Tuesday, September 29, 2009
On a Hill
Whitianga Bay, 51.2km north east of Opotiki on the North Island’s East Cape, is one of the prettiest beaches you’ll find. I arrived there, on my recent North Island travels, on May 8th. It was a sunny afternoon at 1pm and when I saw the sign pointing to Whitianga Marae, I turned right and drove up a short, steep, gravel road and found myself directly in front of the marae. It sits on a grassy knoll overlooking the beautiful expanse of ocean and the pretty horseshoe bay, with a thicket of pine forest rearing up behind the buildings. I felt at ease there. I felt a strong sense of peace and calm for reasons I couldn’t explain and I stayed for some time, sitting out the front of the marae, thinking about all the people who might have walked under its divine, ornately carved waharoa (gateway).
I loved its lively painted fence. I admired the lush pa harakeke (flax grown for weaving) that grew to one side of the car park. I wondered about the war memorial commemorating the lives of all those lost in both world wars, the Korean war, the Malaysian and Indonesian conflicts and the Vietnam war; and I thought about the statue commemorating the life and bravery of Te Moananui-A-Kiwa Ngarimu (1918-1943), who at 24 was a second lieutenant in the 28th Maori Battalion in Tunisia in World War II. Of Ngati Porou and Te Whanau-a-Apanui descent, Ngarimu grew up in Rotorua. He was awarded the VC posthumously.
One of the most striking things about the Whitianga Marae is the beautifully-carved waharoa and as the afternoon shifted, I took great delight in photographing the marvellous shadows it cast across the marae lawn. They seemed to have a life of their own and as they stalked across the grass, it was almost as if the carving was coming to life. All up it was a beautiful little stopover that I still think about frequently.