Transpower Unveils Tohu Whenua in the Ida Valley

  • Wednesday Dec 6 2023

Earlier this week, Transpower, in collaboration with local mana whenua, proudly unveiled a significant cultural landmark in the heart of the Ida Valley very close to the Otago Central Rail Trail.

The Tohu Whenua unveiled in the Ida Valley is located close to Transpower lines near the trail in Ōturēhua.

Transpower in partnership with mana whenua from Kāti Huirapa Rūnaka ki Puketeraki and Te Rūnanga o Ōtākou held an unveiling of a Tohu whenua (a land symbol) in the Ida Valley as part of its commitment to local mana whenua.  This follows on from its Clutha Upper Waitaki Lines Project that it finished last year (where they replaced the conductor on the overhead line through this region).

Artist - Ephraim Russell, a valued hapū member at Te Rūnakao Ōtākou looks at is work installed in the Ida Valley near the Otago Central Rail Trail and Ōturēhua.

Roy Noble, Transpower's Project Director in charge of the project said,  "It is important that not only is the work understood and supported by local communities like that in the Maniatoto, but also and in particular by mana whenua who often have stories to tell of the land, that are otherwise unknown without opportunities like this.  We were delighted to work with Kāti Huirapa Rūnaka ki Puketeraki and Te Rūnanga o Ōtākou in this region on something to appropriately reflect their cultural connection here."

Mayor Tim Cadogan arrives on site & is welcomed by Komene Cassidy of the Ōtakōu whānau.

Doug McNeil of Transpower welcomes the guests to the Tohu Whenua unveiling in the Ida Valley near the Otago Central Rail Trail.

Edward Ellison, Te Rūnanga o Ōtākou Upoko (head) delivers the mihi whakatau from mana whenua

The unveiling ceremony was a collaborative effort with Kāti Huirapa Rūnaka ki Puketeraki and Te Rūnanga o Ōtākou in the region.

Suzanne Ellison - Kati Huirapa ki Puketeraki (R) & Paulette Tamati-Elliffe Ōtākou (L), during the karakia

Komene Cassidy blesses the Tohu Whenua during the ceremony.

Raewyn Moss, Transpower General Manager of External Affairs.

Ken Gillesipe, Otago Central Rail Trail Trustee.

Ken Gillespie, representing the Otago Central Rail Trail Trust, is also a local farmer whose land adjoins the site.  He thanked Transpower for their support of the Trust and recalled when the powerlines had been installed when he was a young boy.

Doug McNeil of Transpower speaking to the guests during the unveiling.

The project, in development since 2021, came to fruition with an awe-inspiring artwork that invites all to enjoy and appreciate the cultural narrative it represents. 

Aroha Novak, lead design from Aukaha thanks the artist  Ephraim Russell.

Aroha Novak - Aukaha, representing mana whenua, shared insights into the cultural narrative and design work behind the Tohu Whenua. She worked closely with the artist Ephraim Russell, of Ōtākou, and acknowledged his work on the project.


Te Ara o Kōpūwai - The Pathway of Kōpūwai

Kaiamio, a wāhine who features in the Kōpūwai pakiwaitara or story from the earliest people of this land, the Rapuwai people.

The artwork tells the story of Kōpūwai, the kaitiaki or spiritual guardian, who traversed the Manuherekia catchment, down the Mata-au (Clutha River), and the surrounding hills of Central Otago and the Maniatoto. Kōpūwai is central to the artwork, accompanied by a loyal pack of two-headed dogs, with kōwhaiwhai patterns adorning the background, symbolizing the warm Northwest winds. The central vertical design represents the flow of the Mata-Au (Clutha River).

Artist - Ephraim Russell a valued hapū member at TeRūnaki o Ōtākou looks at is work installed in the Ida Valley near the Otago Central Rail Trail and Ōturēhua.

Ephraim Russell, a valued hapū member at Te Rūnaka o Ōtākou, designed the pou, underscoring the significance of involving local artists and community members in such projects.

The pūrākau provided by mana whenua, who gave mātauraka & guidance to the project.

Neville Cole, Transpower Project Manager fixes the plaque in place following the official ceremony.

Some of the guests who attended the unveiling of the Tohu Whenua. 

(L-R) Peter Mulvihill, Otago Central Rail Trail Trust, Aroha Novak, Design Lead at Aukaha, Ken Gillespie Otago Central Rail Trust, Roy Noble & Raewyn Moss Transpower, Edward Ellison Ōtākou, Ephraim Russell Ōtākou artist, Mauraka Edwards, Kati Huirapa ki Puketeraki, Paulette Tamati-Elliffe, Ōtākou, Suzanne Ellison, Kati Huirapa ki Puketeraki. Unveiling of a Tohu Whenua by Transpower and mana whenua in the Ida Valley.
Following the ceremony guests went to Hayes Engineering & Homestead for refreshments.


Thank you Transpower including the Otago Central Rail Trail Trust in the wonderful celebration that acknowledges mana whenua.


For more about the legend of Kopuwai read the Department of Conservation story

 or refer to the coverage in the Otago Daily Times.

 Images by Clare Toia-Bailey / image central