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Prehistoric Aotearoa brought to life in virtual reality

Virtual reality is bringing prehistoric New Zealand back to life thanks to a collaboration between Manaaki Whenua-Landcare Research and digital agency, Waxeye.

Blending contemporary science with mātauranga Māori, Karanga a Tāne Mahuta – the VR experience is a te ao Māori pūrākau view of Au Warawara and pre-human arrival to Aotearoa using the imagery of a giant eagle, flora, and many extinct taonga.

“We’ve broken down the VR experience into three stages of prehistoric, present and future Aotearoa to take viewers on a journey through 2,000 years of Aotearoa’s environmental landscape, flora and fauna,” says Kairangahau Lead Researcher Kiri Reihana.

The project, delivered in te reo Māori or English options, aims to help connect New Zealanders, and in particular Māori rangatahi and tamariki, with their environment through a real-life experience and reconstruction of unique taonga species, flora, and fauna to better understand the impact of our environmental changes. 

“We wanted to reignite the desire of Māori and New Zealanders to learn more and foster a heart and passion for our amazing taonga – Au Warawara – in all its splendor of ecological, environmental and cultural significance,” says Reihana.

Some of the content for the experience was filmed in Northland’s Warawara Forest. It begins with the ancient legend of how a meteorite strike on the Warawara Forest turned it upside down so the younger rock is now under the old rock. Geologists now believe the strange geology of the forest was caused by long-term volcanic processes.

The present-day section spans from the waka arrivals to the present 21st century. It shows some significant changes to New Zealand’s environment, including the milling of kauri, the decline in the health of forests and many native species that are iconic to Māori.

“And finally,” says Reihana, “there’s a future section with a glimpse at where we could be headed in New Zealand over the next 2,000 years. This section uses research predictions and shows pest and predator management options and a changing environment depending on what decisions are made and the impact of those.”

Rangatahi and tamariki were able to view the experience recently using the Oculus Quest professional headsets and had some really positive feedback. 

Among the many responses (at least 95%) were: “It was amazing!!!”

Other responses were:

  • “Good story, good way to communicate our stories, and easily understood, it was mean!!”
  • “Made my day!”
  • James who had never been to Au Warawara said “It made me feel like I am familiar with the place, it takes me to another level of learning about the Warawara”.

A student attending the Karanga a Tane Mahuta, ki uta, ki tai wananga at Whangape in Northland takes a virtual journey across time.

Karanga a Tāne Mahuta is a Curious Minds-funded project with support from Waxeye, Te Aho Tū Roa, Manaaki Whenua and the Warawara kaitiaki komiti, and was released last week as part of Karanga a Tane Mahuta, ki uta, ki tai wananga being held at Whangape in Northland for Year 9 – 13 secondary school students.