Garden of Tutunui

Garden of Tutunui

As you drive through Patea, you will catch sight of a large sculpture of a whale skeleton.  This work was created by artist Kim Jarrett and is called the Garden of Tutunui.  Commissioned by the Taranaki Arts Festival Trust for its annual celebrations in 2006, the sculpture was later gifted to the South Taranaki District Council. The TSB Community Trust funded the original manufacture and installation of Tutunui in New Plymouth, and also funded the transfer to and installation of the sculpture in Patea.

The Artist

Landscape designer Kim Jarrett created the sculpture for the Taranaki Arts Festival Trust in 2006 for installation in the Taranaki Rhododendron and Garden Festival. Kim is best known for his part in designing the award-winning The 100% Pure New Zealand Ora garden at the Chelsea Flower Show in 2004.


The Story

The story of Tutunui the whale comes from the Pacific islands and also links to Patea traditions. The whale Tutunui is the pet of the great chief Tinirau. When a son is born to Tinirau, the tohunga (priest) Kae is called upon to perform the birth ceremonies and is fed a morsel of flesh from the whale. Tinirau allows Tutunui to take Kae home over the sea.  Remembering the succulent taste of the whale, Kae manipulates the death of Tutunui, and cooks his flesh in an oven, wrapped in koromiko leaves, which hold in the fat and flavour. Kae is found out by Tinirau and put to death.

Tena te kakara o Tutunui - There rises the savoury smell of Tutunui

This whakatauaki (proverb) is handed down as a moral lesson that means we should not covet someone else’s goods or enjoy another person’s property.

How was the sculpture made?

The sculpture is about 23 metres long, 7 metres wide and 6 metres high.  It is made of foam covered with fibreglass and bolted onto a specially designed steel frame. Up-lit at night, it creates a subtle eerie effect. Extensive planting of local and Pacific shrubs link to the origins of the story.  Visitors are invited to stop and look and rest in the paradise that belongs to Tutunui.

A Community Project

Bringing the sculpture to Patea was an initiative led by Ngati Ruanui and Ngaa Rauru Iwi and later endorsed by the community of Patea and supported by Patea Community Board.  A range of consultation processes confirmed the desire of the people of Patea for Tutunui to come to their town. All individuals and community groups worked in successful partnership with the Council.