A record breaking spring

We drive out from Golden Bay to pay a brief visit to Te Waikoropupu Springs. These are the largest freshwater springs in New Zealand, the largest cold water springs in the Southern Hemisphere and contain some of the clearest water ever measured.

Tests in 1993 showed that visibility in the spring water is an amazing 63 metres. This is very close to optically pure water, with clearer water found only beneath Antarctica’s near-frozen Weddell Sea. The water clarity is a result of natural filtering prior to the water’s emergence.

Te Waikoropupu Springs are clearly remarkable. It’s a beautiful sight, and very tranquil. The colours, and the clarity of the water, are stunning. Look carefully at the photos and you can see the water surface rippling slightly, an indication of the water bubbling into the pool from beneath the earth.

This is also an important place for local Maori, who regard it as taonga (treasure) and wāhi tapu, a place held in high cultural and spiritual regard. For this reason, to show respect for cultural values, the spring waters are closed to all forms of contact, including fishing, swimming, diving, wading, boating and drinking the water.

An interpretation panel at Te Waikoropupu Springs bears the words of a Maori waiata (song), with the English translation as follows:

Bubbling waters from the throat of the spring 
Bubbling waters from the throat of the spring
Forever bubbling from the land
Forever bubbling for the health of the people and the spring waters
The spring waters of Täkaka
The tears of the spirit ancestors,
Waters bubbling from the throat of the spring
Waters bubbling from the throat of the spring

Te Waikoropupu Springs is clearly an important place for local Maori. Increasingly, it is also an important habitat for native plants and wildlife. Once largely cleared of vegetation during the goldmining boom, it’s now protected and regenerating naturally. As native vegetation becomes re-established birds can also find a home here, and we’re delighted to catch a glimpse of a Fantail.

We’ve seen Fantails a couple of times already on this trip, always close to water and never sitting still long enough to be photographed. On this occasion Mrs P manages to grab a quick shot before the bird flies off. You can see from the shape way he holds his tail just how he got his name!

St Pauls Memorial Church, Putiki: a stunning church decorated in the Maori style

The church at Putiki, in the suburbs of Wanganui, is nothing special to look at from the outside. We’ve already seen several others that are quite similar, and it hardly seems worthy of a second glance.

But inside is different: this place is a stunner. Here’s what the Visit Wanganui website has to say about it:

A special taonga (treasure) in Whanganui is St Pauls Memorial Church in Putiki. Filled with beautiful and intricate Māori carvings and tukutuku (wall panels), they weave a tale of the people and the land in this area that dates back to the 1830’s. St Pauls Anglican Memorial Church in Putiki, Whanganui, is one of the most intricately and beautifully decorated Churches in Aotearoa, New Zealand. This unique building is adorned with fascinating Maori tukutuku and lattice designs which speak of the history of the church and the area.

Source: Visit Whanganui website, retrieved 2 November 2019

It sounds like hype, doesn’t it, just the sort of thing you’d expect a promotional tourist website to say, but it’s bang on. The interior of this place is fabulous.

You have to pay for a guided tour, but it’s worth it to hear our volunteer Maori guide Simon tell us about the church’s history and explain how traditional Maori motifs were re-used and reinterpreted to spread a Christian message.

Simon also tells us that like churches the world over congregations are dwindling and most of those who now attend services are elderly. I worry about who will care for this magnificent building when the current generation of worshippers passes away. This place is a national treasure; it deserves to be better known and must be protected for future generations to admire.

So, if you’re ever out this way do make a point of taking the guided tour, and drop a few dollars into the donations box as you leave. This is a vital piece of New Zealand’s cultural history, and ordinary tourists like us can do their bit to help protect it,

The Maori way

In their desperate pursuit of the tourist dollar most nations present a sanitised view of their history. The marketing men know that when on vacation most tourists want a bit of gentle fun and some light entertainment; very few want to be exposed to the inconvenient truths of the country they’ve paid to visit.

However Mrs P and I are made of sterner stuff. From the outset we’ve been determined that when we leave New Zealand we’ll know more about the Maori people than their traditional dances.

Kohutapu Lodge gives us better opportunities to explore Maori culture and the challenges facing the Maori people than the traditional New Zealand vacation would allow. Run by Maoris who are plainly determined that we should understand the reality of life for their fellow tribe members, Kohutapu Lodge offers a warts-and-all insight into life in the nearby Maori township of Murupara.

We learn about the desperate socio-economic plight of Muruparu residents, and the gang culture that thrives in this isolated rural community where opportunities for gainful employment are few. The people who run the Lodge are determined that their guests should be more than just passive witnesses to the realities of life in Muruparu, so they arrange for us to visit the local school.

The kids greet our group in the traditional way, and we then split up to play with them, to talk to them and maybe to inspire them to believe that their lives are not hopeless, that their fates are not already sealed by the accident of their births.

Mrs P and I also spend a morning with Ena, a resident of Muruparu who is a passionate advocate for her community. She tells it like it is, but is realistic rather than downhearted.

Ena takes us to a sacred Maori site, which can only be visited with the permission of the local tribe, to see the oldest Maori rock carvings anywhere in New Zealand. The carvings tell the story of the great Polynesian migration to the islands of New Zealand many hundreds of years ago, and Ena’s pride in their achievement is obvious.

Kohutapu Lodge also provides an opportunity to try out some traditional Maori crafts like basket weaving, and to experience a hangi, a feast cooked using heated rocks buried in a pit oven. Any food left over is distributed to the destitute of Murapuru the following day.

This is not a normal holiday experience; indeed I guess some people would say that it’s no holiday at all. But for us it’s just right. After all, what’s the point of a holiday if at the end of it you are as ignorant as you were at the beginning? Certainly, for Mrs P and I, it’s been a eye opener which will help to shape our sensitivities during the rest of this visit to New Zealand.

Plan B – see more of Auckland

Mrs P’s flamingo pink mobile rings at 7:30am.  She’s bought a new SIM for this trip and only one person has her number: the local agent for New Zealand in Depth, the specialist travel company that’s arranged our road trip.  

Nobody rings this early with good news, so we brace ourselves.  And yes, you’ve guessed it, today’s keenly anticipated boat trip to Rangitoto Island to get up close and personal with a volcano has been cancelled, thanks to the horrendous rainfall that’s plagued us ever since we landed in Auckland yesterday morning. 

Bloody typical, we’ve been looking forward to this, Mrs P in particular as she has a thing about volcanoes in much the same way as I have a thing about chocolate cake, and now it’s all gone belly-up.  We are, as they say round our way, totally buggered. Don’t you just love it when the gods rain on your parade?

Time for Plan B.  If your travel plans in a big city fall apart the answer is – always – to buy yourself some time by getting the Hop-On-Hop-Off bus.  At least it will keep you dry while we come up with something more exciting.

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The Auckland War Memorial Museum’s official name does it no favours.  As well as covering New Zealand’s role in twentieth century wars, it boasts extensive collections covering the culture of the Maori people, and the country’s natural history.

We’re determined to leave New Zealand a lot more knowledgeable about Maori culture and history than when we arrived, and the Museum turns out to be a good place to start.  There are some fascinating artefacts here, including a marae (meeting house) and a storehouse.  Woodcarving is an important element of Maori material culture, and there are some good examples here.

As for the natural history collection, we have mixed feelings.  Mrs P and I both prefer our wildlife to be alive rather than stuffed.  However, it’s well done and instructional. For example, we learn that the relationship between the size of a kiwi and the size of its egg is eye-watering.  If we’re ever lucky enough to see one in the wild and it’s wearing a very pained expression, we’ll assume it’s a female who’s just laid her egg. Ouch!

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Auckland is dominated by the sea.  Its harbours are major players in New Zealand’s trading relationship with the rest of the world, and in their spare time many of the locals enjoy nothing more than messing around in boats.  Our ticket for the Hop-On-Hop-Off bus includes a free ferry ride across the harbour to the suburb of Devonport, so we get the chance to see Auckland from a totally different perspective.

Devonport dates from the late 19th century, although many of its buildings appear to be in the art deco style of the early 20th century.  The suburb retains more of its period charm, and is less crowded, than the other parts of Auckland we’ve visited.  It’s a pleasure to spend an hour strolling up and down its main street, before diving into The Patriot bar for a meal. 

The food at The Patriot is good, but not so the company.  There are three old guys seated close to us – all Kiwis, by the sound of their accents – debating the Queen’s speech and Brexit.  Why, in heaven’s name, would any sane Kiwi talk about Brexit? For god sake, I flew halfway round the world to getaway from rubbish like that.

But you have to take the rough with the smooth, don’t you?  On the way back to the ferry we enjoy a couple more of Devonport’s highlights; an ancient Moreton Bay fig tree (known fondly to the locals as Arthur) and a magnificent new library. 

How come here in New Zealand they can build brand new, brilliant libraries, while all we can do in the UK is trash a once great library service?

Endings and beginnings

Our trip coincides with a significant anniversary for New Zealand and its people. Exactly 250 years ago this month, Captain James Cook landed from his ship, the Endeavour, on the east side of the Turanganui River, near present-day Gisborne on North Island. In doing so he began a process that led to European colonisation, and the creation of the state we now call New Zealand.

IMAGE CREDIT: William Hodges [Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons]

Whether this anniversary is something to be celebrated or lamented is, however, a matter of fierce debate.

The point, of course, is that New Zealand was already occupied. The Maori, who called it Aotearoa – the Land of the Long White Cloud – had been there for hundreds of years. They had arrived from Polynesia between 1200 and 1300 AD, and made themselves at home while developing a distinctive material culture and way of life.

From the Maori perspective, therefore, Captain Cook did not discover New Zealand – as text books have tended to suggest – but rather he was the first of the European invaders, invaders who would soon dispossess the historical owners of the land.

To fully appreciate what Cook’s arrival has meant for Māoridom, one must consider their status before the arrival of Cook. Māori were an independent, self-governing people. Their territories were abundant with life … Today, 250 years later, Māori are no longer self-governing, their waterways are severely degraded, and for an unacceptably high number of Māori, the risk of dying an early death, or becoming homeless, or being incarcerated, is an all too likely reality.

Tina Ngata, an Ngati Porou woman and indigenous rights advocate, writing in The Guardian on 4 October 2019. Retrieved 5 October 2019.

IMAGE CREDIT: Endeavour replica in Cooktown harbour. John Hill [Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons]

First contact was a brutal experience, one that left up to eight Maori dead. The encounter marked a turning point, the ending of one world and the beginning of another.

He [Cook] was a barbarian. Wherever he went, like most people of the time of imperial expansion, there were murders, there were abductions, there were rapes, and just a lot of bad outcomes for the indigenous people.

Anahera Herbert-Graves, the head of Northland’s Ngāti Kahu iwi [tribe], quoted in an article published in the Guardian on 4 October 2019. Retrieved 6 October 2019.

Feelings are clearly running high right now, as the quotations above demonstrate. Unsurprisingly, therefore, there is vocal opposition in some quarters to the government-funded commemorative events planned to mark the anniversary of Cook’s landing.

History is a complicated business, and we do a dis-service to those who have gone before us if we reduce it to a few snappy, emotionally-charged soundbites. It is not my place – as a soon-to-be guest of New Zealand – to express a view on this contentious issue based on just a couple of articles in the Guardian newspaper, but I look forward to finding out more during the course of our visit.

Tina Ngata’s article, and the words of Anahera Herbert-Graves remind me that I’m profoundly ignorant about New Zealand’s history (which is particularly shameful for a history graduate, don’t you think?) It’s high time I put that right.