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Volcano erupts on bridge in emotional Waitangi narrative

Published: 4 February 2019

From the ocean waves, Rangitoto Island appears in the arch of the bridge, turning red; Te motu tapu a Taikehu slowly emerges in green, followed by the vast blue of the Waitematā. Tainui waka glides across the bridge canvas accompanied by kaitiaki (guardians) – taniwha and ocean creatures. Next the arch of the bridge explodes into the first volcano seen in a Vector Lights show. Birds soar and beckon multicoloured waka, all sync’d with water-effects washing across the base of the bridge and beautifully crafted audio.

Leading New Zealand’s Waitangi Day celebrations, Vector Lights on the Auckland Harbour Bridge tells the story of the islands of Waitematā from the unique perspective of local iwi Te Kawerau a Maki through the medium of light.

Annual celebration

Each year, as part of a collaboration between Te Kaunihera o Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland Council and Vector Lights, mana whenua are offered the opportunity to share their stories using Vector Lights on the bridge for both Matariki Festival and Waitangi.

Te Kawerau a Maki were the hosts of last year’s Matariki light display and have been engaged again for this year’s Waitangi Day celebrations with content and narrative provided by iwi chair and historian Te Warena Taua.

For the show – staging every half hour from 9pm to midnight; 2 to 7 February – Taua and his iwi have designed a unique narrative. The story is set around islands in the Waitematā Harbour.

Accompanying the seven-minute show is a soundtrack on which Taua recites ancient karakia (prayers) about the Tainui waka, from which the iwi and many names in the Auckland area originate. This audio can be accessed at the Vector Lights website for anyone to listen to in sync while they watch the bridge in real time. 

A wealth of stories

Auckland Council’s arts and culture programmer, Ataahua Papa, says the council recognises 19 different mana whenua groups, and each iwi has a wealth of stories to reveal.

The story the lights tell on the bridge each year is part of a wider focus on recognising the importance of the Treaty.

Mayor Phil Goff says, “Waitangi Day is a special day for New Zealand. It’s great that we can light up our iconic harbour bridge for six consecutive nights to commemorate this significant day in our history and to celebrate our identity as Aucklanders.”

Vector’s Chief Executive Simon Mackenzie is delighted mana whenua are so closely involved in the creation of the city’s second Vector Lights show celebrating Waitangi.

Waitangi Day events

Aside from the Vector Lights show ushering in Waitangi celebrations in the days before and after Waitangi Day, Te Kaunihera o Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland Council is bringing Waitangi ki Manukau to Aucklanders at a new venue - Manukau Sports Bowl - from 9am until 5pm on Waitangi Day itself, Wednesday 6 February.

Papa says, “Manukau was one of the sites where the Treaty was signed.”

The city can also celebrate Waitangi Day with music and food at big events in Ōkahu Bay and at Hoani Waititi Marae in Oratia. All four events have their own perspective, Papa says, but they are all unified by a single theme.

Ataahua Papa says: “We have lots of different mana whenua and mataawaka stories out there. We’re trying to give everybody an experience that educates them about Waitangi. It's more than just a parchment signed 179 years ago.”