7 Jan 2016

Finally putting the waka in Owaka

9:47 am on 7 January 2016

The Catlins town of Owaka is finally getting its waka, after 150 years.

Owaka's waka.

Owaka's new waka is 11m long and 7m to the top of the sail. Photo: Supplied

A large steel sculpture of a traditional Maori canoe on the main street will be unveiled later this morning at the start of the town's sesqui-centennial celebrations.

Owaka means the place of the canoe and Owaka Going Forward committee chairwoman Aileen Clarke said it will be good for the town to embrace its Maori name.

"If there's one thing visitors ask about Owaka, it is 'where is your waka'?" Mrs Clarke said.

The town is putting that one to rest in a big way.

Its new waka is 11m long and 7m to the top of the sail, and sits prominently on the main street's grassy domain.

It is shiny and made of stainless steel and should last the distance, as it has a life expectancy of 1200 years.

It was designed by Invercargill sculptor Russell Beck, whose work includes the chain links that sit at Bluff and on Stewart Island, symbolically linking them across Foveaux Strait.

Aileen Clarke said the waka was not a replica, more of a statement.

It will be fully lit at night with multi-coloured lights, and grass underneath and it will sway in the wind like waves on the ocean, a sight Mrs Clarke hopes will draw visitors to stay overnight.

The waka will be officially opened at 11am today.

But that will just be the start of what has become a four-day celebration of the town's 150th anniversary.

Owaka celebrates 150 years

Photo: Supplied

The programme includes a shipwreck ball, film evenings, a fete day and a grand parade, and jazz music throughout.

The talk of the town has been a beard-growing competition, which 25 men have entered, much to the chagrin of many of their partners.

There are deliberately many similarities to the town's Centenary Celebrations in the summer of 1965.

John Burgess, 77, remembers that one well.

He said there was everything that day: a rodeo, wild buck jumping, steer riding and wood chopping.

Many of these events are being run again.

Mr Burgess said the town's streets were "chocker" and he was sure they would be again this weekend.

He said he grew a beard in 1965 but was a bit embarrassed by it.

"It wasn't much of a beard. It grew in patches. It's a bit better this time."

Clutha district councillor Hilary McNab said the 150th celebrations were huge for the town.

"It's really pulled the community together, it's great.", she said.

"It's like a wedding, everyone cleans up the whole town, the locals are really getting behind it."