Topic: Entertainment

First Māori Miss NZ passes away

By Aroha Awarau

Moana Whaanga, the first Māori woman to be crowned Miss New Zealand and the first Kiwi to compete at Miss Universe, passed away last night.  She was 82 years old. 

Whaanga (nee Manley), who moved from Rotorua to Auckland as a child, was a champion swimmer.  She was selected for the Commonwealth Games. 

She entered the 1954 Miss New Zealand pageant to help raise money for her swimming club and was surprised when she was crowned the winner.

“I was a very shy girl. The only thing that I had going for me what that I was a swimmer, and that took a lot of the shyness away.  I remember this time being very special,” she told Mana magazine in 2016.

The Māori world was so proud of having their very first beauty queen that many groups organized a huge fundraising drive to send Moana to the 1954 Miss Universe contest in California. 

In Rotorua, the people of Te Arawa, led by Guide Rangi, dug deep into their pockets to support Whaanga's bid.

Princess Te Puea gave Whaanga a pounamu to wear at Miss Universe and her mother, a master weaver, made her a korowai.

Whaanga married Maui Whaanga, from Nuhaka. The former head prefect and dux at Te Aute College met his wife at teacher's training college and they spent many years teaching together at rural schools. 

She was a loving mother to Moana Iti, Moerangi, Mark Mel and Mia. She had 16 grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren.

Whaanga was surrounded by whanau when she passed away after suffering from a stroke a week ago.

Her son Mel, says his mother will be missed.

"Mum was a private person.  She loved her whanau, she loved New Zealand.  You could ask if she was a Māori first, or a Kiwi first or a mother first.  Mum encompassed all roles and brought everyone together. That is her legacy," he says. 

A service for Whaanga will be held on Saturday at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints Chapel, 19 Redoubt Road, Manukau.