NEW ZEALANDS WILD EAST COAST
An extract from a journal about the Eastcoast , north island
The sun is rising on New Zealand's wild East Coast
source:Jacqueline Steincamp - 04/02/03
A visit to the wild East Coast of New Zealand's North Island and staying at the remote Waikawa Lodge in Waipiro Bay plunges the traveller into Lonely Planet country. You experience a thriving mix of Maori, forestry, arts and crafts, a champion Maori rugby team, Tolaga Bay knitwear, peerless beaches and matchless surf.
You get there from Gisborne along Highway 35 ("If you want to feel truly alive, try Highway 35", sang the novelist Witi Imihaera). You must not drive with your eyes firmly fixed on the white line on this meandering, switchback route. You must dawdle, you must peer and poke. You must swerve down the side roads, whether to the sea or the hills if you are to find another New Zealand and glimpses of a past you never learnt at school. That fine (and largely overlooked) Maori film, "Broken Earth", (released 2000) depicted its roughness and the hardness of life for today's inhabitants.
This is an area long in history of the Maori and of early white settlement. When Paoa, captain of the Hourouta waka (canoe) first glimpsed Aotearoa, he named the first headland he saw Te Kuri a Paoa - after the dog he brought with him. Captain Cook came along in 1769 and named it Young Nick's Head, for Nicholas Young, the cabin boy who saw it first.
Cook and his crew marvelled at the dense forests and the myriads of birds as they sailed along this coast. The trees were the first to be exploited by the white man. Logging was in full swing in the early 1800s, mainly to provide timbers for sailing ships and Sydney buildings. Then the sheep and cattle farmers started moving in and land clearance stepped up as the Coasters developed a thriving export trade wool, wood and produce for Auckland, Sydney even Russia.
The massive tree plantings along the way are an indication of an impending dawn for an area which has had many false ones. You find mournful reminders of an early colonial history you never knew existed - massive Victorian brick warehouses, brick cottages and county buildings, long empty wharves with nothing on them but the occasional fisherman. You find forgotten little settlements. You find poverty, squalor, apathy, too much appalling housing. This is not a tourist area. Accommodation and cafes are few and far between.
You also find proud communities doing their best with what they've got; an art school at Tokomaru Bay, potters, writers, photographers. You find Trish Girling-Butcher's luxury merino wool design and production company in sleepy Tolaga Bay. You find talented, creative people living outside the square; others simply doing their best to survive.
Such as in Waipiro Bay, where we touched down the longest. It's a couple of hours north of Gisborne and a steep swerve down from Highway 35.
East Coast Map
Map showing the wild East Coast area
Source Waikawa Lodge
(Click here for a larger version)
First stock up at the understandably famous little store at sulphurous Te Puia Springs (long famed for its hot springs). Then you drive down a winding road to the coast. You'll find a long sweep of sands, rolling breakers that attract surfers from all over the country, an empty surging sea and magnificent headlands.
Today's Waipiro is a shadow of its past. Though upwards of two hundred people live in and around it, you could drive by almost without noticing it. The houses are scattered and hidden in the trees. Gardens are few and far between. Horses eye you over untidy fences. Imperious piebald porkers parked in the middle of the roads challenge you to run over them.
If you look a little harder, you'll see a Maori language primary school, three marae, a little church. Film magnate Bob Kerridge's very first cinema is now a marae dining hall. The nearest store, or pub or business of any kind is at Te Puia, six kilometres away.
One hundred years ago ten thousand people lived at Waipiro. It was the administrative centre for the district, with a busy port, a trading post, handsome brick shipping offices, and a hospital.
In those days Maori and pakeha worked alongside each other: farming cattle and sheep, cutting trees, saw milling; packing goods for export, and manhandling them onto a multitude of little ships that worked right along the coast. It was an exciting time, full of hope for the future.
Horses were the main means of transport then. They were valued for their uses. It is much the same today. Rough, unkempt (but hopefully loved), they are in every paddock, and often on the road. Kids go to school on them, farmers use them for mustering, they are "wheels" for many social occasions.
Till we meet again - Regards edmondsallan