New sculpture adorns Waikato Expressway


A striking 16m high sculpture celebrating the great journey of the Tainui waka now watches over State Highway 1 north of Hamilton.

The Waka Maumahara, a gleaming stainless steel work, designed by renowned artist Fred Graham, was installed on Sunday just north of Lake Rd between the four-lane Hamilton section and the SH1C offramp.

The taonga is the final piece in the Hamilton section of the Waikato Expressway’s cultural symbolism plan.

A large stainless steel sculpture

The Waka Maumahara sculpture is 16m high and weighs 5 tonnes.

The artwork was blessed at a gathering of mana whenua this morning (13 December) and minor finishing works are being completed, including lighting and landscaping.

Artist Fred Graham, now aged 94, was present today, to see the latest of many works he has designed in place and blessed.

“Thank you to all those who made such a magnificent contribution to this project. I have a close association with the area and am honoured that our heritage is being recognised in this way,” he said.

Artist Fred Graham stands in front of the sculpture.

Artist Fred Graham ONZM is a renowned sculptor and Tainui kaumaatua of Ngaati Korokii Kahukura descent.

Bordered by state highways, there is no access to the artwork. People can read about the artwork on storyboards at Resolution Interchange and Osborne Road Bridge.

It tells the story of the Tainui waka – which came from a tree planted on the grave of Tainui, who was the son of a chief Tinirau and his wife Hinerau in Hawaiki.

Tainui did not survive the birth and was buried soon after. A tree sprung up on the site and many years later, when a new waka was needed, the tree was selected and felled.

The day after it was cut down it was found growing back in place. It was felled again but this time a watch was kept, and they observed a flock of birds fly, pick up the chips, and put the tree back together. The appropriate rituals were performed before the next felling, and the tree revival ceased.

The waka that was produced from the tree was one of the great ocean-going canoes in which Māori migrated to Aotearoa New Zealand. 

The Waka Maumahara was built in the Hamilton yard of Longveld which has done several of the large sculptures on the Waikato Expressway, including Cambridge section and on Hamilton’s Resolution Interchange.

Cultural Symbolism Plan

Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency partnered with Waikato-Tainui on developing a plan before the Hamilton project started, strongly focused on environmental and cultural concerns.

A Cultural Symbolism Plan included the creation of a cultural reserve at Tamahere, large artworks and storyboards along the route. Bridge abutment designs tell iwi stories and all bridges have been gifted an iwi name, with many linked to stories from the past which are explained on storyboards.

Storyboards have been erected where shared paths enable access for cyclists and pedestrians. These are at Osborne Road, Resolution Interchange, Greenhill Interchange and the Tamahere cultural reserve.

Waka Kotahi regional manager Jo Wilton, who has been closely involved in the Hamilton section planning and construction,  says the cultural symbolism had been a project highlight.

“The partnership with Waikato-Tainui has driven cultural and environmental outcomes we can all be proud of – not just for the Hamilton section of the expressway but going back to earlier ones like at Rangiriri and Huntly.

“While the expressway project has finished, the Crown-iwi relationship has evolved and grown stronger and will carry on.

“This morning’s gathering marked the completion of this important mahi. To all those involved.. from our Tangata Whenua Working Group and other whaanau over many years - ngaa mihi nui!

A man walks towards a large sculpture in the distance

The sculpture represents the Tainui waka, one of the great ocean-going canoes in which Maaori migrated to Aotearoa.