For almost thirty years we’ve spent Waitangi Day on the Awhitu Peninsula, mostly at Tahuna Pa, near Waiuku, for a celebration of Ngaati Te Ata young people’s achievements, and sports and music.
This year was very different. We were invited to the opening and blessing of an ancient path at the Manukau Heads at 5am on Waitangi Day, followed by the blessing of a new carving and plaque in the Awhitu Regional Park, Kaitara. The idea of driving from the city to the Heads at 3.30 am or earlier didn’t appeal, so we gratefully accepted an invitation from Alison and Steve (the owners of our former farm, earthtalk@awhitu) to have dinner with them on 5 Feb and to stay the night. It is a joy to see how much Steve and Alison love living there; and we had a delightful (and nostalgic) evening sleeping in Pohutukawa Place.
Alison is now convenor of the Landcare Group, and had also been invited to the opening events, so the three of us set off at 4.30am for the Lighthouse Car Park, and joined the crowd of several hundred people of all ages, Maori and Pakeha, for the blessing of the new carvings and information plaques on the track..
The walk up the gentle hill was almost silent, except for the karanga of kuia and karakia of kaumatua along the way, until we reached the carved gateway at the top, where there were some speeches, and students from Waiuku College sang a specially composed waiata.
This historic walk has been planned by Ngaati Te Ata kaumatua George Flavell, and his nephews Karl and Dean, in conjunction with the senior executives and staff of Ports of Auckland and staff from Auckland’s Southern Initiative, for many years. It was very moving to be part of this ceremony and to see the first carvings as dawn began to lighten the sky and the harbour. At last the Manukau Heads features not only the lighthouse built by Pakeha in the 19th century – a stunning attraction for visitors for some years now- but also this ancient Maori trail which tells the story of the land and many centuries of tangata whenua .
After watching the dawn over the harbour, reading the new plaques, admiring the carvings done by George’s nephew Dean, and greeting lots of old friends from the local community, we headed to Kaitara, where a carving on stone of the matatā was blessed. It replaces a wooden carving which has crumbled in the elements.
The carving is a matatā (the now rare fern bird) , of special significance to Ngaati Te Ata, and still surviving in the swampy areas of Kaitara.
It has been carved by a team: kaumatua George Flavell, honorary ranger and park neighbour Willie Apiata VC, and park ranger John Allen.
Tangi at Tahuna Pa
When we left Kaitara, we headed to Tahuna Marae, just north of Waiuku, this time for a sad occasion. The usual Waitangi Day celebrations had been cancelled for a tangi for Piki Kaihau-Taylor. Piki was one of Moea’s cousins, and mother of Taku Taylor, whom we knew well through the kura, and through her visits to work on our farm with her cousin and close friend Hemoata.
It was good to see Taku, and spend some time with Moea, and with Hemoata and Rangipukohu who had come back specially from Australia for the tangi. We also caught up with many others we know among Ngaati Te Ata, and met some interesting new young ones ones too.
Waitangi Day felt very special this year.