We gathered in the foyer of the Copthorne at 8:00 am to pool cars, then set off in convoy 15 minutes later for Oihi Bay. It was longer than I remembered it to be, but after about 50 minutes driving on narrow roads, sometimes sealed and sometimes not, we found a paddock on a hillside to park and a bus to take us the last kilometre up to the new interpretive centre.
There were already a couple of hundred people there, and I realised how badly prepared I was. They had camp chairs and bottles of water and umbrellas. I had a pilgrim's staff, though I had remembered to bring a sunhat. The new interpretive centre, basically a great sweeping roof with three walls set on a hillside and with a wide opening looking down to the valley below it, is called Rore Kahu - Soaring Eagle. Over the next hour or so more people arrived, until, by the time the Governor General and official party were called on just after the official starting time, somewhere around two thousand had gathered.
Clemency, Catherine and I found seats amongst the manuhere. There were a dozen or so speakers all told, none of whom were brief. The sky was slightly overcast and the air heavy and hot. I was glad to be under the marquee. A Pentecostal pastor began the korero, and he set a good tone. Maggie Barrie, minister of conservation and heritage spoke wittily and cleverly and managed a 15 minute talk commemorating the arrival of the first missionaries without once mentioning the church. Quite an achievement. Chris Finlayson, Attorney General and a convinced Catholic gave the best speech of the day by far. He spoke of the various important world events that had occurred in 1814, setting the events of Christmas Day in their global context. He spoke of the positive role of the church in the development of New Zealand's culture and challenged us to be more confident, more assured in what we proclaim. The archbishops (three of ours and one Australian) lead a brief liturgy of blessing, then The Governor General cut the ribbon and we all filed through the interpretive centre, tramping the house in true Maori style.
Then we walked the kilometre or so of track down to the bay. There were a dozen of so yachts moored under the shadow of the pa. A speaker system had been set up and there was a varied program of entertainment: a young kapa haka group, and a young woman with extraordinary guitar skills. I walked up the hillside and stood again on the places where those three little houses had once stood. The sun was by now relentless and the way back up the hill steep. We walked back to the top of the hill, caught the bus to our car, then drove to an excellent lunch at a cafe called The Rusty Tractor in Kerikeri.
So now Oihi Bay is a heritage park, perhaps it will stop being the most important unknown site in our brief history as a nation and take the place it deserves in our national consciousness. It is a truly holy place; a fitting destination for pilgrimage.