• Lee Murray

Tommy ‘Kapai’ Wilson

Tommy ‘Kapai’ Wilson pops round for a korero, bringing the whanau and the sunshine. Turning our tamariki loose in the pool, we talk about his latest project, Mauao: Caught by the Morning Light, a book about the landmark Tommy calls “our Statue of Liberty…Mount Manganui.” Tommy describes the book as “a korowai, weaving together the threads of people’s stories: the Maori perspective, the legend … the geologists’ perspective, a tectonic burp, even the alpine power walker’s story. It’s the soul of the book – what Mauao means to them.” I turn the question on Tommy, asking what the mountain means to him. “Mauao is my Eiffel Tower, my home,” Tommy says. “It’s always there for me, never deserts me. It’s the constant in my life. It gives me inspiration without asking for anything back. [This book], in a small way, is an opportunity for me to thank Mauao.”


Starting his career in distribution, 11 year old Tommy sold newspapers outside the Oceanside Hotel at Mauao’s feet. He hasn’t always lived locally, spending 25 years abroad, including 11 as a butler. He drops some names: John Denver, George Harrison, Jimmy Buffet (who encouraged Tommy to write for children). But after 33 countries, Tommy had a “stellar moment” returning home on cruise ship, The World. “I watched the morning light as it came over Mauao. It was the driving point – I had to do this book.”

The timing not right, Tommy let the idea steep a few years. Now, with the tautoko (support) of local tribes, the talents of researcher Jenny Argante, photographer Rod Mueller, and Taramea Publishing’s Candice Paewai, Mauao: Caught by the Morning Light will be released in time for the World Cup, the first in a series celebrating New Zealand’s iconic landmarks.


‘Of course I know you, Tommy,’ my mother says when she arrives later with my sister’s kids, proving Tommy’s newspaper column has garnered a following.

‘Hey, you came to my school!’ my nephew shouts, as he strips off his clothes for a swim. A prolific writer of children’s books, Tommy has befriended 140 primary schools, sharing his ‘backyard stories’ and inspiring our kids. ‘Not all the answers can be found on an iPad,’ Tommy says. Suddenly, he remembers another appointment. He leaves in a whirlwind, taking the kids and the fun with him. My little niece is bereft, realising too late, that the big man with the golden laugh wrote her favourite Kapai the Kiwi story.


Published in Creative Beat, April 2011 edition.


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© 2018 by Lee Murray