Ceremonial War Canoe

Ngātokimatawhaorua

The waka house near Te Ana o Maikuku (Hobson’s Beach) shelters a ceremonial war canoe named Ngātokimatawhaorua, the world’s largest of its type. Waka have always played a vital role in Māori culture, essential for travel, and uniquely constructed and carved as symbolic representations of each iwi’s (tribe’s) identity and spirituality.

Ngātokimatawhaorua was built to mark the centenary of the Treaty of Waitangi’s signing in 1940 and was built by members of New Zealand’s northern and Waikato tribes. The waka is launched every year in February as part of Waitangi Day celebrations.

Built with the blessings of the Gods

Ngātokimatawhaorua was carved from the trunks of three great Northland kauri trees, with the blessing of Tane Mahuta, the Māori God of the Forest. Construction of the war canoe was an incredible feat of human strength, felling the trees and then carving them into shape by hand, using cross-cut saws, mauls, wedges, axes and adzes. It took a team of 24 bullocks and many men three weeks to haul the hull’s centre section out of the forest.

Work on the canoe began in 1934 and Ngātokimatawhaorua was launched on Waitangi Day, 6 February, 1940. Waka taua are the largest Māori waka and carry the mana (prestige) of a tribe, its leaders and its people. In former times, these war canoe were paddled to war by the taua, or ‘war party’.

Belonging to the Northern iwi (tribe) Ngāpuhi, the 37.5-metre-long canoe requires at least 76 paddlers to handle it, and can safely hold up to 150 paddlers. It weighs 6 tonnes when dry and 12 tonnes when saturated.

Magestic Ngatokimatawhaorua

Named in honour of the navigator Kupe, legendary discoverer of New Zealand

The canoe was named after the original canoe sailed to Aotearoa New Zealand by Kupe, the legendary discoverer of New Zealand. His double-hulled waka was known as Matawhaorua, and his grandson later re-adzed the waka and sailed it back to New Zealand. He added ‘nga toki’, meaning ‘the adzes’ to the name, creating the name of Ngātokimatawhaorua.

The war canoe was used in the Waitangi Day centenary celebrations in 1940 and was then laid up for 34 years in a canoe shelter alongside Te Whare Rūnanga (Carved Meeting House). In 1974 the waka was renovated for Queen Elizabeth II’s visit to Waitangi and the current shelter, Te Korowai o Maikuku, was built to house it near Hobson’s Beach. After the Queen’s voyage on Ngātokimatawhaorua in 1974 she designated it ‘Her Majesty’s Ship’, which theoretically makes it part of her Royal Navy.