Kiwis love to travel. It’s in our blood. When I set off on my travels I know where I’m going, how I’m going to get there, and pretty much what I’ll see and do. It wasn’t like that for my forebears or for any of the first people to arrive in New Zealand.
The Polynesian migration across the Pacific Ocean has to be one of the most astounding feats of human endeavour.Imagine setting off into the vastness of the Pacific in a canoe, with only a rudimentary sail, and the stars and the ocean current for your guide. Me? I’d rather have stayed home. Mathew Wright, historian, says that carbon dating indicates Maori landed in New Zealand around 1280 AD. Which makes ours the most recently inhabited country in the world.
Another famous explorer, Paikea, travelled to the East Coast, not far from Gisborne, on the back of a whale. You might have seen the movie Whale Rider. It’s based on Witi Ihimaera’s novel of the same name.
Captain James Cook, the most well-known of the European explorers, arrived in 1769 on the Endeavour, five hundred years after the first Maori.
Cook spent his boyhood in Ayton, England, which Restless Jo visited on one of her Monday walks. When you check out her post you’ll see a statue and a memorial in honour of him. In fact, that post inspired this one. There’s Jo, on the other side of the world wandering around Cook’s boyhood town. And here am I, living in the country which he later circumnavigated.Remember, when you look at the map, like Kupe and Paikea, much of the time Cook didn’t know what he would find. The reality of that hit home for me when I was reading his log entries from the couple of days before they sighted New Zealand. Cook noticed the colour of the sea had changed to a pale blue. Unsure what that meant they took regular soundings – I guess they were worried about running aground.
A cabin boy, Nick Young, was the first to see hills from the masthead. Cook rewarded him (he was twelve) with a gallon of rum! and he named this promontory “Young Nick’s Head”.
Last weekend I visited the place where Cook and his crew first went ashore. Gisborne, where it seems it’s always summer, where every kid can surf, and every meal is a BBQ, is a place rich with history. And the Maori/European history is fraught. It was from the beginning. The first encounters between Maori and the crew didn’t go well. The ship’s log is, to my reading, a sad account of misunderstanding and cross-cultural miscommunication with a tragic outcome.
The memorial to Cook at the end of Waikanae beach in Gisborne suggests the crew misinterpreted a traditional Maori challenge. They fired at the Maori, killing two. As a consequence the Endeavour sailed south without the fresh provisions they’d hoped for and Cook named the bay Poverty Bay.
A few days later the Endeavour sailed across Hawkes Bay. Cook’s log has a fascinating description of the place which is now my hometown: “a Bluff head lying in the South-West corner of the Bay South by West 2 or 3 Miles. On each side of this bluff head is a low narrow sand or stone beach; between these beaches and the Main land is a pretty large lake of Salt Water, as I suppose.”
The Bluff is still very recognisable. All that remains of the large salt lake is an estuary – the land was raised by several earthquakes in the late 1800s and then the quake of 1931.
Cook continued south, eventually circumnavigating New Zealand. He made an amazingly accurate map of the country. Not for nothing is he regarded as one of the most brilliant cartographers in history.
It’s been said that everyone living here is an immigrant or the descendant of an immigrant. And as the Governor General, Jerry Mateparae, said in his speech on Waitangi Day 2014 we all arrived seeking essentially the same thing:
“Whether you or your ancestors came to New Zealand by waka a thousand years ago, by a sailing ship 200 years ago, by steamer 100 years ago, or by aeroplane 10 years ago, they came seeking a land of opportunity where they and their families could live in peace.”
And despite the growing cultural diversity of our country, I think that’s what unites us.
And you? Do you have travel in your blood?
Categories: Off The Beaten Track in Aotearoa