Many fine meeting houses throughout the Bay of Plenty attest to the vitality of its Māori society, past and present. Particularly noteworthy are those of Te Whai-a-te-Motu near Ruatāhuna, and Wairaka marae at Whakatāne. Māori churches such as those at Raukōkore and Tōrere have also played a major part in community life for many decades.
There are a large number of carved meeting houses around Tauranga, notably the refurbished Tamatea-pōkai-whenua at Hūria (Judea).
Having historically lacked the cultural infrastructure of cities such as Dunedin and Christchurch, the Bay of Plenty’s Pākehā cultural life is a tribute to the enthusiasm and dedication of a host of serious amateurs.
The Whakatāne and District Historical Society, established in 1952, has produced a journal since 1958 and helped establish a museum in 1972. A Tauranga Historical Society journal was published from the mid-1950s until the early 1980s.
The Elms, the original Te Papa mission station at Tauranga, survived thanks to the work of its owners, the Maxwell family, who eventually set up the Elms Trust.
The Tauranga Repertory Society was established in 1936, partly through the enthusiasm of some English residents. It acquired its own theatre in 1955 during the heyday of amateur drama in New Zealand, and more than survived the advent of television – at the time of its 60th jubilee in 1996 the society had over 200 productions to its credit.
The National Jazz Festival at Tauranga, founded in 1962, has been billed as the longest-running jazz festival in the southern hemisphere, and attracts musicians from throughout the country. The Tauranga Arts Festival, held for 10 days every two years since the late 1990s, is hugely popular. Whakatāne has established a Summer Arts Festival, which includes the Molly Morpeth Canaday Art Exhibition, product of a bequest from the estate of Whakatāne-born artist Molly Morpeth.
Plenty of ideas
The Bay of Plenty has inspired some prominent writers. Sylvia Ashton-Warner (1908–1984), author of the novels Spinster (1958) and Teacher (1963), taught in schools in the Bay from the 1930s to the 1960s. Barry Crump (1935–1996), who hunted deer, pigs and possums in the Urewera and the Kaimanawa ranges in the 1950s, used those experiences as the basis of his best-selling novel, A good keen man (1960).
Newspapers and radio
The region’s oldest newspaper, the Bay of Plenty Times, has been published continuously since 1872. Its principal beat is the western Bay. Rotorua newspapers reached Whakatāne from the late 1880s. The Whakatane Press was published under various titles from 1907 to 1939, and the present-day Whakatane Beacon began as the Bay of Plenty Beacon in 1939.
Private commercial radio stations have broadcast to the Bay for over 30 years. The first was Radio 1XX at Whakatāne, which went to air on 30 June 1971 and is still broadcasting.
Culture in Katikati
Katikati’s most noteworthy cultural artefacts are its open-air art – murals and a haiku trail.
The murals, in the main and adjacent streets, depict the town’s history. The project was started by local artists in 1991 when it was feared that a by-pass road would destroy the town. It was inspired by a similar project in the Canadian town of Chemainus, British Columbia, after its timber mill closed. Katikati’s by-pass did not proceed but the murals did, and by 2004, artists were among those advocating a by-pass, this time to save the town centre – and its murals.
The haiku trail, a pathway of boulders carved with poems, was a millennium project. Leading haiku poets from around the world gave permission for their poems to be used, and locals are also represented.