Monday 15 October 2007

Walking on sacred ground

Please forgive this 'local' blog becoming my web diary as I revisit old childhood journeys.
I've just met up with my old school and cycling mate Grant, and ventured over to Banks Peninsula.

The Banks are truly a magnificent geological feature that juts out from the mainland on the on the Eastern seaboard of the Canterbury plains.

It was formed by two phenomenal stratovolcanoes volcanic explosions, Lyttelton formed first, then Akaroa. Only 8,000 inhabit this wilderness, and very much like the Great Barrier Reef and Cairns, even though this spectacular natural feature is on their doorstep, many locals rarely make the trip to explore.

The crew of Captain James Cook became the first Europeans to sight the peninsula, during Cook's first circumnavigation of New Zealand in 1769, when he named the feature in honour of the his botanist, Joseph Banks. However the peninsula was one of Cook's two major New Zealand cartographical errors. He was unable to see the low plains adjoining the peninsula to the mainland, and charted it as an island. It goes that he was distracted by a phantom sighting of land to the southeast, and sailed away before exploring any closer and never discovered the two good harbours.
The peninsula is in Ngai Tahu country, the local tribe.

The journey takes us through a quaint village called Little River, where the local store was mysteriously burnt to the ground a while ago, only to get a substantially larger cafe and gallery in it's place a year later. However, the spinach and feta muffins with a hot chocolate where rather amazing.

Birdlings Flat, or Kaitorete Spit, is the next stop. It's wild and windy beyond your belief. Sea surf casting is undertaken here, and I recall as a kid heading over here with memories of being chilled to the bone.

There's a meandering collection of battered wind-sweat bachs here, some look like they've not been inhabited for many fishing seasons.

The ocean currents are constantly eroding the spit, from the narrow 100m western width and depositing the gravel in the east which is now over 3kms wide. Ngai Tahu used this area for seasonal food sources and even tool making.

It's a harsh barren climate, however is home to some unique plant and bird life that is not found anywhere else.
We stand briefly on the edge of the stony shore, as the wind fights us to surrender. It's as far away from a barmy Cairns day as you could get, unless you live in Innisfail of course.

From here we head Eastward to the peninsula. Grant points out that the old train track that once serviced colonial pioneers transporting and logging for the young growing city of Christchurch. This track has recently had a rebirth with a local and government joint venture to become a cycle track over 40 kms long. The Tram Track meanders alongside from the road, over reconstructed bridges taking in a stunning vista, for walkers or cyclists.

Arriving at the hilltop and you are presented with a stunning view of the core of the old volcano. Right in the centre is Onawe peninsula, that you will see as a narrow strip in my photo.

The Akaroa harbour and heads are on the right.

As a lad, completed my Scouting challenges, I cycled over this spectacular peninsula.
The area was volcanically active around half a million years ago. The original vent for the Akaroa volcano is considered to be Onawe. The lower slopes of the peninsula are mantled with a yellow, wind-blown silt, which was blown by the infamous Canterbury nor-westers during the most recent ice advances from the wide beds of rivers such as the Waimakariri. It is a stunning part of New Zealand.

Most recently in the 17th century, Onawe was the site of a Ngai Tahu pa, or Maori meeting place. This peninsula was a perfect site for defending and fortification. Te Rauparaha, chief of the Ngati Toa in 1831, captured and killed up to 1,200 people here, so this land is sacred to Ngai Tahu.
Two significant events in the assumption of British sovereignty over New Zealand occurred here.
In 1830 the Māori settlement nearby was the scene of a notorious incident where an English captain, helped North Island Ngāti Toa chief, Te Rauparaha, to capture the local Ngai Tahu chief, Te Maiharanui.

As a result of the ensuing massacre, the British sent James Busby out in 1832 in an effort to stop further atrocities. The events here led directly to the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi.

In 1838 Captain Langlois, a French whaler, decided that Akaroa would make a good settlement to service whaling ships and 'purchased' the peninsula in a dubious land deal with the local Māori. He then soon returned with a group of French nationals, with the intention of forming a French colony on a 'French South Island' of New Zealand.

However, by the time Langlois arrived at Banks Peninsula in mid 1840, many Māori had already signed the Treaty of Waitangi, the signatories including two chiefs at Akaroa, and New Zealand's first British Governor, William Hobson, had declared British sovereignty over the whole of New Zealand. On hearing of the French colonisation plan, Hobson quickly sent police magistrates to intervene.

A walk around the Akaroa of today, resembles a quaint french village complete with La Rue street signposts, a picture out of a French seaside postcard.

As afternoon merges into evening, Grant and I trek out to the top of Onawe, amongst freezing southerlies however we are rewarded with a 360 view that is something to behold.
Not a soul is in view as we made it to the windswept top, standing on the site of what was once a centre of a nation being formed.


Anonymous said...

I like this Kiwi-land stuff. NZ is a unique place for sure, have not been there yet.

Anonymous said...

methinks the change from political activist blog to milquetoast travel blog is Michael Moore rolling over to Kevin Byrne's threats.

Screw your NZ travelogue.

Anonymous said...

Is it better to catch a bus from Te Anau to Milford Sound or is it better to drive yourself there?

Anonymous said...

Oh.. grow up "no more politics" Mike's travelling .. so can't you get a grip mate!

Anonymous said...

Someone has lost the plot here and I dont think its Mike.
Enjoy your holiday !!

Anonymous said...

Jude J says, Dilemma, the best way to enjoy the trip between Te Anau and Milford Sound is to take the bus. That way you can enjoy the spectacular scenery without running off the road. When you get to the scary bits you can also close your eyes. Don't forget to take the insect repellant and put it on before you leave the bus. The sandflies are huge.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Jude J, I'll do that. I was down that way many years ago and have vague memories of travelling through the Homer Tunnel. Looking forward to going there again.

Anonymous said...

Jude J says, Dilemma the Homer Tunnel is an Engineering feat in it's own right. None of the smooth concrete walls in this tunnel. Bare rock with water streaming down the sides. I likened the trip from Te Anau to Milford Sound like finding Shangri-La. The leaving of the fertile green valley, passing the DO NOT STOP - AVALANCHES signs along the way, the climb up to the Homer Tunnel, with towering mountains either side, the drive through the tunnel and coming out on the other side with an awe inspiring vista of Milford Sound below. The zigzag road down to the bottom, and best of all, smugly knowing that YOU are the only one on the bus with the insect repellant.