Last night we went out on the water taxi from Havelock up to a place called Te Rawa in the Pelorus Sound. Te Rawa might mean The Property which sounds a lot like it was named by a European. From a Ngai Tahu point of view the sounds are the prow of the sunken waka of Aoraki, which works beautifully as an image if you imagine how the water might fill in the lattice work carving of a waka’s prow.
The water taxi was sailed by Penny and it took us just over an hour to get to Te Rawa where a large jetty populated by kids mucking about with little buckets on rope and fishing lines greeted us. As we bounced off the moorings and sidled back and forth in the water the owners of the lodge showed up to help with the ropes and take the supplies: trays of eggs, litres of milk, and bags of white bread. Two other passengers disembarked with their dog, and a dog carrier full of beer (“He’s very friendly” they assured us as they got on board just before dog offered a deep-throated growl at Rosamund).
On the jetty we pottered back and forth while Rosamund made friends with an old dog who wanted to lie down and have his flank stroked (don’t we all). A woman from Wellington introduced her kids to our kids thinking we were staying which was nice, but emptied of meaning by our departure five minutes later. A young couple got on board for the return journey: he from Denmark and she from Germany.
Penny took us back south and pulled into a little cove to look at the bush: a place that had been made a reserve in the 1800s and had never been touched by European industry. Bush, in other words, as the Maori knew it, and as the first Europeans saw New Zealand.
It was striking how different it looked from the bush all around it. In fact right next to this area of reserve was an area of native bush that was about 40 years old; there was a clear line between the two. You can see that divide below: new on the left, and old on the right.
The fact that so many of the hills are covered in either native regrowth or pine plantations hides the fact that these early Europeans stripped many of these places of their trees, planted grass and started farming.
One thing that is noticeable about the intact native reserve bush is how complex it is: the different levels of plants from undergrowth to canopy, and all the insects, birds and other animals that coexist with it. Looking at the farmland that is left or the pine plantations its most striking characteristic is its homogeneity. Pine plantations have a ghostly quality. For a living thing they are curiously absent of life.
Our second stop on the way back was a mussel farm. Bobbing up and down next to the buoys and ropes you could see across the Pelorus to a pine plantation. Two ways entrepreneurs have extracted value out of this area. The boat itself representing another way to extract money from the land and sea: tourism.
There is something about this area that makes me think about time. Thinking about time can be personal. We last came here in 2010 when Eleanor was three. Now Eleanor has a sister who is five, and we are back exploring the same little stretch of rocky shoreline and finding stones to stuff in our pockets, and leave lying about on shelves and the arms of chairs back at the bach. The rocks are all kinds of colours from the deep red brown colour of hokey pokey, to light buttery yellows and a dozen different greys.
The rocks of course represent hundreds of thousands of years, and the time when this area was deep valleys and mountain ranges. Thundering up the Pelorus in a water taxi above the drowned valley floor you can see the tides of human industry among fragments of surviving bush: the farms, the pine, the regrowth, and hear tales of the whalers, and Cook, and the conflicts and negotiations of different hapu and iwi.
That night I downloaded one of those apps that gives you star maps. For the first time in my life I identified a few stars: Betelgeuse, Orion’s Belt, and Sirius. It was incredibly satisfying although I find the whole aspect of join-the-dots-mythic-characters a bit strange and far fetched. More interesting for me is the idea of their use in navigation, and as signals of the seasons and time. When it comes to time the night sky is, of course, the best way to pull all things on Earth out of context. If even the passing of a few generations of man begins to test comprehension, and geological time seems preposterous, then contemplating the stars makes all time appear meaningless.
New Zealand sometimes calls itself a young country, and Europeans sometimes say that it is a place without history. You have to learn to look. You have to be patient.