New Zealand at Expo 2020 visits the Whanganui River

The New Zealand at Expo 2020 team has visited Whanganui and met with iwi leaders to gain a deeper appreciation of the Whanganui River, which is an inspiration for the New Zealand Pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai.

In a world-first move, in 2017 the Whanganui River was recognised at law as a living and indivisible whole called Te Awa Tupua.


This innovative legislation, Te Awa Tupua (Whanganui River Claims Settlement) Act 2017, enables an holistic view of the River’s health and wellbeing and obligates the Government, local authorities and all communities of the River to work together under its innate values, which bind people to the River and the River to the people.


The legislation recognises Te Awa Tupua as a legal person, as a way of upholding those values, known as Tupua Te Kawa.

The Whanganui River is an example of the unique way in which New Zealanders Care for People and Place, which is the country’s theme for Expo 2020 Dubai. It is based on the indigenous environmental ethos of kaitiakitanga, which recognises the deep connection and responsibility between people and the environment. If we look after the environment, it will look after us.


Commissioner-General Clayton Kimpton and team members, along with the project’s Steering Group and creative team visited Whanganui and heard from iwi leader Gerrard Albert about how the River connects the people who live along it.


The first point of reference is te awa (the River).  And the second point of reference is te awa.  There is nothing else.  If you understand our River, you understand us,” Mr Albert told the group and detailed the struggle the iwi had been through to have the mana of the River recognised.


The iwi is generously sharing its story with New Zealand at Expo 2020 to share with the world to show aroha (love), share their view of te awa and build understanding of the powerful legislation and the opportunity it presents to improve the physical and spiritual wellbeing of the River and its peoples.


Mr Albert also accompanied the group on a waka trip down the Whanganui River, from Pipiriki to Hiruhārama/Jerusalem. This journey allowed the New Zealand at Expo 2020 team to experience the River, feel its water and see its colours, the many shades of green in the water and surrounding native bush. It was also raining during the trip, reinforcing the pavilion theme of connection, as the water from the sky became the water of the River.


Our visit to the Whanganui River was very special, it gave me a profound appreciation of our individual and community connection with the natural environment, and I am looking forward to sharing that experience of care for people and place with all the visitors to the New Zealand Pavilion at Expo 2020,” says Clayton Kimpton New Zealand’s Commissioner-General to Expo 2020 Dubai.


The provenance of Te Awa Tupua is a universal narrative about our relationship as people to the natural world. It provides the inspiration for a wider story that will be told through the New Zealand Pavilion and we look forward to welcoming visitors when Expo 2020 Dubai begins on 1 October 2021.