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Te Waka Huia

Te Waka Huia

February 1963. The Queen was visiting for Waitangi Day celebrations. Keen to support a local kaumātua who was to receive a special honour from Her Royal Highness, a bus load of Helensville locals went north to join the festivities at Waitangi. On the journey home, the bus lost its brakes and despite the driver’s best efforts the bus went careening over a 30 metre ravine.

15 people were killed, many of them from the small town on the banks of the Kaipara Harbour. To this day it remains New Zealand’s worst road accident.

Te Waka Huia is a play inspired by the Brynderwyn Bus crash. It is a fictional story that centres on a couple of Kaipara College students and their relationship with an old Maori man who lives on a derelict bus. It touches on issues of belonging and the meaning of home.

The play had its first public performances last month at Te Pou - Auckland's Māori Home of Theatre in New Lynn to packed audiences.

A number of survivors of the accident were in the audience for the opening night performance.

Playwright Naomi Bartley says from the moment she first embarked on this project over five years ago, she has felt as sense of duty to do justice to those survivors’ stories and to treat the tragedy with the respect and sensitivity it deserves.

“I was thrilled when one of the wh ā nau members connected with the tragedy told us that seeing the play was the first time he was able to think about the crash without being burdened by the sadness of it all,” says Naomi. “Instead, he remembered the good times of being on the bus with his friends and singing and laughing and I’m immensely grateful that our work has gone some small way to heal his grief.

The play is about to continue its tour with performances on Friday 8 and Saturday 9 September at Māngere Arts Centre - Ngā Tohu o Uenuku.

The play’s director Chris Molloy is particularly excited about bringing the play to the Māngere Arts Centre, having worked there for three years as a theatre coordinator when the centre first opened. He also taught Maori and Pacific Theatre at Manukau Institute of Technology for a number of years.

He encourages people to head along saying “the quality and calibre of this show is really something and it’s not often such a professional theatre company puts on a production in South Auckland at such an affordable price.”

After the Māngere shows Te Waka Huia goes on a tour of Northland, loosely following the route of the original bus crash from Waitangi to Helensville.

Naomi Bartley says through the tour they hope to gather collective memories of the accident, “for instance, from the first responders from Maungaturoto and the hospital staff from Whangarei.”

But the performances she’s most looking forward to are the two final shows on 29 and 30 September at Kaipara College in Helensville.

“This project started nearly five years ago after I had the opportunity to talk to two local survivors from the crash, Louis and Pirangi Nathan,” she says. “I have always wanted this play to honour their story and perhaps provide a healing space for other local whānau who have lived with the loss all their lives.”


Director: Chris Molloy

Playwright: Naomi Bartley

Dramaturge: Murray Edmond

Cast: Chye-Ling Huang, Junior Misomoa, Isaac Te Reina & Retts Van Dam.


Māngere Arts Centre, Ngā Tohu o Uenuku, Māngere

September 7-9, 8pm

Tickets $15, Concession $10. Book at

Otamatea Repertory Theatre, Maungaturoto

September 15, 8pm

Tickets $20, Concession $15. Book at
Rawene Hall, Hokianga

September 16, 8pm

Tickets $20, Concession $15. Book at

Turner Centre, Kerikeri

September 17, 8pm

Tickets $20, Concession $15. Book at

ONEONESIX, Whangarei

September 22-23, 8pm

Tickets $20, Concession $15. Book at

Kaipara College, Helensville

September 29-30, 8pm

Tickets $20, Concession $15. Book at


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