Finding renewal in New Zealand’s Birthplace
“The cultural history [of the] distinctive and beautiful region at the far northern edge of the North Island – from the kauri forests to the Waitangi Treaty Grounds, from the colonial buildings and whaling history in Russell to the spot that separates the Pacific Ocean from the Tasman Sea where Maori spirits are believed to leap to the water to return to their ancestral homeland of Hawaiki – offers a deeper understanding of [Northland’s] complex past,” Jill Robinson writes for the San Francisco Chronicle.
“History and legend are bountiful in rural Northland, and the region sometimes goes by the nickname Te Hiku o Te Ika, ‘the tail of the fish’, referring to the legend that New Zealand was fished from the sea by the demigod Maui,” Robinson explains.
“It’s a place where you’re not at all surprised that the gates to the magical forest never close.
“Not far from Russell is Waitangi, the site of the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840 between the British Crown and more than 500 Maori chiefs, establishing New Zealand as a British colony. At the newly opened Museum of Waitangi, I wander among the artifacts in the permanent exhibition, but am drawn back to the interactive display of New Zealand’s founding document, which was written and translated in less than a week.
“For Maori, Te Rerenga Wairua is the most spiritually significant place in New Zealand. After death, all Maori spirits travel up the coast and over this windswept vista of the most northwestern corner of the country, down the roots of the lone pohutukawa tree at Te Rerenga Wairua, into the sea and to Manawatawhi (‘last breath’) in the Three Kings Islands. From there, they say a final farewell to family and tribe before returning to Hawaiki, the land of their ancestors.
“The point, also known as Cape Reinga, marks the separation of the Tasman Sea from the Pacific Ocean. I lean into the wind to watch the swirl of currents where the two great waters collide in whirlpools that look like those that dance in the wake of a boat.
“If I were a Maori spirit, I’d want to travel here, too – among the shades of aqua ocean currents and whistling wind at the grassy, green end of the world. And while I love the ocean, I wouldn’t jump. I’d be the sole spirit clinging to the Northland, refusing to leave this heart-achingly beautiful region.
“Surely, fodder for another legend.”
Original article by Jill Robinson, San Francisco Chronicle, July 21, 2017.
Photo by Jill Robinson.