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Naked in Nuhaka: The Sentient Islands

Naked in Nuhaka: The Sentient Islands

By Leo Koziol

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world, indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has. Margaret Mead, Anthropologist (1901-1978)

The weekend just gone, I pursued a great kiwi tradition. A groove out Long Lost Weekend.

I started out Friday with brunch at Lonely Planet -recommended Cafe Verve in off-the-beaten-track Gisborne. Lunch was $20, the food was so-so, and another $20 was added to the bill in the form of a parking ticket on my trashed-out car across the road. I drove on up across the great island divide, down through the dark depths of Waioeka Gorge, making escape through the Pou and spiritual portal of the blazing Pohutukawa along the coast just past Opotiki. All to the strains of Radio Ngati Porou.

I felt the energy of the land changing beneath me, first spotting the deadly threatening White Island offshore, gazing up at the young Mt. Edgecumbe, looking further back at the deep red gash of Mt. Tarawera. As I drove on up through the bush past the Rotorua lakes, the energy grew stronger. Weird steam in odd spurts all around me, malodorous smells pungent in the air.

On arrival at the homestay on Lake Rotoiti, I was spellbound. A place presented like a taonga (precious gift) to me at the end of a long, weary journey. Just past the Marae, across from the large woolshed, down a lone dusty road, right on the lake. Maori leased land; the whole lot –- land, bach, spa pool -– all to go back to the local iwi (tribe) in 20 years. But looking out at the entrancing beauty of this place, one could see why such an intriguing covenant would matter naught to any potential purchaser. A lease for twenty years, or legalised title for an eternity -- each option is a lie. For every day that I stayed there, I knew the magic was only available on lease, to take out and borrow each incredible day.

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The weekend was a spiritual and social rejuvenator for me, and I headed out of the Rotorua cafe district the following Monday. I stopped in at a hot springs halfway to Taupo, and basked in the sun with steaming mineral waters at my feet. I felt keen to get on to Napier, work responsibilities nagging, but arriving in Taupo I got a feeling: What’s the worry? What’s the rush? I stumbled around town, did a bit of contemplative shopping, and felt the heat of the day drift over me.

Wandering around town, I felt the vibe of a groove out kind of sound hit me. I had discovered the cafe district of Taupo. I stumbled into a large bar cum cafe, and found myself transported to a backpackers haunt in Southeast Asia. I ordered my Flat White, bought a pack of Marlboro Lights, and went for a pee. The urinal was pasted with pix of semi-naked ladies at eye height. Cute. And actually quite innocent, in a Brass kinda way.

On the deck, British tourists mulled out quietly around me, checking out travel guides and chain smoking. The soft sunshine providing their visit with a somnolent break, an awake dreaming moment. I felt energised by this experience, to this strange and unexpected drifting to another state of place and mind, and I thought about an idea.

* * * *

How about a manifesto for living the best possible life in these great, grand Sentient Islands?

How about making the dream-life of this place a reality?

How about embracing the deep rich indigenous culture of this land, and making it a part of everyday existence? How about a “Taonga Friday” at the end of each month, where ties are banned and wearing of indigenous greenstone and bone necklaces becomes de rigeur. A badge of honour, a moniker of place full-ness.

And everyday you make that embrace, realise how very much it is indeed about the native Maori people’s oneness and spiritual connection to sky, earth, and sea? To Rangi, Papa, and Tangaroa. The forces above, below, and -- most importantly of all -- within.

Auckland as a grand Archipelagopolis, a modern Atlantis of a bustling million making the most of every work-a-day in communities sprawled out across a smattering of volcanoes -- each one threatening to burst out in a red flow of lava, like pimples on a teenager.

Auckland, a teenage metropolis, this great suburban overgrown beach town mess upon an archipelago. Harbours and islands, ferries and freeways, bridges and causeways. A social mix as equally fragmented and diverse as its brittle broken land of inlets and mangrovia. Still to find its solid form, maybe a wayward blackhead will pop on up, just like the great Rangitoto did less than 800 years ago.

Perhaps the goddess Volcana will make her presence felt at a frangible point like Otahuhu. The rail, road, and power lifelines cut off. Our grand archipelagopolis planning a grand bridge over the Manukau Heads to the west, to keep its economic engine running. A new golden gate of the South Pacific, for a future yet to pass.

Wellington equally fragile. This bustling and jostling of our greatest minds, our very own Geneva of the South Pacific at the tearing point of two of the Earth’s greatest plates. Its freeway out-of-town built on land lifted out-of-sea just a hundred years ago. Just like the suburbs of Napier similarly fished out some seventy years ago. Maui still at work. I avert to think of such disasters again befalling Wellington or Napier. But I know, just as San Francisco did in 1906, and Napier did in 1931, that the people will prove resilient and the city will rise again like a Phoenix from the ashes.

Each and every point of our islands holding similarly intriguing levels of fascination and history. Like here in Nuhaka, the strange geology of neighbouring Mahia Peninsula that made a clarion call to a dying whale two weeks ago. The great slump that formed Mahanga Beach at Mahia. The Earthquake Slip on the Tangoio Cliffs to the south at Mohaka (1). The massive landslide that formed the deep, dark jewel of Lake Waikaremoana to the north. The lake straining to burst free and wash down to take all 5,000 souls of Wairoa with it.

Each place in this land overlain with a rich natural and human history. The roar of the sea, the rolling thunder of Kare Kare, the icy blast of Island Bay. Is it any wonder that these are hubs for hippies and progressive thinkers?(2)

Is New Zealand now the hippest country on the planet? Is it mere coincidence that the first nation in the world to give women the vote currently has women as leaders of its top three governmental positions?

We sign off on the Kyoto Protocol whilst Australia baulks and cozies up closer to America. We sold off the nation’s china cabinet in the 1980s, but now find ourselves shopping for big fragments back, Air New Zealand done and Tranz Rail a likely contender. We give people on the dole the option to sign up for an artists allowance. We have plans for a Maori language television channel. Creative NZ gives writers rebates for copies of their book not sold as a result of copies being available in libraries, for goodness sake!

Lord of the Rings sells us as a place of entrancement to the world. In my mind, Aotearoa New Zealand *is* Middle Earth. Oh the irony when Peter Jackson -- sensitive to local iwi (tribe) who regard their mountain as a sacred taonga -- digitally altered the physical characteristics of Mt. Ruapehu when he used it to film the battle of Mt. Doom. Could he not tell that, indeed, some many millennia past, the actual battle took place right there?

* * * *

Make the change you want to see happen.

He wero kia koe whaia ou moemoea aio.

* * * *

Closing thoughts to readers at the close of an interesting year.

In the last column, I spoke of a Tipping Point. Bad things going on all around the world, anything seeming possible. This week, I posit the opposite. Aotearoa NZ is at a tipping point; a tipping point of positive change and demonstrable world leadership.

As I stated in the first column of Naked in Nuhaka: here in these beautiful islands we live in a land that possesses the natural beauty and diversity and climate of California with a thirtieth of the population. We possess, amidst our small population, great and progressive talent of our own in regard to arts, culture, technology, and the creation of progressive social and environmental policy. An independence of mind and state that gives us a unique kind of sentience.

Sentient Islands. A place where, if a small group of thoughtful, committed people got together, and decided to do great things, they could indeed change the world.

For five years I worked in San Francisco promoting green plans to environmental, government, and business leaders from around the world. My job was to teach people about New Zealand’s green plan, the quite highly regarded Resource Management Act. Most times I stayed to topic, focusing on environmental policy, but more often than not I found the conversation drifting to broader aspects of life in New Zealand. Firstly about its natural environment, then about its social structures, and then about its relationships with its indigenous people. I found I couldn’t present just a part of the picture; that everything in my home country needed to be looked at as a part of a greater whole. And each part of that greater whole presented the possibility of a reality that people in America -- in California in particular -- so desperately wanted, but found so insurmountable in regards to making a reality for themselves. And the simple fact of Aotearoa New Zealand's existence gave them hope.

Perhaps, right now, in a troubled world, New Zealand itself could be at a tipping point. That Labour could perhaps become the “natural” government of New Zealand, that the Greens grow in power (but not into...), and that parties like Act NZ and United Future mellow some as newer generations pass through its ranks. Read the maiden speeches of United Future MPs, and you see evidence of this; smatterings of "Aotearoa", progressive thoughts once confined to the fringe, newly presented with a Christian tinge.

I don’t think that our nation will ever become an “Eco-Nation,” or a “God-Zone”, or some kind of “Promised Land”. Utopia is for idealogues. But I do think we can do an awful lot of moving ourselves -- and the rest of the world -- towards such possibilities through leadership by doing.

Over the past four months that I’ve been posting Naked in Nuhaka, I’ve built a small, but very appreciative audience. I would like to thank my readers, and in particular those who have responded to me so kindly. Welcome to the Tipping Point Team. The Rautaki Group (3). The bearers of the Sentinel Torches of the Sentient Islands. I thank you.

* * * *

All the best for the coming holiday season. And if you do one thing -- and one thing only -- this Summer, make it this: Tune In, Turn On, and Drop Out.

And get back to it in the new year more determined than ever.


(1) So-called for its creation in the Great Napier Quake of 1931.

(2) My own Kare Kare is to be found at Waitaniwha Bay, at Waikokopu, at the entrance point to the peninsula of Mahia. Here, the energy turns dramatically from Nuhaka to Mahia. It is reputed that both Mahia and Nuhaka are names of places in the Maori mythic homeland of Hawaiki. Mahia, perhaps was a piece of Hawaiki brought over on the back of Paikea, the whale. Waitaniwha Bay is known by local surfers as "Rolling Boulders". When out surfing, you can hear the boulders rolling on the sea floor beneath. One of my current visions is to build a retreat at Waitaniwha Bay, where burnt out environmentalists and global activists can take silent retreat weekends. Each night they would sleep and be rejuvenated as the sound of the rocks scraping the ocean bottom lulls them softly to deep somnolence...

(3) The Rautaki Group is a “think-tank” collective I am currently scoping options for in regards to formation. Rautaki is a Maori word that translates into “strategic”. Strategic equals long-term thinking. Long-term thinking equals long-term results. “The Group” is a nod to a group of Bau Haus New Zealand architects that existed in the 1960s and 1970s. One of its founders, John Scott, was a daring Maori architect who “had no peers” (quote from a display currently on at Hawke’s Bay Exhibition Center, Hastings). His work was inspirational and ahead of its time. I similarly see myself as a daring Maori thinker and writer. But there the similarity ends: for I know, that here, in Nuhaka, in the year 2002, I am not alone in my thoughts, or my identities.

PAST COLUMNS Are available linked from my website:

All content (c) Leo Koziol & Rautaki Group Consultants 2002. The author can be contacted at email: Website:

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