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Ōtumuheke’s Cultural Integrity Restored

Posted 18 04 2019

in News

Spa Thermal Park entrance to Ōtumuheke, four entry pou signifying the major stakeholders, and viewing platform beyond.
Spa Thermal Park entrance to Ōtumuheke, four entry pou signifying the major stakeholders, and viewing platform beyond.
Te Tau-a-Nuku article

Te Tau-a-Nuku-member Kara Scott (Te Whānau a Apanui) writes about the design of Ōtumuheke hot stream near Taupō - a significant cultural site and popular tourist attraction. 

Today, when you approach the Ōtumuheke hot stream, whether it be walking from Spa Thermal Park to the south, from Huka Falls to the north, or floating down the Waikato River to the west; you are instantly struck with a place that says; “I have mana. I will manaaki you, care for you.  Please, tiaki mai - do the same for me.”

Ōtumuheke hot stream hasn’t always felt that way.  The stream is significant to the local Ngāti Tūwharetoa Iwi and their hapū and has been a popular bathing attraction for tourists and locals for years.  The problem was its popularity was beginning to degrade the important values of the site.  There were no basic facilities to cater for the growing use, and no cues to show its cultural importance. 

Landscape Architecture Aotearoa recently wrote about Ōtumuheke’s challenges in the article “Paying the price of popularity”. At the time public accessibility was limited to people able to navigate steep eroded paths.  The banks of the Waikato River were degrading, and the delicate native geothermal vegetation was being trampled. There were no toilets or changing facilities. The old bridge extended over the main bathing area with some instances of anti-social behaviour. This activity in the past has turned many locals and mana whenua away from the area.  

But perhaps the greatest challenge was the split of Ōtumuheke into four different land owners, along with many key stakeholders; making it difficult to develop a co-ordinated and collaborative approach to addressing the area’s challenges.

Since then mana has been restored into Ōtumuheke by a combined effort of partners: Taupō District Council, Patuiwi Māori Reserve Trust, Tūwharetoa Māori Trust Board, Department of Conservation, Taupō Police and Waikato Regional Council, with funding from Taupō District Council, the Regional Mid-Sized Tourism Facilities Grant Fund, and Craters of the Moon Trust. The Taupō District Council wrote about Ōtumuheke’s official opening last year, and officials praised the combined efforts of the collaborative project.

View over Ōtumuheke and the Waikato River, new bridge and coffee kiosk.
View over Ōtumuheke and the Waikato River, new bridge and coffee kiosk.
Cultural features, carved pou, story board stands, and signage.
Cultural features, carved pou, story board stands, and signage.

This collaborative approach has brought together a more cohesive and respectful space that ignores property boundaries and takes cues from the natural environment.  The new bespoke bridge for instance, now connects to Patuiwi land rather than its former alignment to Department of Conservation land where it severed the main bathing area; making the bathing area open and more inviting.  Mānuka palisading on the Patuiwi land provides a legitimate cultural cue to the site’s historical connections while functioning to contain public access away from threatened geothermal vegetation.

Ōtumuheke has been upgraded with safer access paths while still maintaining a soft natural character.  Terraced seating and bathing platforms on the river bank address erosion and access issues.  New changing rooms and toilets provide much needed facilities, with a roof top platform viewing across the river.  A coffee kiosk owned by mana whenua proudly overlooks the site, providing passive surveillance as well as local economic opportunities. Bespoke story boards and carvings speak to the cultural significance of the site, and four ceremonial pou have been carved at the entrance, each representing the major stakeholders in the project. 

The words of Taupō District Council Mayor – David Trewavas and Patuiwi Maori Reserve Trust Chairman – Matiu Heperi Northcroft at the Ōtumuheke opening ceremony sum up this collaborative cultural enhancement project so well.  Mayor David said:

"The project has been a real partnership…Thanks to all the efforts that have gone into this, we now have an area to be enjoyed for many generations to come." 

Matiu Heperi Northcroft talked about how the respect for cultural awareness has restored Ōtumuheke's cultural integrity and the project is something everyone could be proud of: 

"It also provides confidence and confirmation in knowing that the Taupō and Ngāti Tῡwharetoa community can come together in collaboration, and openly and meaningfully choose to amicably acknowledge and respect each other's culture in good faith for a common purpose. The world has now become our oyster to go forward positively from here, and again achieve in collaboration, historic milestones for the better good, and in the best interests of all." 

As a landscape architect, Taupō local, and from a tangata whenua perspective, I look forward to seeing how Ōtumuheke ages and improves with time.  Every design has its challenges for the years ahead, and no doubt Ōtumuheke will have these.  But beyond this, I have already observed a significant shift in the cultural awareness by visitors to the area, a greater respect and level of care thanks to this collaborative approach to redesigning the space.  My hopes are that Ōtumuheke’s cultural integrity continues to be fostered and restored, and that our future generations will continue to have a treasured taonga to care for and enjoy for years to come.

Ōtumuheke can be reached via a 5-minute walk through Spa Thermal Park, a 3km walk upstream of Huka Falls, or river float by experienced paddlers down stream of Control Gates Park, Taupō.

Kara Scott (Te Whanau-a-Apanui) is a Registered Landscape Architect based in Taupō, where she has her own practice.

Te Tau-a-Nuku is a collective of Māori Landscape Architect’s and a member of Nga Aho - the Māori Designer’s Collective.

View towards the bathing platforms and carved story board.
View towards the bathing platforms and carved story board.