Maori Insights into the Scarred Earth

We must have really been sleeping in a Maori ancestor’s womb last night because, man, we had a good night sleep! Last night was the first night of our 365 Days: 365 Activities that we slept in a wharenui (a Maori meeting house). Marcus from the Whirikoka Pa Site welcomed us to his whanau’s (family’s) home, explaining how the structure of the wharenui symbolises a female ancestor, hence the “womb” comment.

A night in a marae

The usual protocol of staying in a wharenui, or you might more commonly hear it being called a marae, is that you sleep in a communal area and share communal facilities – yes, just like a good ol’ backpacker hostel. In the Whatatutu Marae, there is a number of mattresses stacked in the corner of the room, so last night we “doubled up” on the mattresses for extra comfort, found a spot on the floor (for us, it is near the power outlets), and piled the mattresses up with blankets. Joined by a couple of musicians touring New Zealand and a mother called Halo, who was retreating here for a while, it is like a sleepover but without the pillow fights, cookie dough and ice cream.

We wake up early as usual trying to not disturb our fellow marae-dwellers and get to work in the communal kitchen/dining area, writing yesterday’s blog post. With the amount of art put together by various guests who have retreated here in the past, as well as the walls decorated in carvings and display cases holding various Maori artifacts, the place feels like a mini museum – there are heaps of stories to be told, which is something the Maori are impeccably good at. In fact, Marcus’ father, Owen, joins us at the dinner table for a short while, sharing a idea with a well-crafted story.

Once everyone is up and out of bed, Marcus is keen to share more of the New Zealand’s story by taking us on a small trip to a place called Tarndale…

Waking up in the marae Waking up in the marae
Beautiful sunrise at the Whatatutu Marae Beautiful sunrise at the Whatatutu Marae
On the road to the Tarndale Landslip On the road to the Tarndale Landslip
Beyond the road Beyond the road

Mokos and ice cream

First things first, we need to top up on fuel, so we head to the nearest gas station where Marcus spots his cousin. We say: “Kia Ora!” to her, while admiring the moko (Maori tattoo) inked on her chin. It’s a quick meeting, then we are arming ourselves with an ice cream and making our way into Tarndale.

The drive to Tarndale landslip

We drive surrounded by grassy farmlands atop of huge rolling hills. Patches of these hills are occupied by pine trees as part of the forestry industry and Marcus is taking us deeper and deeper into this landscape.

Leaving the main road, we bob down a gravel road that has seen better days. Our views of the landscape are suddenly engulfed in pine forest. Marcus explains how only about 30 years ago, this used to be the main road through the district, but after a huge landslip – the second largest in the Southern Hemisphere, the road… Well, we’re about to see what happened to the road.

Taking the closed road

After clearing the gravel road of a fallen pine tree, it’s not long until we reach a sign saying “Road closed”.

“We will walk from here,” Marcus says, getting out of the car. The six of us take the rest of the “road” on foot, Marcus leading the way.

A devastating landslip

New Zealand is world-famous for its stunning landscapes and vast areas of untouched wilderness, but since human migration, what used to be about 85% of land area covered in natural forest has been reduced down 24%. More recently, this is due to intensive farming and forestry, and the latter has taken a huge toll on the structure of the land.

The road that we have been following now lies somewhere in a wash of crumbled earth as we look down a landslip so huge it almost looks like it has created its own valley. Walking on a bit further, we are now on a ridge with two landslips on either side. It’s impressive to see but in the most grotesque way.

We spend a while here, humbled by the destruction. Then we head on back to the marae with our eyes opened.

First sight of the devastation First sight of the devastation
The landslip flowing into the river below The landslip flowing into the river below
A stop along the east coast A stop along the east coast

A sunset drive along the east coast

After learning so much here with Marcus and his family, we finally have to move on – it’s all part of the backpacking lifestyle. We say our goodbyes and hit the road to Tokomaru Bay. The 2-hour drive takes us on the Pacific Coast Highway on the coast of Eastland. It’s back to the pretty side of New Zealand, passing sandy beach after sandy beach with turquoise waters rolling into shore.

We can’t help but stop a few times to feel the sea breeze and watch a couple of shags drying off their wings on the beach. With the a golden hue spread across the land, we realise that the east coast is just an ideal place to get the best of the sun no matter whether it’s sunrise or sunset! (Although sunrise is pretty badass. You should have a look at yesterday’s pictures).

Checking into Stranded in Paradise

When we arrive in Tokomaru Bay, we check into our accommodation for the night, Stranded in Paradise. The hostel is designed so every room can see the sunrise, but we are already mesmerised by the changing colours of the sky over the ocean as we eat our dinner out on the deck. After that, we see some of the clearest night skies since being on this trip thanks to not having a cloud in the sky and very little light pollution.

Hopefully tomorrow we’ll get to see more of the famous Eastland sunrise before making our way to Tolaga Bay to see New Zealand’s longest wharf and check out some coastal scenery on the Cook’s Cove Walkway. Join us then!

Laura and Robin

Yes, we still don’t have any 360-degree images to show you, but great news: we picked up our new camera this afternoon so we will have more sexy 360 images for you tomorrow!

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See you tomorrow!

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