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NZ's largest public sculpture may be complete by 2025 — but $12m is needed to build it

Plans to fundraise $12 million for what will be New Zealand’s largest public sculpture are afoot, as new artist renderings and a detailed fly-through reveal the scale of the sweeping whale fixture.

Whale Song has been designed for the region north of Wellington by Ōtaki cinematographer-turned-artist Mike Fuller. Plans for its creation have been brewing since more than a decade ago, when it was first touted for Paekākāriki’s Queen Elizabeth Park.

Since then, the project has expanded with support from local iwi and the district council, to be part of a wider redevelopment of the area around Wharemaku Stream in Paraparaumu. A community park with a wharenui (meeting house), a forest nursery, and children’s playground will all feature in the redeveloped area.

But the site’s centrepiece will be Whale Song, taking up a 400 square metreone acre site and comprising a pod of seven life-sized sculptures of humpback whales cast in bronze. They will range from eight to 24 metres in length and be supported on structural poles – a nod to the Kāpiti region’s history with whaling, and the species’ importance in te ao Māori.

Whale Song will be New Zealand’s largest public sculpture.

There are hopes Whale Song will attract up to half a million visitors to Kāpiti each year, boosting the coastal region’s profile as international tourism resumes to pre-pandemic levels and as several key transport routes including Transmission Gully and Manawatū Gorge facilitate through-fare for motorists touring the lower North Island.

“The seven bronze whales of Kāpiti and their messages will endure for hundreds if not thousands of years, providing a long-term legacy for future generations,” said Marco Zeeman, chairperson of the Whale Song Trust that’s spearheading the project.

On Tuesday night at the Roxy Cinema in Wellington’s Miramar, detailed designs of the whales were released for the first time as the trust makes a push to get funding for the sculpture’s creation and installation over the next three years.

The aim is to have the entire work funded through private donations.

The sculpture comprises seven life-size humpback whales cast in bronze.

Zeeman said Whale Song would transform Kāpiti in the way that The Angel of the North did for the United Kingdom’s Gateshead, and The Kelpies did for the area between Falkirk and Grangemouth in Scotland.

Historically, the stretch of sea between Raumati Beach and Kāpiti Island was abundant with whales, with their song resonating as far as the hills of Paraparaumu, Takiri Cotterill, a trustee of the Palmerston North Māori Reserve Trust, was quoted as saying in a new prospectus detailing the sculpture.

But after five whaling stations were set up on Kāpiti Island during a worldwide boom in the trade in the mid-1830s, the population was decimated for oil. Those exports represented some of the country’s earliest international commercial interactions.

Zeeman said that Whale Song would also send a big environmental message. “What we do on land is affecting our oceans ... If we damage it more, we put our own lives in jeopardy,” he said, adding the whales would stand watch over the waterways.

The sculpture was designed by artist Mike Fuller.

Whales are the biggest animals to exist on the planet, and humpback whales are often referred to as a singing species, with scientists recently discovering they have their own long-range, high-speed songs that can spread from one population to another across the Pacific.

Bronze was selected for the sculpture for its longevity and easy maintenance. Overseen by the artist and Sir Richard Taylor, the sculptures would be made in a foundry in southern China before arriving in New Zealand at the end of next year. By December 2025, it’s hoped installation would be complete.

Some $700,000 had been raised already. “The idea is that it’s a gathering point. And to leave a legacy,” Zeeman said. “It’s an opportunity to be a part of this amazing, inspirational, gigantic outcome.”

The whales will be in Paraparaumu.

André Chumko | May 10, 2023 | The Post


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