Thursday, 11 April 2013

Whakatane to Gisborne

Note: There are green coloured bits in this entry relating to things you may not be interested in, in this case Captain Cook. Just skip past the green bits if you're not interested!
What a splendid day it’s been, not only has it been warm with clear blue skies, but I’ve managed to indulge myself in volcanic islands with a plume of smoke on the horizon of a bay, along with some Captain Cook sightseeing.

The sacred Pohaturoa (long rock) in Whakatane
It’s been an absolutely beautiful day with not a cloud in the sky (except the rising cloud over White Island) and not a breath of wind, can’t get much better than that in mid autumn (unless you’re a farmer!). We took a drive into Whakatane town this morning which is a beautiful place on the eastern side of the Bay of Plenty and predominantly Maori (it’s the first time a Maori gentleman replied ‘Kia Ora’ to our ‘Hello’). It’s a town on a narrow strip of land around the Whakatane river, at the foot of cliffs, which are sacred to Maori and has had a bit of a turbulent past with confrontations with white settlers, but things are pretty quiet these days.

Whale Island (left) and White Island (centre right faint on the horizon)
Smoking White Island in the distance
We walked to a sacred spot which is a lookout on top of the cliffs giving superb views over the town and out to sea to Whale Island and, my favourite, White Island, a small volcanic island still very active constantly sending a cloud of smoke up into the air. To me it’s a childhood pirate picture, I have this image in my mind of a small bay on a deserted island surrounded by palm trees, bathed in a semi tropical sun in the South Pacific. In the bay is a pirate ship anchored flying the jolly roger, with a few pirates just coming ashore with treasure and on the horizon is a smoking volcano. Standing on the beach looking at White Island smoking away is as near as I’ll get to that childhood image and I bored Jackie to death taking photo after photo. I did think I’d like to go out there and I’m sure it would be a great experience, but at $200 each we decided it wasn’t worth it and, in any case, it would probably spoil my childhood illusion! Well you have to wear a facemask to cancel out the noxious gases, which just wouldn’t fit with an eyepatch!

Jackie climbing be the waterfall
Instead we took a walk along the front to see the small waterfall, that is actually quite impressive for a trickle (Jackie decided to climb the rocks by the side of it a bit too high, slipped and frightened herself – and me – a little), we went onto a cave and, a little further on, great views of the harbour, river estuary and my smoking little island on the horizon!

Lunch stop with White Island in the distance (you might not be able to see it clearly, b0ut its there!
Statue of Wairaka, daughter of the captain of the first waka
After eating lunch on a picnic table by the beach looking at White Island (how many other people can say they’ve eaten their lunch by the sea with a smoking volcano on the horizon?), we took off along the inland route to Gisborne along what is supposed to be one of New Zealands  great scenic drives through the Waiokea gorge. I promised Murray an honest opinion after he reckoned it was ‘OK, but nothing special’. On a scale of 1 to 10, with 5 being ‘OK, nothing special’, I thought the entrance to the gorge was quite scenic and gave it 5.5, but as we got further in the native bush on the towering mountains, with picturesque crystal clear waters tumbling over rocks below us, I went up to 6 and began to feel sorry for this gorge that Murray rated as ‘OK’, surely it deserved more than that! As we went on out of the gorge it was still very nice, but not dramatic to my score went below a 5. After completion and after due consideration, my score for the whole drive is…….5, its OK but nothing special! Worth the drive if you’re there, but not worth going out of your way. Not like Arthurs Pass or Mount Cook which I’d give an 8, or Glen Coe in Scotland, or even some of the jaw dropping scenic drives in the alps, but it was pleasant enough.

We are now in Gisborne and staying at the Top 10 holiday park right on the beach at Waikanae Beach with the sea about 50m from us and, as I write, the sound of Pacific breakers coming in through the open windows of the van on what is now a dark evening.

The statue of Captain Cook
It was on this beach on 9th October 1769 that Captain James Cook first set foot on New Zealand with some of his men and Europeans first made contact with the Maori people, 2 days after Nick Young, the 12 year old son of the ships surgeon first sighted the white cliffs just along the coast now called ‘Young Nicks Head’. Unfortunately this first meeting caused a misunderstanding of cultures, resulting in Cook’s men opening fire killing several Maori. Cook sailed away taking only some firewood, naming this bay Poverty Bay, as he found nothing else of value. The name has stuck.

We walked just along from our campsite to the statues of Young Nick and Captain Cook and I looked wistfully out to sea and imagined those events all those years ago on this very spot. What a privilege it felt to be standing here and, whilst I tried to enthuse Jackie of those events all those years ago, she seemed unimpressed!

Doesn't he look imposing as you come down the street!
The statue of James Cook has him standing on a globe which on the front details the events of his landing and on the reverse a map of the world showing his three voyages of discovery and the dates of the sailings. It says on the front:

“A fine seaman an outstanding captain and an honest man, Captain Cook was one of the last of the great explorer-navigators and the first of the scientific expedition leaders. After his three global voyages of 1768-71, 1772-75 and 1776-79 the map of the world was substantially complete.

Here on the 9th and 10th October 1769 Cook walked with men from HM Bark Endeavour seeking fresh food and water. Nearby on the river rock Ibka-a-Taiau, Maori chief and English captain greeted one another. When traditional challenges were misunderstood, Maori were killed, the ship sailed without provisions and thus Poverty Bay received its name. From here, the Endeavour circumnavigated New Zealand and Cook plotted the first map of this country.

The meeting of the two peoples marked the beginning of the New Zealand nation.”

On the reverse, under the map of the world are three inscriptions of his three voyages:

“First voyage: H.M. Bark Endeavour. 368 Tons, 96 crew. Plymouth August 26 1768. Madeira, Rio de Janeiro. Tierra del Fuego, Tahiti, New Zealand, Australia, Batavia, Cape Town, London July 13 1771”

“Second voyage: HMS Resolution. 462 Tons, 116 crew. Plymouth July 13 1772. Cape Town, Antarctic Circle, New Zealand, Tahiti, Tonga, New Zealand, Antarctic Circle, South Pacific Islands, New Zealand, Cape Horn, Cape Town, Spithead July 30 1775”

“Third voyage: HMS Resolution. 462 Tons, 112 crew. Plymouth July 12 1776. Cape Town, Kerguelen, Tasmania, New Zealand, South Pacific Islands, Christmas Island, Hawaiian Islands, Vancouver Island, Bering Sea, Hawaii February 14th 1779”

The statue of Young Nick with the beach of the first landing behind
Further along the beach under the statue of young Nick is a plaque that says:

“Land! This statue depicting the historic sighting of New Zealand by Young Nick aboard Captain Cook’s ship Endeavour 7 October 1769 was presented by the New Zealand Insurance Company Limited to the city of Gisborne and unveiled by his excellency the governor general Sir Arthur Porritt on the occasion of the Cook bi-centennial celebrations 10 October 1969”

As I don’t think it’s possible to walk to Young Nicks Head I wondered if it’s possible to get a boat journey to the site. We went to the i-site office and it appears the MV Takitimu, a restored 1921 ship, takes people out every Sunday afternoon and, although they don’t normally go past Young Nicks Head, if I told them I’m a Cook enthusiast they might just make a detour there for me. I’m hoping! It would by fantastic to be able to get a photo of the very spot first seen from the sea!

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