Toku Toru Tapu was built in 1913 and is arguably the most historically significant Māori church in New Zealand.

The church is associated with the earliest mission station in Poverty Bay and the first chapel was built on the mission site near Manutuke in January 1840 out of raupo and timber slabs. It was destroyed by a gale in November 1842 – its replacement (1849-1863) was very large for the time and highly decorated with Māori art. The third Toku Toru Tapu (1888-1910) was built on the site of the current church and incorporated many carvings from the previous church. The current Toku Toru Tapu was built in 1913 after the former church burnt down in 1910.

The church had been poorly maintained since the 1960s, and the restoration project was challenged by the 2010 Christchurch earthquakes and subsequent review of engineering reports, which highlighted significant concerns. Innovation saved the day with consultants Spencer Holmes devising innovative earthquake strengthening solutions using Gisborne-made fibreglass reinforcing bars donated by Pultron Composites.

For more than 15 years, the architect has made a contribution that goes well beyond a typical design engagement. Heritage preservation, the drafting of funding submissions and physical contributions to the internal preservation work were all part of a role that has resulted in an enhanced building preserved for future generations.

… this discreet structural upgrade retains the integrity of the original building. Carbon-fibre, inserted behind exceptional whakairo (carved wooden panels) helps bring the church up to code.

NZIA Gisborne Hawkes Bay Architecture Award (2016)

Many original features of the building were carefully reinstated. The decromastic-tiled roof was replaced with imported diamond-shaped, pressed metal tiles more like the asbestos originals, the bell-tower was reinstated after many decades of absence, and the windows were restored. The interior and exterior were re-painted with colours that were determined to be the original palette by scraping back the existing paint. The floor was stripped and hand-waxed, and a team of carvers restored the many carvings to their original glory, including replacing paua eyes. New lights and a sprinkler system were installed.

The restoration of the Church incorporated the histories of Rongowhakaata hapu, the Turanga School of Carving and beginnings of the Church of England in Turanga. The church now sits proudly reflecting its heritage, and its important place in our past and our future.