Tens of thousands of people are expected on Wellington’s waterfront to welcome the fleet’s arrival for the New Zealand Festival. Photo: Rawhitiroa Photography


The massive Wellington based New Zealand Festival, this country’s largest cultural celebration, is about to begin.

This biennial event which has been held over the past 30 years will commence this year with the arrival of an impressive fleet of waka hourua (twin hulled ocean-going canoes) in Wellington Harbour at dusk this February evening

The entire New Zealand Festival runs from February 23 to March 18.

Several thousand people are expected to great the fleet’s arrival which signals the start of a 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.