Spectacular waka arrival in Wellington Harbour to open 2018 New Zealand Festival

Tens of thousands of people are expected on Wellington’s waterfront to help open the 2018 New Zealand Festival.

An impressive fleet of waka hourua (twin-hulled ocean-going canoes) from around the Pacific and Aotearoa New Zealand will congregate on Wellington Harbour at dusk on 23 February 2018 to open New Zealand’s largest international arts festival.

Tens of thousands of people are expected on Wellington’s waterfront to welcome the fleet’s arrival, heralding a spectacular five-day series of cultural events celebrating the Pacific and Aotearoa New Zealand’s sea-going heritage.

A Waka Odyssey is a unique partnership between Creative Team Anna Marbrook, Hoturoa Barclay-Kerr and Kasia Pol, New Zealand Festival and Maori tribe Te Āti Awa / Taranaki Whānui Iwi.

Designed to honour and celebrate the shared voyaging history, A Waka Odyssey is a series of events, beginning with an opening night theatrical spectacle to honour the legacy of the legendary Pacific explorer, Kupe. The choreographed movements of seven waka hourua, eight waka taua, and a fleet of waka ama will bring the harbour to life; while on land actors, choirs and kapa haka groups welcome the voyagers to the Capital. A 1000-strong new haka for Wellington will be performed, and a full musical score is being composed by New Zealand musician Warren Maxwell.

Free, community-based opening night events have become a hallmark of Shelagh Magadza’s artistic directorship during her six-year tenure at the New Zealand Festival. Like the Le Grand Continental dance display in 2016, and The Big Bang drumming extravaganza in 2014, Shelagh says A Waka Odyssey is not a one-off, but involves deep community participation and commitment, and will have resonance throughout New Zealand, and beyond.

“This stunning opening night event is an amazing way to open our three-week Festival, and we feel privileged that waka hourua vessels will travel to the Capital from all around Aotearoa, with others sailing to us from as far away as Samoa and Cook Islands. A Waka Odyssey promises to be a poignant and historic cultural event for New Zealand, and is the perfect fit with the 2018 Festival’s themes of journey, home and belonging.”

“The opening night will mark the beginning of a week of activity inspired by waka hourua and Pacific voyaging. As well as fun activities like a free Whanau / Family Day at Petone Foreshore on 24 February, there’s an extensive education programme associated with A Waka Odyssey, traversing the themes of navigation, voyaging, science, environment, sustainability, and history,” Shelagh says.

The Festival is showcasing A Waka Odyssey with the three talented creative directors behind the work: the master navigator, scholar, and Haunui captain Hoturoa Barclay-Kerr, the award-winning director Anna Marbrook, and international artist and designer Kasia Pol.

The Creative Team of Marbrook, Barclay-Kerr, and Pol, say their shared vision for A Waka Odyssey is to create a work that will have long term meaning for Aotearoa: In the Pacific, our threshold is the mighty ocean. The pre-colonised Pacific viewpoint of the ocean is that of something that connects us all as humans. The waka hourua and their crew give voice to this. As they sail they weave together cultures and histories. And in a contemporary world the waka inspire us not to search for new land but to search for new ways forward as human beings.

About the New Zealand Festival (23 February – 18 March, 2018)

Held every two years across February and March, the New Zealand Festival is New Zealand’s largest celebration of cutting edge culture. Over the past 30 years, the Festival has brought some of the world’s greatest cultural performers to the capital and provided a platform to showcase New Zealand artists. The next New Zealand Festival is 23 February – 18 March 2018. The full programme will be released on 17 October.