Māori legends bring Wai Ariki Spa and Wellness to life


Highlighting the essence of Rotorua and its people, past and present, Wai Ariki Hot Springs and Spa has Te Arawa and Māori culture at its heart, with the 650-year history of Ngāti Whakaue and Rotorua’s historical spa legacy forming an intrinsic part of its name and brand.

Owned and developed by Pukeroa Oruawhata Group, the new luxury spa and wellness centre on the city’s lakefront is due to open in late 2019.

The name Wai Ariki means “chiefly waters”, and is a reminder of the origin of Rotorua’s thermal waters, which were called to Aotearoa by Ngatoroirangi. 

Pukeroa Oruawhata trustee and kaumatua, Monty Morrison says the cultural authenticity of the spa development has been a critical element, and local Ngāti Whakaue representatives have been heavily involved in the concept development.

“We want to respect and acknowledge our tupuna, and ensure the branding, concept and wider development tells the stories of Ngāti Whakaue.”

Charged with bringing this important cultural narrative of Ngatoroirangi to life was local brand artist Inia Maxwell, of Ngāti Whakaue and Ngāti Rangiwewehi descent.

Born and raised in Ohinemutu, Rotorua, Mr Maxwell is known for his work on the global Adidas campaign for the 1999 Rugby World Cup, where he had a direct involvement in the reinvigoration of the haka, Ka mate, ka mate.

The Wai Ariki brand speaks to the cultural narrative of Ngatoroirangi, the great ariki (chief) and tohunga (priest) of the Arawa waka.

Caught in a blizzard climbing Mount Tongariro, Ngatoroirangi called for help from his sisters, Te Pupu and Te Hoata, in Hawaiki to bring precious ahi (fire). It is said the places the subterranean goddesses of fire stopped on their journey, or where they dropped embers, are where the region’s hot pools and other volcanic and geothermal phenomena can be seen today. 

Mr Maxwell says he has always been an active supporter of marketing New Zealand and Māori culture to the world, and Wai Ariki is a concept like no other.

“Rotorua is home, so designing this tohu, or identity, for Wai Ariki to share with its visitors has been an absolute privilege and honour. 

“The brand has been designed to be strong and bold with a touch of elegancy.

“It was designed to settle into the building without distracting visitors from being welcomed
into this spectacular realm.”

Mr Maxwell says the name, Wai Ariki, speaks to the cultural narrative of Ngatoroirangi, whereas the symbol of the water drop represents the embryo of Ruāmoko, the unborn child of Papatuanuku (earth mother) and Rangi (sky father).

“The water drop’s sharp peak represents Mount Tongariro, symbolising the world of volcanic phenomena we live amongst.” 

Mr Morrison says other Ngāti Whakaue narratives and elements of Te Arawa and Māori culture will be infused throughout the development, both through the design of the building, as well as its unique spa and wellness offerings.


Alex Kondys