Ngā Koroi o Tangonge - Another Stunning Tomokanga Unveiled

Dec. 2, 2022, 5:19 p.m.


Another tomokanga (gateway) was unveiled as part of the Open Spaces Revitalisation Project on November 12th 2022. Ngā Koroi o Tangonge is the name given to this piece in recognition of the significance of the area and Lake Tangonge which sits below. 

At the rising of the sun, it is customary for Māori to unveil taonga in order to maintain good wairua and bring new life into the world of light, not the world of the dark. Karakia was held at 5.30am, knowledge, history and kōrero were then shared by the artists. 


The tomokanga now stands proudly on Redan Road along the western end of Kaitāia and overlooks a highly significant area named Tangonge.

The talented artists behind this stunning piece of art are Benjai Gregory, Natanahira Pona, Stan Young, Rosaleen O'Connor, Ngaroma Riley and Waikarere Gregory. Each of the artists played a significant role in the visualisation, concept and in bringing the tomokanga to life.

"The collection of pou stand in recognition and as a reminder of the fertility of our whenua, our wai, the history of abundance of kai this place has/had, in and around Kaitāia - indeed its very name tells of this. 

The vast mahinga kai, Lake Tangonge teeming with life… and what we are striving to restore, revive to ensure the health and wellbeing of not only ourselves and our future generations but our whole environment - our whanaunga anō by whakapapa. Raising awareness of the rich korero of our whenua here," detailed Waikarere Gregory.


Gregory designed the taro leaves on the pou;

"The pou carved with the words ‘ka pupuhi te hau, ka tangonge noa’ and the metallic leaves refers to the naming of the lake that once lay below here." 


Each pou represents an aspect that brings life to the area. 'Tuna' represents the once abundant tuna in the waterways/reke and the importance it has as a source of kai for our people. Stan and Benjai carved the pou.


The 'Mātātā', or fern bird, can still be found in Tangonge and symbolises the relationships between other iwi who share this whenua. This manu represents the importance of these relationships in the intricate web of life. The number of mātātā today have been greatly affected by draining lakes, wetlands, changing their habitats and the loss of their kai as a result. 


The 'Matuku', symbolises life within the wetland. The matuku can still be heard today and signals good feeding ahead.


"'Wahine o Hollywood' (by Natanahira, along with ngā manu) stands as a reminder of the kāinga and whānau that once lived down below here and how it got its name from the beautiful wāhine from there, all made-up ready for a night out, they looked like the movie stars of Hollywood!" said Gregory.

The whatarangi reflects the history of the rohe as a place of ahuwhenua and a food basket for iwi Māori. 

"The curvilinear shape is based on the kōrero of repurposed waka used as hapoki to cover rua kūmara and as raised food storage places. It also alludes to the waka which traversed Lake Tangonge and the surrounding waterways. On the underside is a pūhoro design to emphasize this connection to waka. It is based on designs from the tāhūhū of Te Rarawa marae" said Gregory.

The kōwhaiwhai patterns on the matapihi are based on patterns which represent growth and abundance - within these are manu, taro/kūmara tubers and koroi.

The two rods above the matapihi are a nod to the tūpuna wāhine who worked to clothe and feed our people - they are also a reference to our well-known pātaka: Maru-a-roto and Maru-a-waho. Riley is the artist behind the pātaka.

The tūpuna on the kōruru and tekoteko are Ruakerepeti and Kauri and are acknowledgement of our tūpuna tāne. 

The maihi references our whakairo, Tāngonge, unearthed when the lake was drained (chevrons and manaia). The mata-kupenga behind the manaia again emphasizes the lake as a life-giver and former food source.


The sail was designed by Rosaleen O'Connor and represent Kahungunu and the Takitimu waka that traversed the canals within this area. Her design also gives a respectful nod to the late Sir Hekenukumai Puhipi with the incorporation of a star to represent him, his teachings, his waka school in Te Aurere and the star compass that he used for navigating. He also shares whakapapa to this area.

"My sail depicts the history from Kahungunu sailing waka Takitimu through the canal of Tangonge. The pattern was from  my mother's Māori school in Pukepoto. She helped with the mahi toi within this kura and the pātiki pattern" detailed O'Connor.


The new tomokanga overlooks hectares of green grass that was once a lake which covered some 700 acres and would grow to over 1000 hectares after heavy rain. It is now mostly farm land, with a wedge of approximately 125 hectares that is protected by the Department of Conservation. 

Lake Tangonge was once part of an extensive lake system that extended as far south as Mangamuka, flowing via the Awanui River into Rangaunu Harbour but almost a century of drainage has robbed it of its water, endangering taonga species, including the long-fin tuna. Other species can still be found in some places such as mudfish, fern bird and wetland flora species and the bittern. It is also the location where a carving was found within the lake once it was drained, and is said to date back to the 14th century, alongside the arrival of Māori. This carving is depicted in the Te Rarawa logo.



The installation of Ngā Koroi o Tangonge is part of the Te Hiku Open Spaces Revitalisation Project. Other iwi have also unveiled tomokanga at the southward end of Kaitāia, Awanui and Ahiparapara. Waimaru Snowden spoke to Te Hiku Radio about the unveiling of tomokanga Poroa and Patito in Ahiparapara;

“It is a blessing to be able to share the stories of our tūpuna with our tamariki.” 

The working group have been instilling colour, restoring history and working hard to create safe and vibrant spaces for the entire community to enjoy, whilst providing more opportunities visitors and the local community to learn more about the local history.

Laser Electical installed the lighting, Procrete Northland done the foundations and installation. Hiab transport and structure erecting was done by D & E MacMillan Haulage. 

On-site Access Kaitaia provided the spider, TEO provided the structural engineering and the Te Hiku Open Spaces Revitalisation working group led, yet another successful collaborative community project .



Boundless history emerges through tomokanga that are erected in representation of the stories of yore. The installation of such time-capsules connects the breath of yesterday to the breath of tomorrow. 

The efforts of those who are working hard to restore these stories must be commended as their hard labour will be what keeps the future generations connected to their own stories, their tūpuna, their identity and their history. 


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