Pou whenua sculpture, Ōrongomai, overlooking Lyttelton Harbour cut down with grinder in brazen theft

Ōrongomai pou whenua at the John Jameson Lookout in Lyttelton.
Ōrongomai pou whenua at the John Jameson Lookout in Lyttelton. Photo credit: Supplied

A sculpture overlooking the Lyttelton Harbour, near Christchurch, is believed to have been cut down with a grinder and stolen off its 2.5-metre high plinth.

Ōrongomai, by Ngāti Wheke carver Caine Tauwhare, has been stolen from the John Jameson Lookout on Summit Rd in the Christchurch Port Hills.

It's believed the sculpture was taken over Easter Weekend, then reported stolen on Tuesday.

Tauwhare said he was saddened by the brazen act.

"I don't know who did this or why, but it makes me sad. I just want them to bring it back," he said.

Stealing the piece would have been an effort.

"They would have needed to cut it out with a grinder… It would have taken three or four people to get it off and carry it," Tauwhare added.

The carving, weighing about 60 kilograms, was 1.5m tall and stood on a 2.5m high plinth. 

It was fixed with bolts, which were welded in place.

Ngāti Wheke carver Caine Tauwhare with Ōrongomai pou whenua.
Ngāti Wheke carver Caine Tauwhare with Ōrongomai pou whenua. Photo credit: Supplied

Tauwhare said the pou whenua sculpture, carved from totara, was an integral focus of the design of the John Jameson Lookout because it represented the partnership between the Summit Road Society and Te Hapū o Ngāti Wheke.

"We tautoko the Summit Road Society for their loss," he said.

The lookout - named after Summit Road Society founder John Jameson - comes after years of planning and consultation.

Construction began in May 2022 then the lookout was finished in 2023 - in time to mark the Summit Road Society's 75th anniversary.

The carving is shaped like a taringa (ear) and evokes the nearby peak, Ōrongomai, which means 'the place where voices are heard'.

Jameson's daughter, Paula Jameson - who is now the society's acting president - said she was devastated by the theft.

"We put years into creating the lookout in memory of my father, and the pou whenua is integral to it," she said.

"We've had so much positive feedback from the community about it since it was installed and to lose it now is devastating."

Police said the theft was reported via 105 Online Report on Tuesday April 2, noting the crime happened beween March 28 and April 2.

"Unfortunately, after an initial assessment, police currently do not have sufficient information to establish lines of enquiry," a police spokesperson told Newshub.

"However, police encourage the public to come forward with any information that may assist with the recovery of this sculpture."

Anyone with information is asked to contact police via 105, quoting file number 240402/2072 or anonymously to Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.