Arriving in the Hokianga feels like coming home - even though I haven't lived here for 40 years and I wasn't born here. But I did have some of my schooling here and there have been family ties with the region since I was ten.
So as I pedaled my way to the top of the last, steep hill before Omapere, it wasn't just the exertion that had me gasping for air. There was also a gasp of recognition, of acknowledgment, that even after all these years the Hokianga still feels like home. The late afternoon sun was bouncing off the sand dunes on the northern side of the harbour, and to my right the Hokianga stretched and twisted its way inland in the direction of my special part of it. As I gazed, I was surprised at the intensity of the feeling. I hadn't realised how much I missed it.
MANGROVES AND MUDFLATS
My Hokianga is not so much Omapere and Opononi where the camper vans trundle through one after the other. Mine is the quiet stillness of mudflats and mangroves, of a tide moving so swiftly yet so quietly it takes a moment to
pick whether it's on the way in or out. And of tough farming country - the droughts of summer, the clay and mud of winter.
The bike and I flew downhill into Opononi, where I camped with goats for company. The next morning I'd only travelled a few kilometres when I spotted a pretty little church on the hill above me. The paint was just starting to lift on the outside of St Agnes Anglican Church, but inside the wooden panelling gleamed in the sunlight coming through the windows.
"IT'S GOOD TO BE HOME"
I studied the visitors' book. Many of those who'd signed it had expressed my feelings towards the Hokianga. "It's good to be home", said several. "Home at last", said others. And under the column marked nationality, some had written Ngapuhi. The Hokianga is Ngapuhi territory, so it wasn't surprising to find the comments. But for a moment I shared their feelings. I may not be Maori, but I too feel a connection to this land.
That night I shared my campsite (at The Tree House, near Kohukohu) not with goats but with several sheep and lambs who disturbed my sleep each
time they blundered into the tent guy ropes - which made a dull, twanging sound. But it was cosy, and sharing your campsite with the livestock felt like a Hokianga kind of thing to do.
The next day I pedalled near the cemetery where my parents and my grandparents on my father's side lie buried. My Dad was a general practitioner, whose duty to care for the sick took him over much of the Hokianga. I don't remember much about his funeral, but I do remember the cars parked for hundreds of yards along the dusty road outside the cemetery.
Today I didn't visit their graves. That can wait for another day. By now there was a sense of urgency about my cycling. I was so close to home. As I climbed the final hill, I met Judy walking the other way - towards me - as part of her training programme for the Auckland half marathon.
And a few minutes later, I was greeted by my step mum and other members of our family, gathered for the Labour weekend holiday.
They too, all share strong ties to the Hokianga. It binds us, we have it
in common. It helps give us a sense of identity and reminds us of where we've all come from - even though we lead very different lives now. No wonder I love it so much.
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