.”
The first coach used the road in 1873. It was a popular tourist route for visitors to Rotorua’s ‘Thermal Wonderland’. Coaches stopped in the gorge to water their horses before continuing the steep up-hill haul. Cars first used the road in the early 1900s and it eventually became a state highway in 2004.
Anyone with information that could identify the vandals can still contact Rotorua Police on 07-348-0099, or 0800 TIPOFF.