An artist’s impression of the Gate Pā/Pukehinahina cultural centre. / Alisha Evans
By Alisha Evans, Local Democracy Reporter
A "nationally significant" cultural centre that will tell the story of the New Zealand Wars in Tauranga is one step closer.
The proposed national institute of the New Zealand Wars would be built on the Gate Pā Recreation Reserve, the site of the Battle of Gate Pā.
At a meeting on Monday, Tauranga City Council commissioners paved the way for the centre by voting to support, in principle, reclassification of a portion of the reserve to historic reserve, subject to public notification.
In 2020, the council received a proposal from Pukehinahina Charitable Trust, in partnership with Ngāi Tamarāwaho, to establish a cultural and historic centre on the Gate Pā Recreation Reserve.
Ngāi Tamarāwaho representative Buddy Mikaere told Local Democracy Reporting the reclassification was a "great step forward".
He said the national institute would be the only one of its kind in the country. The centre would recognise the significance of the Battle of Gate Pā and other battles.
On April 29 1864 the Battle of Gate Pā was fought on a ridge known as Pukehinahina. The pā consisted of two redoubts with trenches and bunkers to trap the British.
Māori were successful in their defence, with 35 British troops killed and 75 wounded, twice the estimated Māori casualties.
Mikaere said the centre was "very important" and would help raise Tauranga's profile.
'It also fits in nicely with the changed school curriculum, which puts a greater emphasis on New Zealand history."
Mikaere said the Pukehinahina Charitable Trust was working with Ian Taylor from Animation Research Limited and were hoping to create a virtual reality experience of the Battle of Gate Pā.
"So you can put your headset on and you can be on whichever side you choose, then you're right in the middle of the battle. We're going to produce something really amazing."
The venue was expected to provide a workshop space, exhibition areas, performing arts space, plus room for a visitor experience of contemporary and traditional Māori life.
Architects engaged by Ngai Tamarāwaho described the design philosophy as a "…vision for Pukehinahina to portray the spiritual embodiment of memories, traditions and people" and "the construction of an iconic multifunctional structure that again sees the return of Māori to Gate Pā."
At the meeting, commissioner Shadrach Rolleston said the reserve was "significant, not just locally but nationally".
"[There's] an opportunity to create something quite special [and] significant from a national perspective. "I think there's huge potential there," he said.
Commissioner Stephen Selwood backed Rolleston's comments and said it was an important piece of Tauranga's history that needed to be told.
He said there was a "risk and an opportunity" because the story needed to be told "properly" in order to attract potential funders.
"If we don't have a compelling story around that, we will struggle with funding. If we have a compelling story, I think it'll be a given," said Selwood.
Commissioner Bill Wasley was "really delighted" to be part of progressing commitments made to Ngāi Tamarāwaho more than 20 year ago.
In 1999 the council entered into a memorandum of understanding with the hapu to investigate options for a cultural and historic centre.
Commission chair Anne Tolley said reclassification of the land was intended to protect the historic site.
"As part of that, we've supported the establishment of this exhibition cultural centre and to tell the story of the New Zealand wars."
Mikaere, who was also the trust's project manager for the centre, said the estimated initial costs were around $250,000 and costs for the whole project were unknown as yet. He said the target for completion was April 2026.
Local Democracy Reporting is Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air