Ngake and Whātaitai

 Posted by on July 26, 2022
Jul 262022

In local legend, Ngake and Whātaitai were the two taniwha that created Wellington harbour, and my piece for viola and piano is my musical image of their story.

When they were young, they frolicked in a huge lake, but as they grew older and too big for the lake, a harbour was formed when they violently forced their way through the rocks out into the sea. Their yearning for the sea is a huge part of the drama in the narrative, and I’ve reflected that in the music.

Even though this work isn’t really a literal depiction of the story, the way the viola and piano lines intertwine suggests the two taniwha twisting and turning, at first harmlessly playing but ultimately causing devastation.

There is also a personal connection for me – the legend culminates with the remains of the taniwha still being iconic parts of the area – Te Aroaro o Kupe (Steeple Rock) and Te Tangihanga o Kupe (Barrett Reef), the latter being the treacherous rock formation at the mouth of the harbour where in 1968, in a catastrophic storm, the inter-island ferry ‘Wahine’ struck and sank. I was two months old at the time, and apparently slept through the whole thing – even as parts of the roof blew off!

I’ve enjoyed writing for Sarah Watkins many times, and it’s been exciting writing for Rob Ashworth for the first time. We would like to thank Toi Aotearoa, Creative NZ for the funding of the work.

Ngake and Whataitai Sarah Rob Gareth Farr NZ composer