Pakariki Harrison was the eldest of 21 children, and grew up on the East Coast of the North Island. He was introduced to Māori carving while attending Te Aute College in Hawke’s Bay. His mentor there was master carver Pine Taiapa, one of the first graduates from the Rotorua School of Maori Arts and Crafts in 1928. In the 1960s, Harrison was a young school teacher working in Auckland and teaching carving at night. During this time he wrote extensively about carving and the QEII Arts Council sent him to France to present a series of lectures and demonstrate carving. On his return he spent five years carving the meeting house on Whaiora Marae in Otara.
In the 1980s, Harrison lectured at the University of Auckland and was conferred an Honorary Doctorate of Literature in 1991. In 1997, he and his wife – well-known weaver Hinemoa – received the 1997 Te Waka Toi Award in recognition of their lifetime achievements. This was followed by the Queen’s Service Order in 2000. In 2002, Harrison led the team who designed the Toi Iho / Māori Made mark for Creative New Zealand. He also led the team which placed the unit standards for Whakairo on the national framework.
He published books on his wharenui, and showed his work in exhibitions nationally and in Italy, Japan, France, United States and Australia. In addition, years of research enabled him to analyse and explain the symbolism of the waka taua (war canoe), wharewhakairo (carved house) and kowhaiwhai. The Story of a Master Carver, a major biography on Harrison, written by Ranginui Walker was published by Raupo/Penguin, in 2008.