Easter like Christmas is one of those fixed point religious occasions, which mark our lives. For me like many others Easter is also synonymous with family gatherings or holidays. Plus a time which marks the changing of seasons, a time when reluctant to say good-bye to summer I drag out a winter jumper and wear it over a faded summer dress or with denim shorts hoping the sun will melt the dew on the lawn and warm up the day.
Unlike other statutory holidays Easter is quirky; Good Friday and Easter Sunday dates depend on the ecclesiastical approximation of the March equinox; the earliest it falls is at the end of March and the latest towards the end of April. Given this my memories of Easter vary like the weather patterns of autumn.
One Easter that has always remained embedded in my memory was a childhood family trip to Whangaroa Harbour. Easter fell in late April that year. We stayed in a wooden two perhaps three-storey guesthouse overlooking the harbour and an old wooden pier. Beyond blustery weather, winds, which would rattle the doors and creep through the windowsills bringing the gloom of the native forest hillside into our room the holiday remains a blur. The harbour though left a lasting impression.
Four years ago nearing the end of a day trip from Kerikeri to Hokianga and back my cousin Johnny and I drove into Whangaroa Harbour. Although childhood memories can be fairly unreliable I was struck be a sense of going back in time. My lasting childhood impression may have been intangible but it was intact. A feeling emphasized by the surrounding hilly terrain, which is still heavily forested, in native trees with foliage from the deepest green through to yellowy brown.
Six weeks ago as part of a Noonan family reunion weekend we ventured from Kerikeri up to Whangaroa Harbour. Part one of the day was a harbour cruise followed by part two lunch at Kingfisher Lodge.
It was a perfect late summers day, enough cloud cover to ensure our skin didn’t fry, calm waters to enjoy the trip around the outer reaches of the harbour. Our Captain, Tony Foster an ex-school teacher steered the boat, which doubles as a water-taxi, while he told stories of past battles and once thriving communities.
At the top of the harbour Tony stopped the boat, pointing to the hill with only one tree standing, this he informed us was the Pa of Hongi Hika (not to be confused by Hongi Hika who cut down the flagpole at Waitangi).
I first became aware of the Hongi Hika when reading Paula Morris’s book Rangatira. He had visited England in 1820 with missionary Thomas Kendall and the young chief Waikato to assist Professor Samuel Lee with the compilation of a Maori dictionary. Hongi’s main aim though, in which he was eventually successful, was to acquire muskets. At the King’s armoury Hongi was presented with a suit of armour and at Port Jackson, Sydney he acquired a vast number of muskets. Hongi’s idol was Napoleon Bonaparte, during his time in England it is said Hongi got to study the books holding the maps of Napoleon’s battles. The suit of armour protected him on the battlefield. Combined with Napoleon’s battle skills Hongi soon became known for his military genius.
Hongi Hika moved from Waimate to Whangaroa in 1826 to protect the rights of his father’s people. Historic records state that he used the plundering of the brig Mercury and the constant harassment of the Wesleyan mission at Whangaroa to lead his men into battle with the neighbouring Iwi Ngati Uru and Ngati Pou. During one of those bloody battles a ball from a musket, ironically the weapon he introduced to New Zealand, passed through his chest. Days after Hongi was wounded his wife Turikatuku died. The bullet wound continued to fester and he passed away on 3 March 1828, at Whangaroa.
Tony cruised the boat into Totara North, on the shoreline the buildings maybe derelict but they are evidence of thriving community post-Maori wars. Beneath the faded timber and sagging wrought iron roofed buildings there once was a thriving shipyard, over a 100 vessels were built during the 28 years it operated and a brick-making business.
After Totara North Tony speeds up and we each get to marvel at this primordial harbour with rugged cliff-faces which have been named and serve as landmarks for those attempting to walk through the thick bush or enter the harbour on a low-tide.
Weeks later and with memories of that childhood holiday bought to life again by Easter it is difficult to explain my fascination with Whangaroa Harbour other than to say I’m really grateful it remains unscathed and unscarred by man because it is a reminder of the might of nature.
Foster, Tony: Bushmansfriend New Zealand.
http://www.bushmansfriend.co.nz/about-bushmansfriend-xidc8693.html accessed 4 April 2014.
Hongi Hika Biography source – http://www.teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/1h32/hongi-hika – accessed 4 April 2014.
Morris, Paula: Rangatira. New Zealand, Penguin Group (NZ), 2011. Print.