We are citizens of the sea. Māori arrived in New Zealand by sea, as did Pākehā, and our commercial centre of Auckland lies on the shores of two harbours and at the headwaters of the immense Hauraki Gulf, Tikapa Moana.
We are also guardians of this ocean space, and kaitiaki of all within it. There are places that remain pristine, and places where the mauri has ebbed away in the wake of development. It’s time we considered our role in health of the gulf.
Niue is one of the world’s smallest states, and one of world’s largest coral islands. There is no fringing reef, no white sandy beaches. Instead the Pacific slams up against the coral cliffs like the buttresses of a huge citadel.
Indeed, Niue offers protection, shelter and habitat for a host of marine life. In 2018 the government ratified legislation to protect a massive 40% of Niue’s exclusive economic zone from fishing and other activities that may harm its near-pristine environment.
Point the bow at the razor horizon and leave the coast behind. As the seafloor drops away to 400 metres deep—marking the edge of the continental shelf—you leave New Zealand and enter the wide, wild realm of Tangaroa.
This is a place with different creatures and different rules. Here whales hunt with dolphins, fish congregate into boiling meatballs and sharks lurk in the shadows, just out of sight. Marine scientists such as Rochelle Constantine are beginning to understand the relationships and rules of the open sea, hopefully soon enough to save it.
Cape Rodney-Okakari Point Marine Reserve (Goat Island) marked the beginning of an environmental awakening. Established in 1977, it was the country’s first no-take marine reserve, and among first in the world too. It faced immense opposition at the time, but the public has since caught up with the conservation ideology and the scientific value that no-take reserves represent.
Pioneer diver Wade Doak calls these places ‘wet libraries’, sites that retain a physical memory of how most of our coasts once looked—for our reference, research and aspiration.
The vast Parengarenga Harbour spills into the sea through a narrow channel of dark water running over a shallow bar. Powerful tides rip across it, drawing the waves into peaks and making treacherous conditions for vessels, some of which lie wrecked and rusting in the shallows—an immortal warning to mariners.
The harbour extends inland some ten kilometres with five sprawling arms, each with shallow fingers lined with mangroves.
On a still, clear day, you can see the pyramid-shaped form of Te Manawatawhi from Cape Reinga, rising like a tombstone from the horizon.
It must have appeared like that to northern Māori too, because the stories handed down through generations of Ngāti Kurī tell of the great leap of the spirits from the cape, and the long flight to the distant isles—their last resting place, and the spiritual home of the iwi.
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