World’s largest 3D-printed sculpture, designed by Māori design institute, tells the story of geothermal energy’s arrival

The world’s largest 3D-printed sculpture – Te Ahi Tupua (The Eternal Fire) – has been installed at the southern gateway to Rotorua in New Zealand.

Designed by Te Puia New Zealand Māori Arts and Crafts Institute (NZMACI), Te Ahi Tupua tells the story of the arrival of geothermal energy to the Rotorua region.

The 12-metre-high 3D sculpture, built from composite materials by Kilwell Fibretube, incorporates elements of navigation, education and the people of the area – past, present and future.

A team from NZMACI, with expertise in wood and stone carving, developed the concept. Inspired in part by camera footage captured from deep within the world famous Pōhutu Geyser, the design pays homage to its rich natural features reflecting different forms of geothermal energy – steam vents, heat, flames and eruption.

Inspiration for the sculpture also came from the Māori concept of kaitiakitanga o te whenua – guardianship of natural resources, which signifies the importance of caring for our environment, and how care of the land is handed down through generations.

Derived from traditional wood carving customs, the new sculpture, which was installed at Hemo Gorge roundabout in Rotorua in September, embraces new technologies and materials. The natural features of flames and heat have a metaphorical link to te ahi kā, keeping the home fires burning, reflecting the importance of tangata whenua, iwi kāinga, mana whenua.

The sculpture’s skyward reach acknowledges the pursuit of education, learning and knowledge. The sculpture also embodies navigation and travelling, both ancient and modern, through the tohunga Ngātoro-i-rangi’s explorations of the Central North Island, connections with other areas and tribal groups, and the warmth of hospitality, or manaakitanga, shown to visitors.

Eraia Kiel, New Zealand Māori Arts and Crafts Institute’s general manager, said: “Te Ahi Tupua is a truly ground-breaking piece of work, involving huge degrees of creativity from the outset – and an extremely technical process in the following stages in order to bring it to life. It challenged the boundaries of what could be done, which is what makes it particularly special.

“It’s important we continue to tell Te Arawa stories in new and innovative ways. While Te Ahi Tupua describes the origins of geothermal activity in Rotorua through the story of Te Arawa tohunga Ngātoro-i-rangi, it also tells other stories of our community – referencing concepts such as the interconnectedness of people, the pursuit of knowledge and the importance of looking after our natural environment.”

Images Credit: Stephen Parker


Rosa Medea is Life & Soul Magazine’s Chief. She writes about lifestyle including sustainable and green living. She also offers content services to businesses and individuals at

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