St Gabriel's Church, Pawarenga,
overlooks the Whangape Harbour
the end of the map
I've never been able to
resist places at the end of the map. Show me a dead-end road, a peninsula or
a cape, and I'll show you somewhere alluring and mysterious.
At the end of the map
even the people are different. They seem more vivid than city folk, bigger
in character and less inclined to go with the herd.
It's no coincidence that
New Zealand's extremities - like Northland and East Cape - are among my
favourite places. And I like the dead-end roads within those dead-end places
So it was that I decided,
during a recent holiday in the North Hokianga, to follow Pawarenga Road to
the very end.
I drove past Runaruna
with its bizarre mud volcano, and passed townships marked on my map that
translated in reality to single houses. I drove past the spot where the
tarseal shrugs and gives up, past mangroves clawing out of the mudflats,
past wandering horses and cows chewing their cud in the middle of the road.
Eventually even the
gravel ran out and the road melted into the sand of the Whangape Harbour.
At the end of the road
the hills of the Warawara Forest retreated and the landscape opened out into
pasture, dotted with sprawling houses and abandoned cars.
A broken billboard
promised a cold beer at the Golden Stairs Tavern, but I couldn't see a soul.
The only sounds were horses neighing, someone doing donuts on the mudflats,
and the wind whipping up dust. I half expected to see a tumbleweed bouncing
down the road.
Up a side road and atop a
modest hill stood a Catholic church painted red and white, its wooden
buttresses imitating the Gothic stonework of faraway Europe.
Inside were rows of dark
wooden pews and vivid paintings of Christ's suffering; clustered outside
were well-kept graves decorated with crucifixes, a lizard, even a brass
swan. Someone had given ''Mr Bigs'' an old cassette player to listen to in
his long sleep. Across the road, on the other side of the hill, was another,
even more impeccable cemetery where every surname bar one or two is Proctor.
Towards the water a few
skeletal trees were bent in half by the wind. A scrubby knoll, carved
into terraces and with a prime spot overlooking the Whangape Harbour, could
only have been a pa.
An obelisk at the top
commemorated the birthplace of the Te Aupouri people. Surrounded by enemies,
they set fire to their pa and fled across the harbour. The ash and thick
black smoke covered their escape and stained the water - hence the tribe's
name, which the plaque translated as "Black Smoke"; other sources prefer
That afternoon the sky
was clear and the harbour was blinding. It was beautiful in a desolate,
end-of-the-world kind of way. I felt I was truly at the end of the map.
First published in The Northern Advocate, July 2007.
About this story...
When I started work at
The Northern Advocate newspaper in 2005 I was looking for an
excuse to explore my new home, the province of Northland, and turn
my newness from a hindrance to an advantage.
Hence the series of travel columns called New to the North,
in which I visited and wrote about a new place every fortnight, the
more obscure and off-the-beaten-path the better.
In 2008 the series, and specifically this column about an
atmospheric little place called Pawarenga in North Hokianga, won a
Qantas Media Award (New Zealand's top print media competition) in
the travel column category.
Later, when I was no longer quite so new to Northland, I had to
change the name of the series to Meanderings. I've still got
plenty of places left to visit but the series is on hold, hopefully
to be revived sometime soon.
Scenery along the road to
St Gabriel's Church,