‘Big step forward’ for Tauranga Land Wars center plan, backers consider VR options
The New Zealand National Institute of Land Wars proposed center would be at the site of the 1864 Battle of Gate Pā on Pukehinahina Ridge.
A “nationally significant” cultural center that will tell the story of New Zealand’s land wars in Tauranga is a step closer.
The proposed National Institute of New Zealand Land Wars would be built on Gate Pā Recreation Reserve, the site of the Battle of Gate Pā.
At a meeting on Monday, Tauranga City Council commissioners cleared the way for the center by voting to support, in principle, the reclassification of part of the reserve as a historic reserve, subject to public notification.
In 2020, the council received a proposal from the Pukehinahina Charitable Trust, in partnership with Ngāi Tamarāwaho, to create a cultural and historical center in the Gate Pā Recreation Reserve.
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Ngāi Tamarāwaho’s representative, Buddy Mikaere, told Local Democracy Reporting that the reclassification was a “big step forward”.
He said the national institute would be the only one of its kind in the country.
The center would recognize the importance of the Battle of Gate Pā and other battles.
On April 29, 1864, the Battle of Gate Pā took place on a ridge known as Pukehinahina. The pā consisted of two redoubts with trenches and bunkers to trap the British.
The Māori were successful in their defence, with 35 British soldiers killed and 75 wounded, double the estimated Māori casualties.
Mikaere said the center was “very important” and would help raise Tauranga’s profile.
“It also fits in nicely with the modified school curriculum, which places more emphasis on New Zealand history.”
Mikaere said the Pukehinahina Charitable Trust was working with Ian Taylor of Animation Research Limited and they hoped to create a virtual reality experience of the Battle of Gate Pā.
“So you can put on your helmet and you can be on the side of whichever side you want, so you’re right in the middle of the battle.
“We’re going to produce something really amazing.”
The venue was to provide workshop space, exhibition areas, space for the performing arts, as well as a room for visitor experience of contemporary and traditional Maori life.
Architects engaged by Ngai Tamarāwaho described the design philosophy as a “…vision for Pukehinahina to represent the spiritual embodiment of memories, traditions and people” and “the construction of an iconic multifunctional structure that again sees the return of the Maoris at Gate Pā”.
At the council meeting, Commissioner Shadrach Rolleston said the reserve was “significant, not just locally but nationally”.
“[There’s] an opportunity to create something quite special [and] important from a national point of view. I think there is huge potential there,” he said.
Commissioner Stephen Selwood supported Rolleston’s comments and said it was an important part of Tauranga’s story that needed to be told.
He said there was a “risk and an opportunity” because the story had to be told “correctly” in order to attract potential backers.
“If we don’t have a compelling story about it, we’ll have a hard time finding funding. If we have a compelling story, I think it will be a no-brainer,” Selwood said.
Commissioner Bill Wasley was “really thrilled” to be part of the progress commitments made to Ngāi Tamarāwaho over 20 years ago.
In 1999, the council entered into a memorandum of understanding with the hapū to study options for a cultural and historical center.
Commission chairwoman Anne Tolley said the reclassification of the land was to protect the historic site.
“In this context, we have supported the creation of this cultural exhibition center and to tell the story of land wars.
Mikaere, who was also the trust’s project manager for the center, said initial estimated costs were around $250,000 and costs for the entire project were still unknown.
He said the completion target was April 2026.