The Katikati Haiku Pathway was officially opened in June 2000 as one of New Zealand’s Millennium Projects (its specially designed footbridge was dedicated as the sun rose on January 1, 2000). The pathway opened with 24 engraved river boulders, making it the first, and largest, collection of ‘haiku stones’ outside Japan.
The driving force behind the pathway was Catherine Mair, a well-known haiku poet and former editor of winterSPIN (now Kokako), who has long links with Katikati. She was born in the homestead on her grandparents’ farm, spent many happy childhood holidays on the land bordering the Uretara Stream, married at the homestead and later owned the farm with her husband, Selwyn. When the hard decision came to sell the land, Catherine convinced the developer that part of what was to become a housing subdivision should form a haiku pathway.
Her vision coincided with a drive to reclaim the Uretara Stream for the town. The river had been a vital link between settlers and the outside world in the 1870s, but 120 years later the land around the river as it passed behind the main commercial area was a wasteland.
The pathway runs either side of the Uretara Stream and links the town’s centre with the Highfields subdivision via the footbridge. The pathway has already been extended once and plans are to extend it further. The park-like setting, which includes trees, seats, and picnic tables, is also a popular venue for one of the town’s annual Summer Twilight Concerts and a sympathetically designed outdoor stage was added in 2015.
“It’s a bit improbable, isn’t it?,” Catherine says of the decision to create the pathway. “A country town that had never heard of haiku – but it was the right people at the right time. Even the blokes on the big machines moving the rocks into place got caught up in the magic of it, and the original engraver turned down a lucrative contract so he could finish his work here.”
Each boulder poem has been carefully selected to reflect its surroundings – one boulder was placed in the stream in the happy expectation that it would be covered by water during floods and left high and dry in the summer (pictured above). It was inundated by floodwaters twice within a year and had to be dug out both times after being almost covered by sand. “That will teach me to be careful what I say,” Catherine laughs. That boulder has now been moved to higher ground.
She hopes the pathway is a constant voyage of discovery, and that visitors find new dimensions each time they’re there, depending on the hour, the weather, the season.
The pathway forms only one of the many artworks in this self-proclaimed Mural Town. The involvement of the Katikati Open-Air Art umbrella group was vital in the early days of the pathway, while the goodwill and support of the Western Bay of Plenty District Council has also been invaluable.
The late Ted Harris was a councillor when Catherine approached him with her idea. He later became chairman of the Katikati Haiku Pathway Focus Committee (2006-2007), followed by Catherine (2007-13) and Margaret Beverland (2013-present).
Another three haiku boulders were engraved in mid-2007, while a new entry sign, which features a haiku engraved on a metal plaque, was added in late 2008, bringing the total number of pathway project haiku to 31. The three boulders at The Landing, the site of the jetty where the town’s first Ulster Irish settlers stepped foot in their new home, were, in 2010, joined by nine new poem boulders and one poem engraved on to an existing boulder on the main pathway.
The 10 Boulders for 10 Years project culminated in a birthday party event in Katikati on June 6, 2010 to mark the 10th anniversary of the pathway’s official opening. Western Bay of Plenty District Council had a birthday surprise in store – giving us an 11th boulder for a poem!
Meanwhile, in 2005 Katikati Rotary donated a model logging dam as a water feature to both mark the centenary of Rotary International and the area’s milling history, and asked Catherine to help choose a haiku from those submitted by local writers as part of the installation. The park featuring this model sits on the other side of the main road, opposite the main entry to the pathway.
Souvenir Guidebooks to the pathway, containing each of the poems and notes about the poets, are available for sale at the town’s Information Centre (i-Site) or email Sandra.
The pathway committee runs the Katikati Haiku Contest every 2 years. Unfortunately, due to unforeseen circumstances, there was no contest in 2018 or 2020.