Red carpet in Rotorua as 2021 indigenous beauty pageant begins

By Herewini Waikato

The unique Miss Rotorua beauty pageant launched its 2021 competition on Sunday night at Princess Gate Hotel Rotorua, fielding 25 wāhine.

Miss Rotorua is the only Maori-owned and operated beauty pageant in the world and follows an indigenous worldview and perspective on beauty. It also aims to overturn western ideals of beauty, which its organisers believe have been damaging to the confidence of Wāhine Māori for many generations.  

Sunday’s launch was a red-carpet event and people dressed accordingly for conference-style occasion with cocktail-style networking. 

Pageant managing director Kharl WiRepa says a lot of the women that come into Miss Rotorua hope to become their best selves.

“A lot are young mothers and they enter to become strong mothers for their family.” 

He says each contestant has her own reason for joining. “This event is a launchpad for all of these wāhine to grow in confidence and encourage all women and men, if they can do it, then others can also.”

A growing number of tauiwi are registering for the pageant every year as they are interested in learning more about Te Arawa through the pageant and engaging in local culture. This year there are two Chinese contestants, two Indian, one Russian, and one English contestant. The other 19 contestants are Maori.

Gumboots to glittering gowns

Maree Hyde of Ngāpuhi supported her daughter, Katlin, in last year’s competition. Katlin was the second runner up to Miss Rotorua. This year it is 51-year-old Maree’s turn and Katlin will be supporting her mum. 

Both mum and daughter chuckled as Maree was asked how nervous she was.

“I'm used to gumboots and being on the farm. I'm not used to beautiful jewellery and dresses, I'm used to the farm and it is just jeans and gumboots. Kharl said to me last week he can turn a sow’s ear into a silver purse - so bring it on, Kharl”.

For the next 12 weeks, the competitors will undergo intense training in etiquette, grace and beauty, good taste and class and studying Te Arawa history, and the world of Te Ao Māori. The history lessons helps each wahine to have a connection to the people of Rotorua and know Māori history and whakapapa. A contestant does not have to be of Māori ancestry to win but must be able to present Māori culture in some way.  

The Miss Rotorua crown will be handed over at this year's Miss Rotorua Beauty Pageant on September 18.