The statue on Turuturu-Roimata rock in the mouth of the Whakatane River commemorates the bravery of Wairaka, the daughter of Toroa, captain of the Mataatua waka who first arrived in Whakatane 600 years ago with the Ngati Awa tribe from Hawaiiki,
As a woman in the tribe, Wairaka was forbidden by tapu to handle a canoe. The men pulled the waka to shore, eager to explore the new land and left the women and children to relax in the waka. They believed the women and children would be safe until their return, not realising how quickly the tide of the Whakatane River could change.
When the waka rapidly began drifting out to sea, Wairaka, realising the dire situation they were in, bravely stood at the bow and brought the waka back to shore crying “Kia Whakatane au i ahau” – I will act the part of a man.
The statue was commissioned and erected on Turuturu-Roimata rock in 1965 by Sir William (Big Bill) Sullivan, builder (Boon, Sullivan & Luke), mayor of Whakatane from 1925 – 1938 and member of parliament.
In the 1950s, before Wairaka’s statue was there, my Dad walked out to the rock at low tide. He sat and enjoyed the view for a little too long, the tide came in and he was trapped on the rock. His family, afraid that he had drowned called emergency services but once the tide went out again, Dad waded back to shore, safe and sound.