In 1997, I went on a road-trip with my then-boyfriend and his parents, from Dunedin to a tiny little place called Te Kao, at the top of the North Island. This was my first time out of the South Island, and I saw so much of the North as we travelled up the country by campervan.
We didn’t do any sight-seeing as such; we were there to spend time on the family’s marae with various aunts, uncles and cousins who had come home for the new year. We stayed for around a week, eating hangi and drinking Lion Red beer, and being shown the area by the locals.
We went pipi-picking on 90 Mile Beach, and drove along the sand for a good long while. I was shown how to dig for the shellfish with my toes, then grab the pipi as quickly as possible to bite the “tongue” before it snapped away.
We went to an uncle’s oyster farm and it was reinforced that I don’t like raw oysters. We laughed about Houhora‘s claim to fame (painted on the side of a shed, no less) of having the last pub north, but ate our words when more beer was required on New Year’s Eve and that pub opened up just for us to make a purchase.
We went to Cape Reinga, and watched the sun setting over the water where the Pacific Ocean and Tasman Sea meet. Cape Reinga is said to be where the spirits of the dead enter the underworld; it had an incredible atmosphere and I distinctly remember feeling the hairs on the back of my neck prickle as I watched the sun descending from the sky. The cape is mistakenly called the northernmost point of New Zealand, but that honour goes to the Surville Cliffs.
It was such an interesting part of the country to visit – ruggedly beautiful, achingly poor, endlessly uninhabited – and I feel privileged to have been welcomed onto the marae at that time. And although that relationship ended after five years, I still think fondly of this trip.
(Photos from 1997)
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