Archive for November, 2007

Whakapunake, Pronounced Focker-Poo-Nakee

Saturday, November 10th, 2007

By David

For a mountain, it isn’t all that spectacular. There is no obvious summit, it barely reaches 3000 feet and it is covered in dense native bush. It may be unimpressive, but it does play an important role in New Zealand’s cultural history. It’s rumoured to have been the home of the last and now extinct bird, the Moa. More importantly, it’s the spot where the legendary Maori fisherman Maui embedded his hook to pull New Zealand out of the sea. Today Whakapunake is made for hunting. Wild pigs, deer and thousands of goats make the mountain their home.

Kahui, Donald and I spent most weekends on Whakapunake. Twenty five miles away in the bright lights of Wairoa, a local butcher paid us ten cents (it was called a shilling back then) a pound for a pig or deer, gutted but with the skin and head still on. For three teenage boys it was good money. Dead pigs and deer paid for my first trip to Australia to swim with Don Talbot.

It was best to get onto the mountain on Friday night. As soon as the bus got us home from school, we set off on the three hour ride to the summit. My horse, Nehaw, was a sure footed beast. On the blackest of nights he offered a safe and stumble free journey. You had to be a bit careful with him though. When he was tired he’d try and bite your leg. Early on the journey, about a mile from our place, the New Zealand Government’s Ministry of Works used to park their road work machinery; tractors, graders, bulldozers, all that sort of thing. Every weekend, we siphoned off a pint of gas from one of their machines. We were no boy scouts: gas might be cheating but it was the best way to get a fire started at close to midnight on a wet night. With oil currently $US100 a barrel we probably owe the New Zealand Government a house mortgage in pints of gas.

We had some good spots to sleep. One was a veritable Hilton: under a ledge, almost a cave but not quite. It was dry – the back stone wall trapped the heat from the fire, and ample moss and ferns made for a soft and comfortable bed. Our worst night was out on the open track. All night, the rain lashed down. Even our pint of gas failed to get a fire started. There was no option but to huddle in misery and wait for the morning. It was worth it. We got three quick deer and set off for home, the deer over our legs and saddles providing some warmth from the rain that never let up.

Shooting for profit is a bit different from recreational hunting. Our Wairoa butcher would deduct a tidy sum from our pay if a bullet damaged any of the animal’s prime cuts. It put a premium on getting a head or neck shot. After an expensive first couple of years, we didn’t lose much in damaged meat.

Fortunately we had a couple of really good dogs. They found pigs and trapped wounded deer and held them waiting for us to arrive and finish the job. One of our best dogs, Juno, was killed by a mangy old boar just before I left to go to school in the United States. We tried to sew the wound in her neck with a nail and one of the laces from my boot but it didn’t work. Pity about that; she was a good dog.

Our best day’s tally – two deer and six pigs – caused a hell of a problem with transport. I’m not sure what time it was when we got home. Whenever it was, I’d fallen asleep on the horse. My mother looked out the window at around one in the morning and noticed Nehaw standing dutifully at the gate. Goes to show, when you need a horse to bite you on the leg they won’t bloody do it.

There is a swimming content to this story. At the top of Whakapunake there is a swampy lake that is tapu, or sacred. According to Kahui and Donald, it is the exact spot where Maui’s hook pierced New Zealand’s North Island. If it is, Maui is lucky he got New Zealand out of the water. I guess the lake covers about an acre but it’s not all that deep so even Maui’s hook could have easily fallen out. My mates said the tapu on the lake was further strengthened in the 1860s when one of the greatest Maori warriors, Te Kooti, created a golden calf out of the riches he had plundered from local European settlements. He had, they said, hidden the calf in the lake on the top of Whakapunake. It must have been an impressive sight, Te Kooti sitting on his trade mark white charger casting a further tapu spell on the Whakapunaki Lake.

Kahui and Donald were Maori and therefore could not look for the prize in a sacred lake, but conveniently, I was a Pakeha (European) and therefore would not be affected by the tapu. These days I’m not sure that distinction is allowed, but back then it seemed to be okay. For several days I swam around in that freezing cold, dirty water looking for Te Kooti’s damn calf. My two mates stood on the side issuing instructions and thanking their ancestor, Te Kooti, that they had been born part of the Maori race.

These days I have little sympathy for any of my lot who moan about the temperature of the Palm Beach County’s carefully heated pool. Any complaints and they too can go look for Te Kooti’s calf. Donald and Kahui still reckon it’s there somewhere.

The Eye of the Beholder

Wednesday, November 7th, 2007

By David

Harsh accusations have been made recently about Swimwatch. They say we are too personal and parochial. None of it is correct or matters, but that is what they say. Well this week the critics will be silenced. We are going to tell you of two magnificent New Zealand sporting achievements that have nothing to do with local Florida swim clubs. Already Swimwatch critics will be clicking elsewhere, “If he’s not talking about us, we’re not going to read it,” I hear them say.

But before considering the triumphs of New Zealand sport, I went to the Florida State Swimming Championships last weekend and saw again one reason why the US is so good at this game. You may recall an item we published recently that questioned the disqualification of one of our swimmers. She moved her foot after the “take your marks” signal. Well, the referee involved was also working the Orlando Championships. He took the time to climb way up into the stands, where I was sitting, to talk over the disqualification. His view, confirmed by the starter, was that our Lane Five had not only moved her leg but had begun to start. I don’t agree but it does explain the disqualification and the referee is the boss. If you have ever been to a Florida High School Championships it is a very busy meet. What is important is that the referee took time to sort out a problem. He thought it was worth an explanation. For that I am very grateful. Swimwatch have long argued that officials have a huge influence on the standard of a country’s sport. America has some bloody good officials.

Anyway, enough of that; we must move on. What are the significant events that have happened in New Zealand sport this week? Well, first of all a New Zealand bred horse has won the Melbourne Cup. Let me explain; the Melbourne Cup is the Australian equivalent of the Derby in England, the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe in France and the Kentucky Derby in the United States. The Australians hate it of course, but our – that’s New Zealand’s – horses always win their precious horse race. And we did it again yesterday. A horse call Efficient, bred in a town called Cambridge, New Zealand won the race and $3 million.

I may have exaggerated a bit, telling you that New Zealand horses always win the Melbourne Cup. The truth is, of the past 52 Melbourne Cups, 29 winners were bred in New Zealand; that’s 56%. The one thing better than beating Australians once is beating them 29 times. Your average Aussie gets so upset, they make up Kiwi jokes. Like – Did you hear about the New Zealander who came to Melbourne to watch the Cup? He brought one shirt and one five dollar bill and didn’t change either. We are not wounded by all this. We understand their frustration, we sympathize with their hurt.

Trumping a Melbourne Cup win is difficult. But Jerry from Hokitika, New Zealand has done it. Here is the news reported on the Stuff news website

“A Hokitika whitebaiter is reveling in a monster catch, which saw him take 300kg of whitebait off just one tide. At the going rate of $25-$30/450g on the West Coast, he will make between $22,500 and $27,000. And the man didn’t even take it all – a second man took 200kg on the same day last week. The wife of one fisherman said the bait caught on the day of the big run was “beautiful bait – lovely and clear and we didn’t even need to wash it”.”

What is whitebait you may be asking? I can do no better than quote from Wikipedia:

“The most common whitebait species in New Zealand is the Inanga. The whitebait is small, sweet and tender with a delicate taste that is easily over-powered if mixed with stronger ingredients when cooked. The most popular way of cooking whitebait in New Zealand is the whitebait fritter, which is essentially an omelet containing whitebait. Foreigners frequently react with revulsion when shown uncooked whitebait, which resembles slimy, translucent worms.”

On the West Coast of New Zealand the sport of catching whitebait is a passion. I’ve heard of girlfriends being traded in return for a better position on the river’s edge. There is no need for cheerleaders in this sport. A man’s reputation is made for life on the back of a 300 kg catch; national champion and record holder.

I used to fish for a species of whitebait called Nohirors, or baby eels. We used Silver Fern fronds as nets and caught enough to fill a good breakfast of whitebait fritters. We weren’t as passionate about it all as our West Coast countrymen. I never heard any of my mates offer their girl friend for my spot on the edge of the Hangaroa River.

The Te Reinga Bus

Friday, November 2nd, 2007

By David

      • So I’ll cherish the old rugged cross,
        till my trophies at last I lay down;
        I will cling to the old rugged cross,

        and exchange it some day for a crown.

At 7.15am our school bus left Te Reinga for the 25 mile trip to Wairoa. It was an uncomfortable hour and fifteen minute journey on a dusty, gravel road. Lacking both heat and air conditioning it was cold in winter and impossibly hot and sticky in Hawke’s Bay’s summer. Usually Kahui and Donald brought their guitars. They made the trip bearable. No, better than that, they made it a spiritual adventure. Most mornings their first song was the American George Bennard’s beautiful hymn, The Old Rugged Cross. At that stage of the trip I was the only Pakeha (European) on the bus. My fellow Maori travelers had voices magnificently suited to the hymn’s lyrics and devotion. I didn’t sing, preferring to swim in the emotion they built with their guitars and voices.

      • O Lord my God! When I in awesome wonder
        Consider all the worlds Thy hands have made.
        I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder,
        Thy power through-out the universe displayed

Twenty minutes into our trip and the next Pakeha got on the bus. Janet, she always sat in the seat immediately in front of mine. For some completely unknown reason the long hill down to Janet’s farm gate prompted Kahui and Donald to begin the 1886 Swedish hymn, How Great Thou Art. It was appropriate. There was an awesome quality about much that we ignored; the rough bush and scrubby hills of Te Reinga; all grays and browns; the unkempt specter of New Zealand’s wilderness. Janet’s stop began the transition from brown and gray to fertilized green pastures for sheep and cows and the gold winter hay. Ten minutes further and Philip joined the bus. He sat next to me and often used the journey to study. I never did that.

      • Amazing grace! (how sweet the sound)
        That sav’d a wretch like me!
        I once was lost, but now am found,
        Was blind, but now I see.

Another twenty minutes and another stop; just past the Marumaru Pub and before the Community Hall at the de Lautour’s farm. The seat next to Janet was taken by Kay. She was clearly the smartest girl on the bus and probably the school. She had brains and looks, a combination that left teenage male mortals like Philip and myself in some awe. Her reaction to our bluster was mild disapproval. Her father, by the way, is one hell of a track athlete. He has a world ranking in the 85-89 age group of first in the 10,000 and 1500, second in the 5000 and 800 and third in the 400. He is the world champion over 800 and 10,000 meters. He also served in World War Two at Monte Cassino, the same battle that cost my father his arm and eye. And still my mates sang on; their delivery of John Newton’s Amazing Grace was as good as any commercial version.

      • O come all ye faithful,
        Joyful, and triumphant,
        O come ye, O come ye
        To Bethlehem!
        Come and behold Him
        Born the King of angels!

Our school hymn, Adeste Fideles, was sung better on the Te Reinga bus than it ever was at school. We were nearing town now; just six miles to go, passed the ditch that the bus had rolled into when driver, “Old Jerry”, lost concentration. That mishap happened the day before the North Island of New Zealand Secondary School Swimming Championships. As we rolled over I cut my knee tumbling around the inside of the bus. Worse than that, I landed on Donald’s cherished guitar. The guitar lost. The next day I was second in the 100 breaststroke. An official said he thought I should be disqualified because my cut leg was not working in parallel and together with the other leg. Those officials can be pretty harsh.

      • Are you washed in the blood,
        In the soul-cleansing blood of the Lamb?
        Are your garments spotless,
        Are they white as snow?
        Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb

The trips best hymn was saved to last. Kahui and Donald irreverently began Hoffman’s Are you Washed in the Blood just as we passed the town’s huge meat processing plant. About 9000 lambs a day met their end in that factory. As the bus rolled by, pedestrians stopped to listen to our Christian revival, not realizing it was all a satire on New Zealand’s agricultural industry.

By now you may well be asking, what has this article got to do with sport? Let me explain. In our senior year, lead guitarists, Kahui and Donald, and a Wairoa town guy called Billy Van Berkam and I took the train 100 miles to Napier to take on the big city schools in the Provincial (State) Cross Country Championships; and we won. All those hymns, they just had to work.