Archive for the 'Caren Wilton' Category


Tsunami in 2004

The spread of a tsunami, 2004

The devastating tsunami that hit the coasts of Samoa, American Samoa and Tonga on the morning of 30 September – with waves up to 6 metres high, flooding as far as 1.6 kilometres inland, and killing at least 150 people – was caused by a massive undersea earthquake of magnitude 8.3, some 190 kilometres south of Apia. The Samoa–Tonga region is one of the world’s most seismically active areas, where the Pacific and Australian plates collide – as they do diagonally across New Zealand.

Tsunamis are broad waves in oceans or lakes, caused by large disturbances, locally or far away – movement of the sea floor during earthquakes, landslides under or into the water, or even the impact of a meteor. The New Scientist has a detailed explanation of the causes of the 30 September tsunami.

While tsunamis might seem a remote possibility in New Zealand – perhaps explaining why some people headed for the beach rather than the hills during Wednesday’s tsunami alert – in fact the country has experienced many tsunamis over the centuries. Māori tradition discusses a huge wave that killed many people on the western side of D’Urville Island, and there is archaeological evidence of early Māori moving inland or uphill from coastal settlements, along with evidence of tsunamis near the abandoned villages.

Since Pākehā settlement, there have been no tsunami deaths in mainland New Zealand. But the 1855 Wairarapa earthquake generated a tsunami in Cook Strait which destroyed sheds more than 8 metres above the sea at Te Kopi in Palliser Bay. In March 1947 the coast north of Gisborne was hit by a tsunami after an earthquake. A bridge was swept away, the Tatapōuri Hotel was flooded, and some buildings were sucked out to sea. June Young, whose family owned the hotel, remembers the giant wave, and the seaweed that was left hanging in the power lines. Remarkably, no one died.

But, tragically, this week’s tsunami has wreaked devastation across the south coast of Samoa and American Samoa, and on Niuatoputapu island in Tonga. Those losses are being keenly felt in New Zealand too, as a Pacific nation where many Samoans and Tongans make their home, and the site of the world’s largest Polynesian city. At least three New Zealanders died in the tsunami, with many more still unaccounted for at the time of writing.

New Zealanders have already given over $350,000 to relief agencies’ tsunami appeals; here’s a list of agencies, if you’d like to make a donation.

South Taranaki’s secret history

Welcome to Manaia

Welcome to Manaia

We went to Manaia in South Taranaki for Easter – an odd choice for a holiday, really. Even Murray, owner of the 103-year-old Waimate Hotel, where we stayed, looked dubious: ‘Do you have family here?’ he asked.

No; we’d driven down the coast road after WOMAD a few weeks earlier, and had our curiosity piqued by the signs that said ‘Soldiers’ cemetery’, and ‘Cape Egmont lighthouse‘, and ‘Parihaka Pa‘. Our Easter plan was to stay in Ōpunake, actually, but the Kneeboard Surfing World Championships were on and all the accommodation was full.

We were the only guests in the Waimate Hotel; not even the bar was open, because it was Good Friday. Murray told us that recently the place had been full, occupied by workers at the Kāpuni gas plant, but they’d all gone home for Easter.

Our room overlooked Manaia’s central Octagon, with its band rotunda and two granite obelisks, one commemorating the two world wars, and the other the men of the armed constabulary who died fighting the Ngāti Ruanui leader Tītokowaru in 1868.

Dairy tankers roared past, gleaming, on their way to the Fonterra factory at Whareroa, outside Hāwera. Yarrows bakery, opposite the hotel, was quiet, and the elegant 1911 post office was now home to a tattooist and an ‘alternative art gallery’. In the distance, Mt Taranaki, snow-topped after Thursday’s cold snap, was emerging from its thick cover of cloud.

Soldiers’ memorial, Te Ngutu-o-te-manu

Soldiers’ memorial, Te Ngutu-o-te-manu

On Saturday we went looking for Te Ngutu-o-te-manu, the pā where government forces made spectacularly unsuccessful attacks on Tītokowaru in August and September 1868. My atlas showed a historic place on an unnamed back road to the north; other than that, we had little to go on. We trawled up and down the narrow country roads, finally spotting a sign and driving into a bush-clad clearing where a tall white cross stood as memorial to the soldiers.

Ōhawe military cemetery – through the gate, over the fence and the creek, up the hill

Ōhawe military cemetery – through the gate, over the fence, across the creek, up the hill

Almost as hard to find was the Ōhawe military cemetery, despite a large sign on the main road and an AA sign in the small beach settlement. We drove around and around, finally catching a glimpse of a monument in a hillside paddock behind a large hedge. We went through a gate, then picked our way through cowpats and thistles, climbed gingerly over an electric fence and jumped a creek to finally reach the small fenced area with its yellow-lichen-covered memorial to the Crown soldiers who died storming Ōtapawa pā and in other 1860s battles.

We gave up altogether on our search for Moturoa, another pā where Tītokowaru repelled government forces. An AA sign to the battle site points inland from Waverley, but once on the side road there’s no guidance at all. We were tired by then, and didn’t mind turning back – but it seems a shame that these remnants of South Taranaki history are so well-hidden.

If you’re out hunting for these sites, Te Ngutu-o-te-manu is on Ahipaipa Road, north of Ōkaiawa, and the Ōhawe cemetery is on farmland on Ōhawe Terrace. Let me know if you ever find Moturoa.