Te Pou Arahi

At the heart of Epping Reserve stands Te Pou Arahi, a massive macrocarpa sculpture transformed into an artwork by senior students from Sunderland College and Nga Kakano Christian Reo E Kura who worked alongside master carver Sunnah Thompson of Te Kawerau a Maki. Te Pou Arahi stands as an identity marker for the local community, a visual reminder of the creatures and plants that will return if we continue to protect the reserve.

The Creation

In May 2007, students from Sunderland College were invited to adopt an area in Epping Reserve by (then) Project Twin Streams Community Coordinator Wendy Claire. Art teacher Cathy Warden began to bring her Year Nine art students down to the reserve.

While restoring the area they discovered a stump covered in graffiti and hollowed out by fire. “The kids thought it would look great as a sculpture because of its size. We wanted to incorporate a Maori legend and help with the design and carving. We also wanted to work with a local artist,” says Cathy.

Project Twin Streams Art Coordinator Janet Holt, facilitated the project and along with Wendy, consulted with Te Kawerau a Maki who chose a carver, Sunnah Thompson for the project. Sunderland students studied the plants and creatures indigenous to Henderson Creek and designed their own depictions of them as line drawings and Sunnah helped these students make scale drawings and consider designs that would work as carvings.

Nga Kakano Christian Reo E Kura were invited to join the project. Some Nga Kakano students also designed creatures of their own to adorn the stump. Other students worked on painting inside the outlines once Sunnah had carved over the drawing outlines and to restore the graffitied surface . “We placed the drawings according to the grain, shape and feel of the tree. We added a few taniwha of our own. We put the creatures of the water on the creek side and the creatures of the land on the other. Then I carved over their lines. Afterwards they came and filled them in with paint so that the stump still fits in to its environment,” explains Sunnah.

Both student groups found the experience meaningful. “We have a closer relationship with the river and the environment now,” says Nga Kakono’s Principal Te Rangi Allen. “We started doing the whakapapa for this area, linking the river to the mountain and the harbour and doing a korero around it.”

“The children can say they have ownership of the area now. Now they go walking past the tree and they can say they had input into the design. How many can come back with their own child in 20 years and say, ‘look, I did that’?” he says.

Kaumatua Eru Thompson and other Te Kawerau a Maki elders chose the name Te Pou Arahi, which translates as The Guide Post. “We wanted the name to be an accessible way of reminding us that our ancestors trod this path over a thousand years ago… and it’s also a marker of things to come. We wanted to remind te rangatahi (the youth) of their role as kaitiaki (guardian), that they are the future caregivers for the area,” says Eru.

The Future

Primary aged students at Sunderland have continued working with Project Twin Streams and Nga Kakano also continue their relationship with the project. Those involved hope that Te Pou Arahi will send a message to the public to care for the natural environment.

The once neglected Epping Reserve area is now increasingly used by local residents and has become a source of pride for these young people. “There were lots of trolleys and rubbish around the stump and we cleared it all away. It changed the way I felt about the area, because it changed from being trashed to a great place. I took my family down there a couple of weeks ago and told them about the river and the paintings I did and the creatures I drew,” says Sunderland student Jahziel.

As Awhina, a student at Nga Kakano says of the transformation: “This place is a happier place now.”


Adapted from Te Korero o Te Pou Arahi: The Story of ‘The Guide’ Identity Marker an article by Eve Tonkin.