Uncovering the layers of Te Wānanga

Publish Date : 08 Jul 2021
Pohutukawa Grove Elements Te Wananga 2 July

We are super-proud of our newest downtown space: Te Wānanga.

You’ll find it on the seaward side of Quay Street at the epicentre of downtown.

Richly meaningful design elements brought to the space by talented mana whenua kaimahitoi (artists) sit alongside preserved pieces of our past, dating back more than a century. Together they create a ‘uniquely Tāmaki Makaurau’ space.

To help you discover the many layers of uniqueness, we’ve compiled a list:


What’s in a name?

The name Te Wānanga was provided by mana whenua as part of the design partnership between Auckland Council, Auckland Transport and mana whenua. It conveys aspirations for a place for residents and visitors of all ages to come together, enjoy, share and learn. In the words of mana whenua: ‘It’s a place of learning, bringing together elements like Para Kore (resource optimisation), raranga (weaving) and whakairo (carving). It is also a learning place for sea ecology.’


Organic shape

Te Wānanga is designed to reflect the feeling of being on a rocky tidal shelf, with apertures seeming like rock pools and steel balustrades styled like giant kina shells. The space takes its organic shape from the sandstone headlands of the Waitematā Harbour.


Marine and terrestrial habitats

Walk through a coastal grove of mature pōhutukawa and at the foot of the trees, see rongoa (medicine) species and harakeke (flax) plentiful in the gardens which beckon birds, insects and gecko.

Look deep into the water and view lines of kūtai (mussels) attached to the underside of the deck. Providing habitat and food for sea life and improving water quality, they are a living example of the importance we place on caring for the mauri (essence) and mana (standing / respect) of Te Waitematā.


Mahi toi

Run your fingers over the extraordinary work of Reuben Kirkwood (Ngai Tai ki Tāmaki) who has created and engraved a unique expression of Te Wairere into the timber handrails, a linking design element that extends across the downtown area. Te Wairere is a contemporary rendering of a traditional manaia form. Look out for him in other forms and materials in Quay Street and in the nearby Te Ngau o Horotiu ferry infrastructure.

Renowned artist and weaver Tessa Harris (Ngai Tai ki Tāmaki) has woven the handrails with natural fibre in a design unique to Te Wānanga. The binding design is an expression of toki (adze) and reflects waka which were traditionally crafted by toki. Both artists worked with Isthmus who designed Te Wānanga in partnership with mana whenua.

Weaving by Tessa Harris shown on a waterfront handrail

Weaving by Tessa Harris shown on a waterfront handrail

Carving by Reuben Kirkwood

Carving by Reuben Kirkwood


Century-old stone stairway

Lean over the eastern balustrade and you’ll glimpse a cherished reminder of Auckland’s ferry infrastructure from a century ago. Built for passengers boarding and disembarking vessels in 1920, the old stone stairway has been preserved and is now framed for future generations to view from the new deck. Read more here.


WWI Memorial Beacon

Spend time reading the beautiful inscriptions on a WWI Memorial Beacon. Erected in 1915, this emblem of another time has returned to a central position in Quay Street, next to Te Wānanga. The memorial was built to honour staff of the Auckland Harbour Board who served in the war and as a beacon for vessels approaching the launch landings on Quay Street.

The original bronze wreaths and a red orb, once mounted at the top, have never been found. It was said that the light stayed on to guide the soldiers home and, for those who fell, to bring their spirits home. Aucklanders can read the names of those who ‘gave their all in the cause of liberty and freedom.’

Click here to download the memorial's heritage assessment for Auckland Council and Auckland Transport authored by heritage experts John and Adina Brown as part of the Downtown Programme.

Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections AWNS-19220629-40-1

Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections AWNS-19220629-40-1

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