Thursday, February 19, 2009


The Maori believe that when you die, your soul travels along Te Oneroa A Tohe, the beautiful white sand of the Ninety Mile beach facing the Tasman Sea. The spirituality of the place is tangible. At Spirits Bay, it is believed that the spirit travels through an 800-year-old Pohutukawa tree, down its roots beneath the ocean and emerges 55 kilometers offshore at Manawatawhi or Three Kings Islands where it bids the most final of farewells to Aotearoa (New Zealand), before travelling to Hawaiki, the legendary ancestral home of the Maori.

We raced along this beach at highway speed on a Sand Safaris Tour bus! The driver, a local Maori with a great voice, sang to us as he careened along the beach, giant sand dunes to the right and the receding tide line to the left. His songs were songs of greeting and welcome and also of love. Love for anyone who has recently left this world to make the long journey of the spirit.

At the northernmost end of the beach where we turned inland again, the bus stopped briefly so we could climb the mountains of sand and slide down them on toboggans. It seemed a fitting counterpoise to the magic in the air.

At the very top of New Zealand is Cape Reinga, where the Tasman Sea and the Pacific Ocean meet on a shallow bank. The waves here can stand very high when conditions are right. This is where we found ourselves this afternoon after a two-hour drive from the Bay of Islands.

Ok, this cruising life is rough! Meals to prepare, dishes to wash, bottoms to scrub….so we took a couple of days off and drove up to the top end of New Zealand! We booked into a little 'shoe box' (apologies to the real 'shoe box') in a motorhome campground but on discovering that it did not have Sky Satellite TV, we immediately upgraded to the cottage! The deck proved very handy for consuming local wine and planning our foray into the unknown, at least by us! Long walks on the beach were also 'de rigeur'!

We did not swim, although some brave souls did. We picnicked in Spirits Bay and pushed on. The return leg was inland and though not as inspiring as the beach drive, we were relieved that our spirits could eke out further existence in this mortal coil!


Digger is a New Zealand and Australian military slang term for soldiers from those countries, originating during the First World War.

You know what gumboots are but do you know where the term originated? Well apparently the fossilized resin from the Kauri tree has been a much sought after commodity! The sap of the Agathis australis, the God of the Forest, was a thriving industry back in the 1800s. Dalmatians (modern Croatia), Irish and other desperate characters emigrated to New Zealand to work in one of the most difficult jobs of all, extracting the gum from the Kauri trees, buried deep in the ground. These trees had been perfectly preserved, almost to the green of the leaves, due to some cataclysmic occurrence in the past. The orientation of most of these giant trees underground led to speculation that a monstrous tsunami caused the overwhelming destruction of the northern island of New Zealand in prehistoric times. Carbon dating of the trees places them at buried 50 to 150 thousand years ago!

The gum is much like what we know of as 'amber' and was used in varnishes.

The Maori, however, burnt it and mixed the ash to make the ink for their famous Tā moko or permanent body and face marking, distinct from tattooing in that the skin was carved by uhi or chisels rather than punctured, leaving the skin with grooves rather than a smooth surface. The color was definitely unique!

We learned all this while walking through forests of Manuka or Kanuka or what we know as Tea Trees, yes where ‘tea tree’ oil is derived, a natural antiseptic.

But we are back on Toketie, the rain is pouring and the wind is howling again, we are provisioned and almost ready to think about moving around to Whangarei for the next stage of the journey!

1 comment:

Sukanuk said...

Would like to have seen a photo of Shoebox Mk 11. Shoebox Mk 1 is doing fine!! Great story and would loved to have been with you. Never been tobogganing. Miss you both.