The Outdoor Art Trail at Waimangu provided the perfect opportunity to reconnect with Rotorua for Judge’s Choice winner Christine Hobbs.
Christine grew up in Rotorua, and her family have a deep connection to the geothermal areas of Rotorua, particularly Waimangu Volcanic Valley and Hell’s Gate until she left the city in 2001.
She started painting a few years ago, more as a hobby with a few weekend classes.
Once she turned 60, she decided that it was time to take her art seriously and drill down deeper into it, so she enrolled in Browne School of Art in Auckland in 2020.
Around the same time, Christine’s daughters, who follow Waimangu Volcanic Valley on Facebook, saw the call for artists to enter submissions for the Outdoor Art Trail.
It was perfect timing for Christine, who was just starting a year of focussing her painting through the course at Browne.
“When it came to tapping into my passions, as fourth generation Rotorua, it just had to be volcanic landscapes,” said Christine.
“It gave me the opportunity to re-establish a connection I’ve had from birth with Rotorua, Tarawera and Rotomahana.”
She visited the summit of Mount Tarawera on a guided hiking trip to take photos for the piece and learnt more about the local iwi and their spiritual connection to the mountain, and the tapu over Wahanga, the far dome.
“I wanted to challenge my understanding of the area and the early stories, not just accept my European and colonial view as I have done in the past” she said.
“For Tūhourangi and Rangatihi, the eruption created a disconnection and huge loss, their people, their villages and homes, livelihoods, and a loss of connection to their spiritual land as they were forced to relocate away from the area.”
Her winning piece, painted in acrylic and oils on recycled canvas, shows Red Crater on Tarawera after the 1886 eruption that created the rift line of craters through Rotomahana, Rotomakariri and Waimangu Valley. Strong gestural lines build crooked walls of rhyolite with red scoria in swathes. Green symbolises the new life to come.
Visiting the Outdoor Art Trail was the first time Christine had been back to Waimangu since 2001, an emotional reunion.
“I loved the whole concept, it was fantastic to see the diversity of pieces, graphic design, photography and some more abstract art” she said.
When she first saw her piece installed at Waimangu Volcanic Valley, her initial reaction was that it looked small. She then realised that it was in such a big environment and was actually bigger than she initially thought.
“It was fantastic to see it that size and the ground staff placed them so beautifully in relevant places.”
Visitors to Waimangu Volcanic Valley voted for their favourite piece and the People’s Choice was awarded to photographer Kurien (Koshy) Yohannan, for his piece "Tomtit".
Yohannan said people wouldn't normally associate birdlife with a geothermal area like Waimangu, but there was a surprisingly diverse range of birds that call Waimangu home, thanks to the conservation efforts undertaken by its kaitiaki.
"Some of the species found there are extremely rare, like the Australasian bittern and royal spoonbill, and I hope my photography will inspire visitors to look out for and enjoy the birdlife as they wander through the geothermal valley."
With work published in New Zealand Geographic and The Hunters – a book documenting New Zealand's bird of prey - Yohannan said he felt humbled and honoured to have his work showcased in such an authenticated way, with many frequenting Waimangu throughout the summer months.
"This is an opportunity to continue to fly the conservation flag and celebrate the special bird species we have in Aotearoa."
David Blackmore, Waimangu Volcanic Valley General Manager, said the Outdoor Art Trail was a great success and they planned to hold another competition next summer season.
“We have loved being able to celebrate these artists and share the stories of Waimangu in a new way,” said Blackmore.
“It's been interesting to see how each artist has interpreted the various aspects of Waimangu, including its history, flora and fauna and geothermal landscape.”
He said the voting for People’s Choice sparked some great discussion from visitors,
“The response from our visitors over the summer has been overwhelmingly positive, and we have heard plenty of great debates and conversations from visitors on their favourites as they placed their votes.”
The art trail panels remain in place for visitors to the valley to enjoy.