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Our lobby carving

On this page you can learn about the carvings and sculptures in our Wellington office lobby and what they symbolise.

The lobby of our Wellington office is a physical manifestation of the Tāne Mahuta narrative. We have adopted this narrative to help explain our role as the kaitiaki (guardians) of New Zealand’s financial system.

The Tāne Mahuta story

Our new lobby brings the story of Tāne Mahuta to life.

The Tāne Mahuta story is a tale of the earth mother (Papatūānuku) and the sky father (Ranginui) who needed to be separated to let the sun shine. With help from his family, Tāne Mahuta, the god of the forest, managed to do just that. By separating the earth and sky, it allowed for sunlight to shine and for life to flourish in Tāne's garden.

The Reserve Bank of New Zealand – Te Pūtea Matua is the kaitiaki (guardian) of New Zealand’s financial system, allowing the sun to shine on the economy. To fulfil the kaitiakitanga role effectively, we focus on the four elements of Tāne Mahuta:

  • Te pekenga, branches and leaves – our regulated entities, banks, insurers and non-bank deposit takers.
  • Te toto, the sap – our money, our foreign reserves.

  • Te tariwai, vascular – our payment and settlement systems.
  • Ngā pūtake, the roots – our legislation, our balance sheet and equity.

Tāne Mahuta – the tree sculpture

At the far end of the lobby, on the back wall past the lifts, is our representation of Tāne Mahuta, the great kauri tree.

White has been used behind Tāne Mahuta to represent the light that was created when Tāne separated Papatuanuku and Ranginui, and backlit green resin to represent te toto (the sap) of kauri. In the middle of the tree is the face of Tāne that acts as a guardian.

Foyer carving - back wall
Foyer carving back wall - detail

Ngā pūtake – floor tiles

The tiles on the lobby's floor symbolise manawa, the life line of Te Pūtea Matua. The pattern on the tiles represent ngā pūtake, the roots – the main artery supplying life to Tāne Mahuta.
Foyer floor tiles

Waka hourua – reception desk

The reception desk in our foyer has been designed to look like a waka hourua (double-hull canoe) that was used by the traditional navigators. Behind the desk are pari (sails), which represent bringing our vision to life by harnessing the winds of change.
Reception waka

Te Ngahere – the forest sculpture

The forest sculpture, Te Ngahere, on the wall opposite the reception desk, symbolises our history and future vision. 
Foyer carving canopy
The middle pou (pillar) of the forest is the convergence of the past (pou tawhito), present and future (pou hiringa).

The use of our coat of arms represents who we are as an institution and our history. It is embedded into the centre pou, which is made of modern composite material and represents the future.

The outer pou are made of two kauri pou named Pou-hiringa and Pou-tawhito. These represent the mighty kauri in the forest of Tāne.

At the top are branches and leaves made from resin. Backlighting is used to push a reflection onto the ceiling to mimic a canopy. The guardian birds in the canopy are Tiungarangi and Harongarangi, the great birds of Ruakapanga.
At the bottom of the sculpture under the arcs are different ūpoko (head) designs, which are based on the wheku (carved face) on the New Zealand 10-cent coin.
Upoko designs
For the fit out of the lobby, contemporary and traditional methods of construction and materials were used. These included swamp kauri, resin and felled kauri. Throughout the lobby you’ll see the use of kowhaiwhai – ferns and plant designs. This symbolises growth, nurturing, manawa (lifeline) and whānau (family).

Punatoto – the life force carving

The carving between the two sets of front doors of our Wellington building is named ‘Punatoto: The Life Force’. Punatoto was an ancestor of Te Atiawa who lived in Whanganui-A-Tara, the Māori name for Wellington Harbour.

Second unveiling ceremony, October 2006

We commissioned Pita Rua Lagan, a tuhoe carver from Matahi in the Urewera, to carve Punatoto as part of New Zealand’s commemoration of 150 years since the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi.

Second unveiling ceremony, October 2006

What the panels represent

Punatoto comprises three panels: a koruru (centre panel) and two maihi (side panels). The panels represent the interrelated, balanced forces of nature moving towards a focal point of security and comfort. Kauri for the koruru came from a swamp on the Wairau Plains, while kauri for the two maihi came from Tongariro National Park.

Initial sketch (Pita Rua Lagan)
The central figure is Maui, a mythological hero who, according to Māori legend, fished up the North Island. 
Initial sketch (Pita Rua Lagan)

Wellington is recognised by Māori as the ‘head of the fish of Maui’. The figure of Maui also represents Papatuanuku, the mother of Tāne, who in Māori cosmology provided totara wood for carving from the forest of Te Wao Nui A Tāne.

The area above the carving represents Rangi, the sky father. The stylised figures on the top of the panels depict parirau, the wings of a bird providing ruruhau, or shelter, from Tawhirimatea, the god of the winds.

Punatoto, detail. Photo credit: Stephen A’Court

The stylised pattern immediately below is Moananui A Iwi, a sea of people converging from both sides to the central ancestor, who will provide shelter, comfort and advice. The symmetrical circular pattern represents the ceaselessness of the waves of Tangaroa, the god of the sea.

Punatoto, detail. Photo credit: Stephen A’Court
Pita Rua Lagan working on the carving (photographer unknown)
Pita Rua Lagan working on the carving (photographer unknown)
The carving in place, 2006. Photo credit: Stephen A’Court
The sea monster, or taniwha, depicted on each panel is the life below Tangaroa and identifies with local legends, such as that of the taniwha called Hataitai, which lived in the waters of Cook Strait, or Raukawa. The end of the taniwha represents nga tai e wha, the sea tides. The extreme ends represent toroa, the albatross, or bird life above the sea. In-depth indentations signify moving from te ao tawhito, the age of stone, into te ao marama, the age of enlightenment.
The carving in place, 2006. Photo credit: Stephen A’Court