Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Reaching the summit

 We took a pause in the last post, as we climbed Maungawhau. It's getting steep now, but the sun is reaching the high slopes
 and illuminating the distant cone of Maungakiekie (One Tree Hill).
 Here we are, just one more scramble up the sides and we will have reached the highest point on the Auckland isthmus (196 m, or 643 feet),
 and from here, under the lowering clouds, we can see that this cone has not only height, but depth.
Here is the surprise: a perfectly shaped crater, 50 metres deep (160 feet). Two decades ago, drummers used to sit in the cold shadow at the bottom of the crater at winter solstice and drum up the sunrise. But now there is a sign asking visitors not to descend as the crater is a fragile and sacred archeological site.
The crater was known at Te Kaupa kai a Mataaho: the food bowl of Mataaho, who was the god of volcanic eruptions. 28,000 years ago Mataaho had plenty of food, which he was flinging far and wide in spectacular displays, but now he is sleeping.
Maungawhau was once a pa site, a fortified village, and like the other cones, still has the remains of kumara pits dug into its sides. The light is fading fast now, and the bank of clouds is threatening rain, but in the golden glow of early evening we have a last view, out towards the gentle contours of Rangitoto island, which erupted only 600 years ago.

We are reminded of the fiery history of Auckland, and give thanks that we are living here when the volcano god has emptied his food bowl and is now deeply slumbering, or has slipped away to vent his energy in the central plateau of the north island, where no city has been built.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

The highest one of all

 Are you ready for a walk? You need to be fit for this one, because we will be climbing the highest of Auckland's cones.
 Most people drive to the top, but we can gently wind up the first part, following the paths and steps. The red colour of the path comes from the scoria that makes up the central part of the cone.
 Already we are high enough for some views to the south. The weather is a little cloudy and misty as we begin, but you can make out the shape of Owairaka (Mt Albert). This one is next on our list for exploring.
 But for now we will take a look at the revegetation planting, done no doubt by the 'Friends of Maungawhau.' I lived in the suburb surrounding this mountain for 22 years, and at that time the Friends were formed, with the intention of restoring the plant after which the mountain was named: the whau. You can see one doing very well at the top of this little cluster of new trees.
The whau has a white fluffy flower. Its wood is light, like balsa wood, and it was used by Maori to make fishing floats. Later, with cattle grazing the mountain, the whau disappeared because cattle love these lush leaves, but now the cattle are gone and the whau is forming its late summer seed-heads.
 As we climb higher we can look out to the last of Te Tatua a Riukiuta: the Three Kings. Sadly, the other two were quarried away.
 If you listen carefully, above the sound of the summer cicadas, you will hear the gurgling of many happy tuis. They love the nectar and pink berries of the puriri trees.
 It's getting steeper now, and we have to scramble up the hillside. But the evening light is shining through the clouds, and revealing Ohinerangi (Mt Hobson), which featured in an earlier post.
We are also high enough to look down on the first volcano that we climbed in this series: Te Kopuke
This is the most hidden of them all, as if the trees that cover its slopes are all conspiring to keep it a secret.
We are on our way to the highest point on the Auckland ismuth. Governor Hobson who named the first mountain he climbed after himself, then named Maungawhau after his superior officer George Eden. As you see from the sign at the beginning of this post, the original Maori name is being used once more.
The best is yet to come. But for now we are tired from climbing and will take a wee break. Join me in the next post to discover a surprise at the summit.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

My very own Valentine's red letter day

It was actually the day after Valentine's Day, but for me there were plenty of signs that this would be the One. The nikau palm in the morning sun was pointing its fingers eagerly, fanning out in excitement.
The bach door, sporting its lucky horse-shoe, knew that a special day had arrived at last, the one I've been waiting for, for six weeks.
I gathered up fresh garden produce to make favourite salads.
 And soon, a well-loved little knock sounded on the door. And yes, here is the little one, sweeping in from her sojourn in China, taking to the water as if she never left.
 Her legs have grown taller and she can manage her board so much better. How good life is when you have two worlds with distinct cultures and you love every minute in each of them.
Could any day be more perfect than this? That night I dreamed I was being gifted these beautiful papier mache balls by a young woman. I felt I was guarding a precious gift.
What is more precious than a young, happy life? This was the best Valentine's Day ever, my very own red letter day.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

He climbed Ohinerangi first

 The volcanic cone of Ohinerangi was renamed in 1841 by the first Governor of New Zealand. When he arrived here, he climbed Ohinerangi first of all, and like so many men of his day, renamed it after himself: Mt Hobson.
 It was a steep climb we made on a hot day last weekend, but the summer wind is still blowing. On this day it was welcome, not only for its cooling effect but also for the way it created ripples through the silky grass.
 As we climbed higher, we could look east across the Waitemata Harbour, whose name means 'sparkling waters', and glimpse Maungauika (North Head), another scoria cone in the family of volcanoes that once erupted all over Auckland.
 A little higher, and we could look out to Rangitoto, the youngest of the volcanoes and the only one that erupted in the sea. I sailed to this island on my honeymoon when I was barely twenty years old, and climbed to the top.
In the foreground you can see one of the many hollows that dip into the sides of these cones, a sign of the kumara pits created by the Maori for storing their precious staple crop.
 And to the south we looked out towards Maungakiekei, One Tree Hill, the mountain that lost its one tree in a dramatic incident many years ago. But that's another story.
 To the west was the sight I was waiting for: here is Te Kopuke, the cone that I climbed a couple of weeks ago, and showed you on the blog.
 In this photo you can see the terracing created by Maori. I love the way Te Kopuke is tucked into the trees.
What's this? Have Peter Jackson and the Hobbits come to Ohinerangi? No, the crater was excavated in the '50s to created a hidden reservoir. Inside the arched doorway lies an enormous pipe that carries water to Auckland homes.
 Further round, and on our descent we could glimpse Maungawhau through the trees. This is my most climbed volcano, for I used to live in Mt Eden, the suburb that surrounds it.

After climbing up and around Ohinerangi I felt recharged. The energy of these cones is amazing, almost as if their hidden fire is lurking somewhere within them. They also provide breathing spaces, parks that rise upwards, free of the busy activity of the city below.

Note: In my post on January 26 I called this mountain Remuera. This is a later Maori name, a corruption of Remu-wera (the burnt hem of a garment), that was mistakenly used for Ohinerangi.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

The voice of a stream

 All streams have a voice. The small river of my childhood rattled and gurgled over stones as it tumbled its way down from the mountain. The brook of Schubert’s Die schöne Müllerin babbles and rolls along with a consistency that keeps the mill wheels turning.
 Out on the west coast last weekend, I took a favourite evening walk alongside a stream that has a different voice.
 For, you see, this stream has no stones. Not even pebbles. It glides over the satiny sandy stream bed. And its voice is quiet.
 Not even a murmur. More of a gentle slide, a ripple and sometimes a sigh. Then silence. Only the flitting wax eyes and the roosting tuis punctuate the silence with their song.

Walking or sitting by this sandy stream in the evening soothes away all my rough edges. The city becomes a distant dream. I am washed clear. The voice of the stream says, let go, enter my rhythm. It’s the rhythm of being. Just be. The rhythm of release.