Category Archives: Polynesia

Back to the Beginning

We are back in the land of changing autumn foliage and endless sporting events. Abraham is back at college; Matiu has taken his PSATs; Dani has just turned 12. Seven is cycling and playing tennis outside while he still can. He and I are renovating my father’s old workshop, turning it into an office so that I can move out of the basement. I have started on the new book. We think, often of our amazing trip, but visions like this:

Pacific islandand this:

hawaiian forest

Have, of necessity, given way to this:

Autumn Lincoln

and this:

yellow maple leaves

If you are coming late to the story and would like to read this blog — an account of our 27,000-mile journey across the Pacific and back — in its entirety, click here and you will be redirected to the first post and, thus, the beginning of the tale. Bon voyage!

4 Comments

Filed under adventure, Family, Oceania, Pacific Islands, Polynesia, South Pacific, travel

The Big Island is Amazing

Back when Seven and I lived on Oahu we were much too broke to go touring around so we never visited any of the other Hawaiian Islands. This time we thought we should do better, and we decided to go to the Big Island because our friends Ann and Joel — with whom we have for several years spent a week in August on Cuttyhunk Island in Buzzard’s Bay (a little closer to home) — have family on the Big Island they were planning to visit. So we thought we’d catch up with them there for the very last leg of our long voyage.

My reasons for choosing the Big Island had therefore little to do with what I thought I might learn there (though, of course, every island is interesting to me) with the consequence that I was quite unprepared and absolutely amazed by what I saw.  Like, for instance, these fantastic petroglyphs!

Not all of which may be terribly old. Apparently the site is still used (or was recently) by Hawaiians who, like many Polynesians, bury a new baby’s pito (or umbilicus) somewhere special to ensure a long and good life. Some of these markings have to do with that practice (the circles and divets, particularly), and I have no way of knowing which are recent and which might be old. Still the turtles and figures and even, I thought, a stylized canoe, were all extremely cool.

But the Big Island is amazing for so many reasons, not least because it is a window on an earlier geological stage of many of the islands we’ve been visiting. As I found myself saying over and over: This is what all the islands must have looked like when they were young. All the other high islands I’ve seen are remnants of volcanoes, shards of the cone or the crater’s edge worn down by millions of years of wind and rain. But what’s amazing about the Hawaiian chain is, of course, that it includes an island that is still in the process of being formed!

I have to report that we did not quite make it to where the hot lava is flowing into the sea, but it hardly mattered since there are distinct and obviously comparatively recent lava flows everywhere you look: A’a lava — the sharp, broken kind that is supposedly called a’a because that’s the sound you make when you walk on it (I wonder if this is etymologically correct, it is what everybody tells you…):

aa lava

and pahoehoe lava, which is smooth and sometimes  almost shiny:

Here is a photo of yours truly sitting at the edge of what I think was the 1992 flow in the National Park that reached the ocean and cut off the road.

me and the lava

We also paid a visit to the volcano goddess Pele’s home: the Kilauea crater, which was emitting large clouds of poisonous gas and steam (which were blowing away from us fortunately)….

kilauea

…and glowing magnificently red and orange at night!

kilauea at night

There were also more marae (or heiau as they are called here). This is the one at Kealakekua Bay, where Captain Cook’s career came to an abrupt and unexpected end:

heiau at Kealakekua Bay

Cook was killed by Hawaiians who had mysteriously welcomed him not long before. (Note to those who are interested: for a fascinating debate on the meaning of these events see Marshall Sahlins v. Gananath Obeysekere; other interesting writers on the subject are the anthropologists Nicholas Thomas and Anne Salmond and, for sheer elegance of storytelling and prose, the British historian Glynn Williams.)

But, for me, the absolute high point, and indeed one of the most moving moments of this entire trip, was the glimpse I got of the Hokule’a, the first Polynesian voyaging canoe to have been built in perhaps 800 years and a vessel I have been reading about for years. It would be hard to overstate the significance of this canoe; it was the one that sailed from Hawai’i to Tahiti on the first attempt to re-enact the ancient voyages and thereby demonstrate experimentally how it might have been done.

Hokule'a

Here she is being towed out of the harbor,

hokulea

and here is another canoe called the Makali’i which was tied up nearby:

makali'i

We were particularly pleased to see this one because Makali’i — in its Maori form as Matariki — is Dani’s middle name; it’s a widespread Polynesian name for the Pleiades. Hokule’a, incidentally, is Arcturus, Hawai’i’s zenith star.

4 Comments

Filed under adventure, Big Island, expedition, Family, Hawaii, Pacific Islands, Polynesia, travel

Tonga to Australia by way of New Zealand (again)

The guys from Quikpoint (where Seven works) asked a while back where Seven was and the answer is, yes, he’s been behind the camera. He’s made a great record of our trip so far, though occasionally something happens to the camera that no one seems to understand (could it have something to do with the children’s light experiments?). This has, however, meant that he hasn’t been in front of the camera as much as perhaps one would have liked. So I thought I’d post a picture of him looking stylish in his new hat:

I have to say it’s been great traveling with him in this part of the world. Everywhere we go it’s, “Hey, brother” and “Where you from?”  And it’s been really interesting to me to have the experience of looking around (most notably, I think, in the Tongan airport) and seeing him surrounded by a sea of people who look just like him — something that does not happen all that often to anyone, really, if you think about it.

A lot of people even in Tonga thought Seven was Tongan and I could see why. I had, incidentally, expected to see a lot of really huge Tongans — they’re so famous for producing big athletes — but the people didn’t seem any bigger there than anywhere else in Polynesia. In fact, Seven still loomed over most of them. His theory: all the really big guys are over in the States and New Zealand playing football and rugby.

I had originally tried to plan our itinerary so that we could follow (more or less) the original Polynesian migration route from west to east, or, failing that, retrace it backwards from east to west. But it turns out that modern air travel routes make that impossible. You can’t fly from Tahiti to Tonga, for example, or from Tonga to Hawai’i. Or maybe you can, but not easily enough to work it into this trip. So we’ve done a certain amount of backtracking. (Dani figured out the other day how many different flights we’ve been on: 8 just getting us in and out and around French Polynesia!).

Tonga was another of these places that is served by a limited number of airlines operating out of a limited number of hubs, so when we left there we had to go back to New Zealand in order to go on to Australia.  This meant that we had a one-night layover in Auckland, where, incredibly, still more of Seven’s relatives managed to find us — we weren’t even in the country for 24 hours! This time it was some of his nephews who were all just kids last time we saw them — kids, I should add, that I was particularly fond of, so it was nice to see how they’d turned out. Here’s a farewell shot of us in Auckland.

Seven's nephews

From here it was on to Australia, where there were still more people to see. I lived in Australia for almost 15 years; Seven was there for about 11. I spent my formative years there as a graduate student; Seven and I were married there; Abraham grew up there until the age of 7 (and had an Australian accent when he arrived in the States); Matiu was born there…Suffice it to say, it was a big part of our life.

We haven’t been back since leaving in 1998 and I had given us, what, 5 days? I knew, heading into it, that it was impossible. But I hadn’t really understood how impossible it was, nor had I understood what the effect of all that visiting in New Zealand, or perhaps just all this travel, would be on the children, who were in a mutinous mood for much of the time.

Two things helped: babies and animals. Our first order of business was a visit to Auntie Mere’s house to see her and her two babies. Mere is the sister who came to live with us in Queensland and moved with us to Melbourne, where she still lives. This was all before Dani’s time and Matiu was too young to remember, though of course she remembers him. Mere has since had two sons, including this little dynamo, who is named after his uncle Tauwhitu, aka Seven:

Little Seven

It took the combined efforts of Big Seven, Matiu, and Dani to keep Little Seven occupied when they came to visit us in the flat we were renting in Melbourne, which was of course not child-proofed. Little Seven is only 2, but can he move! Like lightning, that boy! Reminded me of that escape artist Dani, who was once returned to us by a neighbor when he was just about this age. He had gone out of the house, up the driveway, and down the road before anyone even realized he was missing. My prediction for this child is that he’s going to be a wicked athlete: you should have seen him catch and kick a ball. Lucky, too, because they’re going to need ways to keep him busy. As a wise dog trainer I once knew used to say: “A tired dog is a good dog.” Speaking as the mother of three boys, I would have to say the same is true of energetic toddlers.

The other very successful thing we did in Australia with our boys was to visit the Healesville Sanctuary. It was a beautiful day, with a rapidly changing sky (sun, then clouds, then sun, but no rain) and a stunning landscape of hills and bush and little towns. They’ve had a lot of rain this winter in Melbourne and the countryside was vividly green, which it isn’t often. I had forgotten how gorgeous it all was, and, on the subject of dogs (and babies, ha ha), I had also forgotten how very beautiful this animal was.

dingo

We’d been seeing these mangy-looking dogs all over Polynesia (along with chickens and pigs), so it was a surprise to see how lovely a wild dog looked. This, is, of course, a dingo. In fact, I had forgotten how spectacular all of Australia’s creatures are. Here are a few shots from the Sanctuary. I think you will have no trouble identifying this first one:

kangaroo

One of Australia’s many scary snakes:

snake

One of my favorite birds — the galah — common but spectacular:

galah

A flying fox (aka fruit bat):

A monitor, aka goanna. This thing is bigger than it looks in the picture, maybe four feet long, perhaps a bit more, from tip to tip:

monitor

A koala — unfailingly adorable:

koala

And the ubiquitous pelican, another great-looking bird:

pelicans

Ah, Australia. Such a cool place and we had time for such a tiny little taste of it….

7 Comments

Filed under Australia, expedition, Family, New Zealand, Pacific Islands, Polynesia, South Pacific, Tonga, travel

New Zealand: Parting Shots

Before we head for the Kingdom of Tonga, I thought I’d leave you with a few parting shots of the Land of the Long White Cloud.

One Tree Hill (in fact, surmounted by one monument), Auckland:

One Tree Hill

One cow hill, somewhere in the north:

One Cow Hill

Matiu at dusk on Ninety-Mile Beach, even farther north:

Ninety Mile Beach

Matiu and Dani playing basketball with their cousins Rehia and Repeka in Kaitaia.

Matiu and Dain playing basketball

Rehia and Repeka’s sister, Jessica, with their cousin Jason’s child:

Jessica

Seven’s sister Liza and his brothers Bill and Ngawati, who drove up from Taranaki and Wellington respectively (!!) to have lunch with us.

Liza, Bill, Wati in Hamilton

And finally, the view from the house where we stayed in Paihia, early morning:

Paihia morning


4 Comments

Filed under adventure, expedition, New Zealand, Polynesia, South Pacific, travel

The Last Uninhabited Land

New Zealand is certainly an interesting case in the great Polynesian migration story. Settled last and so different from all the other islands in climate, flora, fauna, etc. that it must have come as a real surprise. I begin to see the significance of a detail in the stories of Kupe the explorer, who is said to have discovered Aotearoa — see the following plaque from the monument atop One Tree Hill.

plaque on one tree hill

Kupe returned from New Zealand to report that although he had sailed right round the islands he never met with another human being. The only inhabitants were birds.

If you think about how big New Zealand is, and how resource-rich compared with many of the Pacific islands, it really would have been remarkable to have come upon it, so late in human history, and find it completely unoccupied. Nor is it surprising to find a mention of the birds, which in the absence of competitive and/or predatory mammals, had evolved in some pretty spectacular ways. One species of moa was said to be 12 feet tall.

I’d really have liked to have made a pilgrimage to Wairau Bar, where they made the first major discovery of materials from the so-called Moa-hunter period; the earliest phase of Maori settlement of New Zealand. But I guess I’ll have to come back to do that because, you guessed it, we still have more family members to see.

3 Comments

Filed under adventure, expedition, New Zealand, Oceania, Pacific Islands, Polynesia, South Pacific, travel

And then there was that business about the coffee

Being in New Zealand is forcing me to confront all my missteps and another thing  I caught a surprising amount of flack for (this time from the urban literati) was my description in Come on Shore of a particular drink I used to have in the Far North as “what passes for coffee in New Zealand.” It was a kind of powdered instant that we drank with hot water and plenty of milk and sugar. I always enjoyed it — I still do —  I just didn’t think it resembled coffee very much.

Anyway, this clearly irked a segment of the NZ population, who will waste no time in telling you that the coffee served in New Zealand is the best in the world. Twenty years on (from the time I was describing) I would have to agree. We have had coffee everywhere and it has been unilaterally exceptional: huge cups of a great dark brew with beautiful foamy milk. So, clearly, that’s another line I’ll have to change in the second edition.

You know, I would never have been able to write that book if I’d been living in New Zealand — another illustration of the principle I mentioned in an earlier post about how we see things clearest at a distance. Working from memory can be exceptionally fruitful; it forces (or perhaps allows) you to tighten the focus, but, by the same token, it almost invariably has a warping effect — the natural consequence, I think, of selectivity.

Ok, enough philosophizing. I will leave you with one of my favorite pictures from the trip so far. I call it “Contemplation a deux.”

Abraham and me

13 Comments

Filed under New Zealand, Polynesia, South Pacific, travel

Clearing up a Couple of Points

One of the things we got to do in New Zealand (on the way to visit another branch of the family) was to climb up Rangikapiti pa, which is just outside the village of Mangonui. This excursion has prompted me to make a couple of clarifications about my book.

The early New Zealand scenes in Come on Shore are set in a village that was known in olden days by a two-part name, of which Mangonui was the second half. At some point they dropped the Mangonui part, and for a long time now the place has been known simply by the first half of the name. In an excess of caution, I “disguised” the name by using only the dropped part. Also, in an effort to protect the privacy of Seven’s family, I changed their names when they appeared in the story (this is all explained in the author’s note).

It turns out, however, that some of the people whose names I changed thought this was a bad idea; perhaps because, among other things, I managed accidentally to use the name of a living person for a character who dies in the course of the book. And just to confuse matters even further, there’s another town not far away that actually is called Mangonui.

Anyway these photos are taken in the Mangonui that you would find on a map today. It’s an extremely charming place, well worth a visit if you’re in the area. Here is a shot of the main drag:

Mangonui

Here’s me sitting on the dock across the street:

Mangonui dock

and here is what I am looking at:

Te Aurere
This was an extremely interesting discovery — looks like a modern replica of a voyaging canoe, of which many have now been built all over Polynesia. We asked a guy sitting in a car if he knew whose boat it was and he said he thought it came from Whangarei. Looks like something we’ll have to investigate….

We also spent a happy hour or so up on Rangikapiti pa, which is a terraced hill at the entrance to the harbor with an unbelievable view. One of Abraham’s panoramas might almost do it justice….

Mangonui panorama

Pa are fortified villages which, in the old days, were built on prominent hilltops and headlands where you could get a really clear view of the surrounding countryside and not be taken by surprise by your enemies. The upper parts were terraced and fortified with ditches and palisades and even fighting stages; there are terrific descriptions of them in Cook’s journals (see also Elsdon Best). These days — except for the ones that have been reconstructed for tourists — they are just terraced hills, but even so they are pretty astonishing — the sense of power you have up on top, the commanding views, the magnitude of the terracing. Dani thought it was fantastic and spent the next few days nagging us about going back. Eventually we took him to One Tree Hill in Auckland, which is also pretty impressive.

Here is an artist’s rendering of what this pa might have looked like in the old days, just to give you some idea.

Rangikapiti pa drawing

And here we are coming down off it to give you a sense of scale:

rangikapiti pa

12 Comments

Filed under adventure, expedition, New Zealand, Polynesia, South Pacific, travel