Blending engineering, art, technology and culture


21/03/2019 2:00:00 p.m.

21 March 2019

Kilwell’s Will London under the first two (out of 60) pieces of the sculpture to be mounted on the base plate.

The final stages in the construction of the Hemo Gorge Sculpture are underway with Kilwell in the process of joining the 12 metre long individual pieces together like a giant kitset, ready for installation. 

In December 2017 Rotorua’s Kilwell Fibretube stepped up to take over the project when the original fabricators were unable to create the shape of the design using stainless steel. A world first in terms of 3D printing, the project has faced a number of manufacturing challenges that has required some real innovation to come up with solutions.

Kilwell CEO Craig Wilson says his firm was keen to be involved as a way to showcase the work they do at the long-time Rotorua business. They also liked the idea of creating a major piece of art that will welcome visitors to the city from the south.

“It’s been a ground breaking project with Rotorua Lakes Council, Te Puia | New Zealand Māori Arts and Crafts Institute and the NZ Transport Agency where we have had to blend engineering, manufacturing and art together.”

Despite the significant challenges the project has presented, Mr Wilson says he and his staff are very proud of what they have produced and they hope the community will be too.

Click on the image above to watch Kilwell Rotorua CEO Craig Wilson talk about what the project means to the team at Kilwell.

“For the community and especially also our staff that live within it, it’s about showing what Rotorua is capable of.

“A lot of people come to visit us for a weekend and they enjoy our amazing forest and they see all the lovely tourist attractions to do and they go mountain biking, but there’s a lot more to here. …There’s some really good manufacturers here in Rotorua and we make some really cool stuff and it sells and it goes really well on the world stage.

“It’s nice now to be able to put that back into a local environment and so this sculpture is something that we and hopefully the whole community can be proud of and showcase to everybody that comes to visit here. It’s not only a great place to come and play, it’s a great place to work as well.”

Mr Wilson says as a world first in 3D printing  the project has included a stringent testing regime that was put in place by Gurit Composite Engineering.. The sculpture and its base plate have been built to withstand winds of more than 175kmh – that’s a grade 5 hurricane.

Challenges the Kilwell team faced were totally new to the world of 3D printing, including fabricating a structure that didn’t have the usual linear design that most of Kilwell’s projects follow. That meant they had to come up with new solutions. There was no manual to turn to.

Click on the image above to watch Kilwell Rotorua's CEO Craig Wilson talk about some of the challenges are that he and his team have had to overcome while creating the Hemo sculpture

Now that the structure is in its final stages of construction the team are putting plans in motion for its transport and installation on site at Hemo Gorge.

The sculpture will have a final height of 12 metres and a total weight of 3,300kg so the team are looking at the most efficient way to transport and install it. All going well it should be in place before the end of June.

At a recent Council meeting Kilwell were able to give an update to elected members about progress including higher than expected final costs for the fabricating and installation of the sculpture of $743,029. Council confirmed that it would continue the construction of the sculpture and increase its final contribution from $270,000 to $388,000 with project partners and Red Stag Timber, Rotorua Civic Arts Trust, Rotorua Trust, Infinity Foundation and Lion Foundation contributing the rest.

Designed by Te Puia | NZMACI, the sculpture is seen as a unique way to tell the stories of the region, including the origins of the geothermal features and the story of Te Arawa tohunga (high priest) Ngātoro-i-rangi, who was responsible for the safe passage of his people to Aotearoa. It provides another opportunity for NZMACI to fulfil its Government mandate, to perpetuate, preserve and promote Māori arts and crafts – but in a contemporary way, with the design derived from whakairo rākau (wood carving).

Click on the image above to watch Kilwell Rotorua's CEO Craig Wilson talk about how the team are feeling about moving into the final construction stages



  • November 2015:  Council calls for expressions of interest from artists

  • February 2016  - 13 expressions of interest are received   

  • Late Feb 2016 – A shortlist of 5 is selected by an external Public Art Selection Panel and those artists are invited to develop their concepts for the sculpture

  • Mid-April 2016 – Te Puia | New Zealand Māori Arts and Crafts Institute selected for its concept

  • May 2016 – Engineers brought in to provide advice and plan for the fabrication of the 10m tall sculpture

  • Late 2016 - Tender process for a preferred contractor to construct the sculpture started

  • January 2017 – Tender process closed and contractor selected

  • Late August 2017 – Council considers new options to speed up construction of sculpture

What is the Hemo Gorge roundabout project?

The SH5/SH30 Hemo Road intersection project involved the construction of a new roundabout to replace the SH5/SH30 intersection in Rotorua to increase safety for drivers, cyclists and pedestrians. The project was completed in 2018.

Key objectives of the project were to:

  • increase safety at this high-risk intersection (fourth highest on the national list of high-risk intersections for safety (2013).
  • enhance connectivity and integrate with the surrounding area and local roads 
  • provide cycle and pedestrian access across the state highway and integrate it with the national cycleway
  • create a gateway to Rotorua in partnership with Council and the local tourism businesses
  • provide enhanced stormwater treatment.

What are the benefits of a sculpture at Hemo Road?

Visual aspects along transport corridors are a type of traffic calming measure. Motorists that do not have a clear line of sight through a roundabout will slow down and take their time travelling through. Artwork, trees and signage are all types of traffic calming measures that help slow motorists.  

The NZ Transport Agency’s Urban Design Guidelines say public art can be successfully integrated in the design of highway corridors to deliver a number of benefits including:

  • creating a sense of arrival
  • bolstering a community’s identity and sense of pride
  • helping integrate infrastructure elements into the wider environment
  • integrating cultural heritage and values at the city’s gateway

This sculpture will also play a key role in Council’s aim to revitalise the city’s gateways.

For Te Puia | New Zealand Māori Arts and Crafts Institute, the sculpture provides another opportunity to perpetuate, preserve and promote Māori Art and Craft, as outlined in its Government mandate.

What does the sculpture represent?

The sculpture was inspired by the story of Te Arawa chief Ngātoroirangi, who was responsible for the safe passage of people to New Zealand. Designed by the New Zealand Maori Arts and Crafts Institute  (NZMACI) at Te Puia, the sculpture illustrates the origins of geothermal. While exploring south of Rotorua Ngātoroirangi almost perished from the cold atop Tongariro and called for his sisters Kuiwai and Haungaroa to send heat and warmth to save him. They travelled beneath sea and land in the form of fire, creating a geothermal corridor and valleys such as Whakarewarewa as they travelled and surfaced at various locations in search of him. NZMACI has a Government mandate to perpetuate, preserve and promote Māori arts and crafts, and the sculpture is another way it can fulfill this mandate.

Photos of manufacturing process

Above: 3D printers starting on the inner skeleton of the Hemo sculpture

Above: individual sections of the 3D printed skeleton ready to be put together

Above: the first couple of sections of the inner helix constructed

Above: gluing the 3D printed sections of the inner helix together

Above: sections of the inner helix waiting for layers of carbon fibre wrap


Page reviewed: 21 Mar 2019 2:00pm