'We’re looking for mana wāhine' Miss Rotorua to be crowned in grand final this weekend

By Jessica Tyson

It’s only one day to go until the new Miss Rotorua is crowned, a title to be won by a woman of mana,  director Kharl Wirepa says.

“We’re not looking for a Barbie doll. We’re looking for mana wāhine and we’re looking for someone who would represent the iwi of Te Arawa and the people of our rohe,” he says.

This year, about 25 contestants have entered the competition, vying for the titles of Mrs Rotorua, Miss Te Arawa, Miss Teen Rotorua and the most prestigious, Miss Rotorua.

“What we’re looking for is somebody who has the mana to uphold the mana of the women that have been, the women that are and the women they’ve become.”

Wirepa says every year the contestants are special but this year there is a great range of wāhine who have entered.

“We have several mothers in the pageant. We even have one contestant that’s married to someone in the Mongrel Mob. We have a contestant with moko kauae, which has never happened in the world. No contestant has ever done that. We also have several plus-sized ladies as well so we’re really excited about that uniqueness that Te Arawa brings to the beauty pageant industry.”

'She's proven that anything can happen' - Former prisoner wins Miss Rotorua / Te Ao September 2019

Miss Rotorua 2019 Evarna Koia has a powerful message about overcoming drug addiction. Koia became a substance abuser at 14, as a result of moving from house to house growing up.

“At 15 years, I ended up in youth prison. I was committing crime, stealing and drug dealing,” she told Te Ao after she won the competition last year.

Four years later, she was imprisoned for motor vehicle theft. However, her life started to change after attending Sunday church in prison.

Since her release, Koia has become a member of Destiny Church in Auckland, alongside her older sisters. She returned to her hometown of Rotorua, where she became a facilitator for the Legacy programme run by Destiny Church, which aims to empower women.

“Don't ever feel afraid to let your truth shine no matter what you've been through, your deepest darkest things," she says.

“Once you let that truth shine, you just have this weight off your shoulders and you never know whose soul you can unlock, or who you can inspire by letting your truth free as well. So I say own your truth, own your story and be who you are.”

Wirepa says instead of judging Koia for her past, the pageant accepted her and taught her new ways of life.

“Our goal here in Rotorua, why we even have the beauty pageant, it’s not about the winning, it’s not about the glitz and the glamour, although that is the disguise of it all," he says. "It’s about empowering the next generation of mothers."

“These women who enter the pageant are going to be the next generation of mothers, of the next generation of families in Rotorua, so our goal is to strengthen our wāhine, strengthen our mothers, and strengthen our families.”

The Miss Rotorua foundation was established to provide support services to the city of Rotorua and has raised thousands of dollars for charities. This year contestants have supported community groups including Parkinsons Central Plateau, Ford Block Kindergarten, Dress for Success Rotorua, Meth OR Mana Roopu and Linton Park Community Centre.

The sold-out Miss Rotorua final will be held on Saturday night at the Harvest Centre.

Photo gallery of Miss Rotorua 2020 contestants  - Photography by Mark Robatham