Revealed: The man and the story behind Air New Zealand's famous Koru

It's a symbol that is synonymous with not just travel, but New Zealand as a country.

Air New Zealand's Koru has adorned its aircraft since the 1970s and a new video released by the airline today has revealed exactly where the design came from.

In 1972, Ken Chapman was the lead designer on the team tasked with finding an iconic symbol that would be used by our national airline for many decades ahead.

"I discovered it on one of the pages of a book of Māori decoration and culture, a very good photograph of a gourd it was, well it was a revelation," Chapman said.

"I might come across an idea which would spark off the beginning of a journey," he said.

At the time, the travel industry was going through massive changes as the jet age dawned.

Andrew Baker, Air NZ's cultural development manager called the choice of the Koru "inspired."

"Air NZ needed a symbol that truly represented a unique destination," he said.

"The future would be international air travel and the symbol needed was something that could be recognised by the average New Zealander as their symbol."

Those who have worked alongside the Koru say it hasn't changed much, but the haircuts and clothes it's surrounded by certainly have.

The Koru has only ever been changed once, and that was in 1996.

Garrick Sutherland is a senior designer for Air NZ and says the Koru is the basis for everything they do.

"The simplicity, its boldness, its elegance, has meant we have been able to use it as the starting point for everything we've been doing here at Air NZ," Sutherland said.

The video talks about how symbols have been used by indigenous people to tell stories for thousands of years.

The Koru is said to signify "a beginning."

"It signifies a new life and new beginnings, because as it unfurls, it's like how a baby comes out of the womb." says Arekatera Maihi, a master carver. 

"There's many little Koru on my face which talk about my personal journey."

"When I see Koru anywhere in the world, whether it's on some person's shirt, I look at them and I think yeah, you know I'm a Māori and I really like your shirt." he said.

"Everyone that's come to New Zealand, like my ancestors who came on a double hull waka a Waka Hourua. Some came on the big ships, and some came on the big steel bird, the big plane."

"So you know we are all connected through, I believe that Koru."

The video was released to mark the 80th birthday of Air NZ.  Despite the big milestone, celebrations have been muted due to the current COVID-19 situation.