Text provided by artist Darcy Nicholas

Māori have long associations with Pukeahu (Mount Cook), and these are reflected Ngā Tapuwae o te Kāhui Maunga (the footsteps of the ancestors) – the gardens below the National War Memorial steps.

Te Āti Awa and Kāhui Maunga

Te Ātiawa are the iwi (tribe) with mana whenua (authority over the land) of Wellington, Lower Hutt and Upper Hutt. They come from the ancient Kāhui Maunga people who were settled on the slopes of Mount Taranaki.

In Māori tradition one of the many ways tribal relationships are traced is through stories based on landmarks such as mountains, rivers, hills, rocks and special places. The Kāhui Maunga story includes the mountains Taranaki, Ruapehu and Tongariro.

Darcy Nicholas’s sculpture Hinerangi alongside the rock Taranaki showing the four engraved sentinels.
Credit: Photograph by Andy Palmer, Manatū Taonga

Three rocks from three mountains

The three rocks are sourced from Mount Taranaki, Mount Ruapehu and Mount Tongariro. These maunga (mountains) and the people who lived around them are connected with the ancient Kāhui Maunga story.


The engravings on the Mount Taranaki rock are symbols of the sun, which rises over Mount Hikurangi in the east and sets over Taranaki in the west. This connects the two mountains and the history of their peoples.

The Southern Cross stars are the navigational stars from the Australian flag that connect this country with our Australian Allies.

The four sentinels were inspired by the imposing Paritutū – the remains of a former volcano at the head of Ngamotu Beach in New Plymouth. The four sentinels oversee the arrival of visitors from the four corners of the world.


In Māori tradition Tongariro is the warrior mountain. The seven warriors on the Mount Tongariro rock represent descendants of the seven canoes on which the ancestors of Māori arrived in New Zealand: Aotea, Kurahaupō, Tokomaru, Tainui, Te Arawa, Mataatua and Tākitimu. Descendants of those canoes intermarried with earlier tribes and, later, with European settlers to form our nation as New Zealanders. They also represent the people who died in the tribal and colonial wars of this country.  


For the Kāhui Maunga tribes, Mount Ruapehu is the matua or parent mountain. The images on the rock represent the timeframes from the beginning of our land, as it rose out of the sea, to its present.

The wall

The wall behind the rocks is made of both new and historical bricks. The historical bricks were made in the prison which stood on Pukeahu, where many of our great grandfathers from Parihaka were held. They were brave men, who were determined to see their ancestral lands eventually returned to them. While the land would never be returned, the process of partial compensation is occurring.


The words ‘maungaronga ki runga i te whenua’ (peace across the land) is a blessing from Taranaki tribes on the eastern wall. The phrase ‘te hokowhitu a tu’ (the 140 – literally the twice 70 – warriors of the god of war Tū-mata-uenga) was the motto of the Native Contingent and the Pioneer Battalion in the First World War. The third phrase is the well-known line from the anthem of the 28th (Māori) Battalion, ‘ake ake kia kaha e’ (stand strong forever), which is on the western wall of the gardens.

Paving tiles

The paving tiles are in the pattern of the poutama design, which is symbolic of the stairway to the spirit world.

Hinerangi sculpture.

The main element in this bronze sculpture by Darcy Nicholas is the kākahu (cloak). The symbols of the sun, moon, stars and mountains tell the story of family, home and guardianship.

The top of the kākahu represents the land. The tassels are tears for those lost in the tribal and colonial wars, and wars across the world. The poutama designs on the cloak are symbolic of the pathways our soldiers took in their journey to the spirit world. Some of the pathways are deliberately broken to represent the harshness of war.

Hinerangi faces the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior, and the mountain Aoraki (Mt Cook) in the South Island. In Māori tradition, when people of significance pass on, their spirit traverses the ancestral hills and mountains to pay homage to those remaining in the physical world before returning and departing in the north.

Read more details in the official opening ceremonial booklet.

View a YouTube clip featuring the making of the Hinerangi sculpture.

Listen to Morrie Love talking about the gardens in a Radio New Zealand interview


For the Kāhui Maunga story: Hana Nicholas (née Keenan), Rangitihi Rangiwaiata Tahuparae, Wiremu Parker.

Project manager: Morrie Love; artists: Darcy Nicholas, Rangi Kipa and Verenoa Hetet; technical advice and casting of sculpture: Brett Rangitaawa.

Support for this project came from Wellington Tenths Trust, Palmerston North Maori Reserve Trust and many others.

Updated on 12th September 2018