In the heart of Te Tai o Poutini (the West Coast), a vision was sparked by Ngāti Waewae Chair, Francois Tumahai, to create a world-class cultural experience offering a window into the vibrant and resilient Poutini Ngāi Tahu culture. This vision gave rise to the Pounamu Pathway, creating a partnership between Poutini Ngāi Tahu and globally renowned Wētā Workshop.
“We’ve achieved a significant milestone with the Māwhera Pā, the first of many to come. We really are creating a world-first cultural experience here with the Pounamu Pathway. We’re putting Poutini Ngāi Tahu on a world stage, bringing opportunities to the whole region,” said Ngāti Waewae Chair, Francois Tumahai.
This milestone was achieved with the support of Kānoa – Regional Economic Development and Investment Unit which is aimed at enhancing economic development in the regions.
Beyond its cultural and historical significance, the Pounamu Pathway is set to be a cornerstone of the West Coast’s economic revitalisation, beginning with the Māwhera Pā. By providing local jobs and attracting visitors from near and far, it is expected to inject vitality into the region’s economy, creating sustainable opportunities for the community.
The Pounamu Pathway is also anticipated to become a source of immense pride for West Coast locals. It is poised to serve as a testament to the region’s rich heritage, and an opportunity to share their stories and traditions with the world.
“The collaboration between Poutini Ngāi Tahu and Wētā Workshop has been an extraordinary journey. This partnership not only brings employment and economic opportunities to our town, it also allows us to open a door to a world of cultural significance. Our goal is to attract more visitors and encourage longer stays, therefore benefiting other local businesses and operators,” said Grey District Mayor, Tania Gibson.
The Pounamu Pathway in Māwhera, introduces visitors to life in Te Tai o Poutini (the West Coast) on the very land where the pā once stood. The building, designed by RM Designs and built by Tony Wilkins Builder, features an expansive canopy designed to gracefully mirror the form of a Māori rain cape, known as a pōkeka, symbolising protection, unity and the enduring connection between people and the land. Beneath the canopy, stand pou (columns) embellished with Ngāti Waewae and Ngāti Māhaki kowhaiwhai (pattern) panels, symbolising the unity of the two hapū (sub-tribes).
The experience focuses on the core themes of the Pounamu Pathway: Ancestors, Settlements, Battles, Legends and Trade, all represented in ‘whare’ built around a central ātea (courtyard) space.
Visitors are immersed in imagery and sound that present key elements of Māwhera’s history: Ngāti Waewae tīpuna (ancestors), Ngāi Tahu’s treaty settlement, fishermen navigating the hazardous bar, Chinese gold miners, signing the Arahura Deed, British whalers, kawakawa pounamu, the barber mist and finally, the giant atua creation story of Tū-te-raki-whanoa.
“We embrace the role of creators and educators, but with a commitment to thorough research and cultural consultation, ensuring that these stories are not just told but brought to life in a respectful and impactful way. Working closely with Paul Madgwick and the cultural committee made this possible,” said Jason Aldous of Wētā Workshop.
Paul Madgwick, as Chair of the Cultural Committee, along with the rest of the committee, has ensured the stories shared are not only engaging, but also an authentic representation of how the Poutini Ngāi Tahu people view their own histories.
“It’s essential that Poutini Ngāi Tahu retains authority and influence over the way our cultural narrative is portrayed. This not only ensures continuity but empowers future generations,” said Paul Madgwick.
The technology doesn’t stop with the immersive experiences within each whare. Visitors can also embark on a quest for hidden treasures, unlock secrets and solve puzzles while exploring the area with the Pounamu Pathway app. When visitors travel to Māwhera they can hunt for unique tukutuku panels (woven panels) to unlock augmented reality pounamu (greenstone).
The next Pounamu Pathway Experience Centre, the Museum of Kawatiri at Westport, is set to open late January 2024 and promises to be a captivating exploration of the region’s unique heritage. With a primary focus on coal, gold, and pounamu, this immersive destination will allow visitors to delve into the rich history and cultural significance of these precious resources.
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