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5 April, 2018

Pūkāea and kōauau: taonga in the Town Hall Organ

Hidden behind the facade of the beautiful Auckland Town Hall organ are thousands of pipes – 5291 to be exact – ranging in length from 1cm to 10 metres, and made of materials including kauri,scientific glass, lead and tin.

Many of the pipes were taken from the original 1911 organ, and were restored and incorporated in a major rebuild of the instrument in 2010.

Amongst the recovered and refitted sections are two new stops, specially designed to capture the spirit of the traditional Māori pūkāea (horn) and kōauau (flute). 

The idea to include the unique stops came from Auckland city organist, John Wells, who was keen the rebuilt organ should contain some uniquely New Zealand sounds. 

After consultation with Māori instrument specialist, Richard Nunns, the pūkāea and kōauau were selected as the best choices for the organ. 

Traditionally made of bone or stone, the pipe for the kōauau was made of scientific glass; the pūkāea’s traditional form of conical hollowed-out wood was mirrored in the organ version with the lowest 24 pipes having conical square-section resonators made of timber.

Crafted by German organ-maker Orgelbau Klais, the pipes were then offered to Ngati Whatua o Orakei to decorate. Carver Arekatera Maihi worked closely with Phillip Klais to complete the pipes, after first inspecting the interior of the organ to see where they would be placed.

The result is a world-first, the only organ to have the specially created stops. Beautiful and unique in sound and appearance, the pipes can be seen from various passageways built into the organ to accommodate guided tours. 

You can learn more about the Organ, and the free Sunday Town Hall Organ Concert Series 2018 here