Image: Michel Tuffery early stage concept drawing, 2015

Te Reo Hotunui o Te Moana-nui-a-Kiwa

Te Reo Hotunui o Te Moana-nui-a-Kiwa, the Pacific Islands Memorial represents New Zealand’s enduring friendship with the Pacific Islands and the service of Pacific Islanders who fought for New Zealand in the two World Wars and later conflicts. The design depicts a bronze conch shell, a symbol deeply rooted in Pacific cultures, which features a patina finish with remembrance poppies.

The design by artist Michel Tuffery MNZM and Herriot, Melhuish and O’Neil Architects was selected by an expert judging panel following a national design competition. Named Te Reo Hotunui o Te Moana-nui-a-Kiwa – The Deep Sigh of the Pacific, it recalls the conch shell left in the Arras Tunnels by Kuki Airani (Cook Island) soldiers of The New Zealand tunnelling Company and the New Zealand (Māori) Pioneer Battalion, who were stationed beneath the town of Arras during 1916 to 1918.

Height overall 3.6m
Height of Shell opening 1.5m
Weight 5000kg (approx)

Drawings, Engineer Drawings, Marquette, 3D Digital, CNC, Casting, Polishing, Patina

Image: Tuffs blowing a conch in Arras tunnels in France.

A Taonga Connecting Communities

The memorial sculpture takes the form of a conch shell or Triton Trumpet (Charonia Tritonis), a symbol that is deeply rooted in Pacific cultures. The status of the conch shell is well known for its formality within traditional ceremonial occasions, appearing on many national currencies, is extensively referenced within literature and rendered as tourist trade objects. As a motif the conch shell holds widespread familiarity, and will resonate with young and old, to different audiences at different levels.

Tuffery has also been drawn to this form for its special Pacific connection to La Carrière Wellington, Arras, France. During WWI, an iconic conch shell was left behind in the tunnel system by one of the three Kuki Airani soldiers enlisted with The New Zealand Tunnelling Company and the New Zealand (Māori) Pioneer Battalion. Stationed beneath the town of Arras between November 1916 to July 1918, their mission was to extend a network of existing tunnels in preparation for an Allied offensive against the Germans on the Western Front, these tunnels housed over 20,000 soldiers.

The Arras tunnels were rediscovered in 1990, and with few physical traces left behind by the New Zealand forces on the Western Front, a conch shell was found beneath ‘tags’ carved into the chalk wall by Cook Islanders, Solomona Isaac 16/1033 and Angene Angene 16/1205, along with the Lord’s Prayer in Ma’ohi Tahitian. This stirring story, with all that it represents, inspired Tuffery to further explore this history leading to him joining with dignitaries and descendants in Arras in April 2017, for a moving commemoration of their whanau.

The literal connection to Wellington’s Arras Tunnel, running beneath Pukeahu, draws a significant and direct connection to WWI and embraces all subsequent campaigns.

Image: Tuffs visiting the Arras tunnels in France.

Image: Te Reo Hotunui o Te Moana-nui-a-Kiwa, marquette. Presented to the Ministry of Culture and Heritage at an official presentation in 2018.

Development and Design

Internationally acclaimed Pacific artist Michel Tuffery joined forces with an award-winning architectural practice Herriot, Melhuish and O’Neil Architects for the Pacific Island Memorial at Pukeahu National War Memorial Park, Wellington, home to both artist and architects.

Extensive research spanning more than ten years has led Tuffery to this memorial sculpture concept. The introduction of Te Reo Hotunui o Te Moana-nui-a-Kiwa is part of Tuffery’s ongoing project to bring awareness to the significant contribution of Pacific Island nations have made to both WWI, WWII and more recent theatres of war.

His previous major projects include the 2015 architectural projection mapping the story of New Zealand’s involvement in conflict for 100th anniversary of the ANZAC relationship in Pukeahu War Memorial Park, Wellington, and the Cook Islands RSA Memorial; The Gateway and Stone Carvings for the 500 Kuki Airani (Cook Island) Soldiers WW1.

The design from Te Reo Hotunui o Te Moana-nui-a-Kiwa draws from collated records, documentation and stories of Pacific service people. From their respective islands of origin throughout Micronesia, Melanesia and Polynesia, they willingly served in campaigns across many continents often as part of New Zealand’s forces. Tuffery also acknowledges that some of those who served included Europeans who were living in the Pacific during those times of conflict. This memorial sculpture is intended to embrace and recognise all who contributed.

In 2018, Michel Tuffery and Herriot, Melhuish and O’Neil Architects delivered an expression of interest to the Manatū Taonga Ministry for Culture and Heritage. Once provided with approval for this special project, Tuffs presented the Ministry of Culture and Heritage with a marquette of the piece. Constructed from bronze, the toned patina finish imitates military materials of artillery and insignia, while also portraying a connection between a traditional conch shell and the modern bugle, both used to communicate a call to order.

In March 2021, this final stage of the project opened to the public at the Pukeahu War Memorial Park, Wellington, in the form of a 3.6m tall sculpture.

Image: Courtesy of Ministry for Culture and Heritage, and Mark Tantrum Photography with Herriot Melhuish O’Neill Architects


The installation process began in October 2018 with ceremony held at Pukeahu War Memorial Park, Wellington.
It included elements from the 16 Pacific nations that are recognised in the sculpture.

Image: Architectural rendering of Te Reo Hotunui o Te Moana-nui-a-Kiwa by Stantiall Studio

Pacific Islands Memorial dedication event –
Te Reo Hotunui o Te Moana-nui-a-Kiwa Official Unveiling

The ceremony hosted on 27th March 2021 includes a welcome from local iwi, speeches from the Diplomatic Corp and artist of the Memorial design Michel Tuffery, performances and an address by NZ Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.
The Memorial will recognise the bond between New Zealanders and Pacific peoples which existed before and during the first and second world wars. It is a bond that has brought us together in service and in subsequent conflicts.

Related Articles: