After a couple of magical days on Stewart Island it’s time to get the ferry back to South Island, pick up our car, and head off on the final leg of our trip. We’ll be flying home from Christchurch in just a couple of weeks, but there’s a lot for us to pack in before we bid farewell to New Zealand.
We drive up to Bluff lookout, just a couple of kilometres from the ferry terminal, for one last look at Stewart Island. From here it seems ordinary, just a dark, inconsequential finger of land hunkering down for protection from the howling winds and torrential rains that torment it, but we know it’s much more than that. Stewart Island – and its outliers – is peaceful, picturesque, a temporary retreat from the madness of the modern world and a haven for native vegetation and wildlife.
It is also, according to a Maori creation myth, an anchor stone.
The hero of our story is the legendary voyager Maui. Maui lived in Hawaiki, the island homeland of the ancestral Polynesians from which they set off in their boats to colonise Polynesia. One day, daredevil Maui stowed away in the bottom of his brothers’ canoe when they went on a long fishing expedition. Later in the voyage our hero threw his magical fish-hook over the side of the canoe, and soon felt an enormous tug on the line. With his brothers’ help he hauled up his catch, and landed not a fish but the North Island of New Zealand.
The Maori name for North Island is, therefore, Te Ika-a-Maui, or the Fish of Maui. In some Maori creation myths, South Island is known as Te Waka a Maui, or the Canoe of Maui.
But of course the Fish of Maui was huge, and extraordinary steps were required to land it successfully. To stabilise his canoe, Maui hauled up Rakiura (Stewart Island) from the ocean floor to be its anchorstone. With his vessel thus secured Maui was finally able to bring up his catch – North Island. Rakiura (Stewart Island) is therefore known to the Maori as Te Puka a Maui, the anchorstone of Maui.
The essence of this creation myth is portrayed in a wonderful piece of public art at Stirling Point, in Bluff. A stylised anchor chain is firmly secured to the land by a shackle, but disappears beneath the Foveaux Strait and heads out towards Stewart Island. The chain emerges at Lee Bay on Stewart Island, where we took a photo of it two days ago.
Designed by Russell Back in 2008 and fashioned from aluminium, this piece represents all that’s best in public art, simple, striking, thought-provoking and connected with the place in which it is set. A mini-masterpiece, in my humble opinion.
Before we set off towards the Catlins we take a look at the Stirling Point signpost, just a stone’s throw away from the Te Puka a Maui public art installation. The adjacent signage proudly proclaims that “the world famous Stirling Point attracts many thousands of visitors every year.” World famous? Really? Not in my world, that’s for sure.
But don’t knock it. The humble signpost is a reminder of where we are, or to be more precise, of where we are not. We’re closer to the South Pole (4,810 kilometres) than to the equator (5,123 kilometres), which probably explains the grey, brooding clouds and chill wind. Moreover, London is 18,598 kilometres away, meaning that we’ve managed to put some serious distance between ourselves and the political nonsense that’s cracking off in the Mother Country right now, a fact for which I am truly grateful.
With a final, wistful glance towards Stewart Island, one of the most peaceful places I’ve ever been, we turn and stride briskly back to the car. It’s time to go off in search of the world’s rarest species of penguin.