Pilgrimage 1: Ruapuke and Rakiura

After a brief liturgy in the Cathedral, the twenty or so pilgrims from Dunedin drove to Bluff, arriving in time to be welcomed onto Te Rau Aroha marae at about 7:00 pm. We were joined there by another twenty or so from Southland and we spent the night in a building which is undoubtedly one of the great artistic treasures of New Zealand. Opened in 2003, Te Rau Aroha was designed by Cliff Whiting, who designed the marae at Te Papa. The wharenui is octagonal, evoking the shape of the small whare puni used by Maori in this part of the world as they pursued a semi nomadic hunter- gatherer life in pre European times. The traditional design motifs are worked in a variety of materials and are brightly coloured, intricate and complex. Although it was not possible to take photographs inside the wharenui, this detail from the wall of the wharekai (also beautifully ornamented, although not as lavishly as the wharenui) gives some idea of the style and type of  decoration.
The most striking feature of the interior of the meeting house is the circle of giant effigies of women tupuna: they are tall, stately, and marvellously executed. They represent the women who married Pakeha in the very early days of European contact and thus acted as conduits for the three things which revolutionised Ngai Tahu society: literacy, agicultural innovation and iron.

Our group was fairly typical of the diocese as a whole. We were predominantly women and mostly of a certain age. Some had never been to Stewart Island before, most had never been to Ruapuke and some had never slept on a marae. Some had done all of these things, and some had connections with the marae and with the strong, dignified watching women . So we gathered, prayed, ate, placed the mattresses in convenient spots and got ready for the night when we were told that Sir Tipene O'Reagan was also on the marae and wanted to meet us. He gave us an impromptu though erudite, eloquent and immensely entertaining local history.

The morning was gray and still. We found our ship, a large diesel powered catamaran at the Bluff wharf and boarded. The nervousness of the poorer sailors amongst us was allayed by swallowing various patented anti seasickness concoctions, and by the fact that today was the day when Foveaux Strait decided, against all precedent, to do an impersonation of a billiard table. Flat. Stable. Gray as slate. Our big launch glided out into it, picked up speed and zizzed over the top with hardly a tremor. We all arrived at Ruapuke, 40 minutes later with breakfast intact.
Ruapuke is an island about 13 km by 6 km, low lying, rocky and looking for all the world like one of the Hebrides. It is now almost uninhabited but was once home to a population of about 200 Maori, and was the site of the first European Christian mission station in the Southern region. In 1844 the Lutheran pastor J.F.H. Wohlers built a house, school and church there and ministered to the local people for the following 40 years. We stood on the site of his church, and visited the graveyards of the local people, guided by three members of the several families with continuing links to the island.
From Ruapuke our bonnie boat sped like a bird on the wing to Stewart Island. Lunch on board was consumed in security as the sea continued flat but the clouds rolled away. Albatrosses obligingly flew beside the boat. Seals and dolphins popped by the see what we were doing. Titi and gulls  and petrels flapped past on the way to important appointments.

We had only a couple of hours on Stewart Island, but it was long enough to stroll up to the recently restored St. Andrews Anglican Church and meet some of the local people. Airdrey Leask, the priest talked about the local Christian presence and we planted a tree in the gardens. We were treated to an afternoon tea for which the phrase groaning board had been invented and too soon, we were heading back for Bluff and the drive to Dunedin.

This first section of the pilgrimage which will, over the next couple of years, take us right round our diocese went faultlessly. The careful and intelligent  preparation b the organising committee and the  hospitality of the local people made it work, but the whole day had a sense about it of God's blessing. The weather was perfect. We had the unexpected company of some wonderful people. Nothing went wrong. For me, and I expect for all who went it was one of those days I will remember for the rest of my life. I look forward to the next leg at the end of April, when we commemorate our gold rush history with a trip from Milton to Arrowtown via Gabriel's Gully.

An album of  some of my photos from the trip may be found here.


NIE said…
What a gift to have flat calm, Kelvin. And those bird (mollymawk?)photos are beautiful. Wow! "Where the road runs out and the signposts end..." AND the Spirit bird was over you all, too.
We praise God for this truly blessed start to the pilgrimage.
Anonymous said…
Pilgrimage is such a fascinating concept - journeying to find God. Is it that in new (or old) places and spaces we can reconnect with a spirituality that has gone stale "at home"? Or is the very process of moving geographically a metaphor for moving spiritually? To have begun by going over the water is resonant indeed!
Anonymous said…
what a great idea- a pilgrimage