Thursday, February 26, 2009

Back to Pouto

We used to call this Swan Lake. It's proper name is something like Kanonoto.

Tomorrow my kids and their families and I are heading off for a family together at Pouto, at the end of Pouto Peninsula, where we began our lives in Kiwiland.

Danny, Leone, Bernie and I arrived on 27 December, 1973. Justine asn’t born till 1977. Strange someone like me, who can’t remember what I had for breakfast and often struggles to remember what day of the week it is, should remember the date. My ex, Bryon, had come ahead a few days before as he’d driven our car (loaded to the hilt with all the worldly goods we were bringing with us) to Sydney for shipping and the kids and I spent Christmas with my family, the first I’d had at home since we had married in 1966 – and I had no idea how long it would be before it would happen again. We all holidayed at the beach at Caloundra and had a lovely time, despite 5 year old Leone clashing something awful with my father. Oh yes, there is another story there.

I’m so glad that my ex chose to take me to a place like Pouto. To a small, predominately Maori community where his relatives and the locals could teach me all that I needed learn on how to be a Kiwi farmer’s wife. And such a beautiful place! So much history. A huge contrast to Mt Isa, in north west Queensland, a big mining town with a great mix of nationalities. From the dry harshness of the west to this lush green paradise.

It is 69 km to Dargaville, the nearest town of any size, a scenic drive which wends through farmlands, pine plantations, passes lakes and horticultural blocks. That’s quite a distance from town by NZ standards but didn’t seem so to me at the time, being used to much greater distances between places in Queensland.

My first impressions? Green, green and green. Rolling hills. Treacherous road – I was used to dirt roads, not metal. Sea and harbour, lakes and sand dunes – and more lakes in the sand dunes. Oh, and shipwrecks. I thought, when Bryon’s cousins talked of going fishing to The Graveyard that they were using their nickname for a favourite fishing spot but no, it is so called because 150 ships are said to have gone down there. In certain tidal and sand conditions, the remains of wrecks are sometimes, even now, partially exposed offshore or in the sand.

The Pouto Peninsula is a coastal peninsula, about 55 km long. On the western side, the Tasman Sea crashes, while on the eastern side the waters of the Kaipara Harbour ebb and flow over large tidal mud flats and sand banks and through deep inlets. On the southern end the peninsula forms the north entrance to the Kaipara Harbour, with its infamous mouth and sandbar. This harbour is the largest in NZ (and at one time was the busiest) but is more famed as the most treacherous. Not that you would know it when you are within its confines.

Pouto is part of the ancestral land of the Te Uri o Hau hapu of Ngati Whatua. For Maori, the area had plentiful resources and easy access, and hence it came to be well populated following its settlement. Rosie, my neighbour, an old Maori lady who made it her mission to educate me in the folklore of the district, told me the local Maori were big and fat, happy go lucky, life was easy, food was plentiful and easy to gather and that those "savages" from up north would creep down the coast and raid their villages in search of the biggest and juiciest of them for "a good feed'. Half the time I didn't know whether to believe what she told me or not, she had such a wicked sense of humour! I loved that lady!

In recent years relics have been found of a civilisation thought to pre-date Maori settlement of the area. The early settlers came by sea. Maori came from central eastern Polynesia by sailing their waka (canoe) in many separate voyages, and (it now appears) on occasions made return journeys to their homelands. Later on, economic and social history has been founded on the need for safe passage of ships in and out of the Kaipara Harbour.

Both Abel Tasman in 1642 and James Cook in 1770 had sighted and made records of the coast but from the sea the huge harbour remained hidden.

Du Fresne in 1772 was the first European to identify the entranceway to the harbour, and also to recognize that the land was inhabited.

The Reverend Samuel Marsden is acknowledged to have been the first European to see Kaipara from the land. He was accompanied and assisted by hospitable local Maori. (See, Rosie told me they were good natured!) Information was gathered in 1831 with assistance from Parore, one of Kaipara’s principal chiefs, as to the qualities of the harbour. In 1836 this enabled the first two ships to make safe passage through the heads.

A lighthouse was erected on the last outcrop of sandstone, in 1884, along with two small cottages, sheds etc for the lighthouse keepers. The lighthouse switched to automation in November1947 and on that day the harbour was (and remains) closed to ships. So in that relatively short span of time 150 ships (and how many lives?) were lost. The Graveyard is aptly named.

The lighthouse remains (maintained by the Historic Places Trust), the oldest wooden lighthouse in NZ. It is a 7km walk from the end of the road, along the beach and the 85 odd metre climb up to it through thick sand was gruelling to me, even in the 70s. I might be able to manage the walk this time (if conditions are to my liking) but not sure about the climb.

I’m so looking forward to our ‘back to Pouto’ adventure.

Pouto Lighthouse

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