Whangaroa: running with ghosts

Vibrations of the Boyd Massacre

Wairakau Stream at Whangroa

A man on a boat told me to run the Wairakau Stream to the Duke’s Nose, which sounded my type of thing. I took my friend M with me, a Spanish lady who was staying at the YHA, who is so intimidatingly spiritual she talks of her body as a separate person. She listens to her body, and does what it tells her. It told her to come with me into the forest, so off we went.

An hour’s drive north of Paihia, and around the Whangaroa Harbour is Totata North, and the run/walk is well marked off the top of Campbell Road. It goes up up up and down down down – over the peninsula that divides Whangaroa Harbour from Pekapeka Bay. The upside is a wide path, but the interesting bit starts at the top, where you curve down in lushness around the side of a hill into the Wairakau Stream valley, the noise of the river getting louder as you descend, and the track is narrow and delightful, with knobbly tree roots, stepping-stones over little gullies, lots of fresh green light filtering through the trees. At the bottom the reward is a double stream crossing where the reflections are superb, (there are logs and stones to cross on), and then a leaping run along the flat past a flood of mangroves and to the inlet. I didn’t make the Duke’s Nose, but I saw his very impressive hooter in the distance. Next time I’ll plan a longer outing.

I ran for 45 minutes and then had to turn and race back because M would walk the same before turning, and I hoped she had made it to the top and the start of the bush tangle and diversity of plants.  When I reached her, and I disturbed the peace like a steam train puffing, she was quite distressed. She’s a sensitive person, M, and she thought the bush was dying, she felt it was very tragic. I’d just had a cracking run, felt like a box of birds, and disagreed. I have friends who would say I don’t rate particularly high on the sensitivity meter. She’d recently learned about kauri die-back and was unfamiliar with NZ bush, so I explained that all the brown fronds were not dying trees, just pungas shedding their leaves, they were very healthy, this was a happy bush. There was a whole medley of plants and they felt vibrant. I showed her two kauri trees at the start of the track, both growing well. She still wasn’t happy. She felt things dying.

I looked up the Whangaroa Harbour when I got back. There was a little niggle in the back of my mind. Of course I found it straight away. It was the site of the Boyd massacre (sorry to those who prefer the softer “incident”).

In 1809 the Boyd sailed in to Whangaroa from Port Jackson (Sydney), on the look out for a cargo of spars. On board was a Maori sailor, Te Ara, who refused to work his passage on the ship. Perhaps he was too proud, there was a suggestion he was a drunk. Perhaps he was just seasick. We don’t know. He was mistreated by Captain Thompson, who had him flogged for malingering.

Whangaroa was Te Ara’s home, and his people claimed utu for his mistreatment. Captain Thompson and a party of men were enticed ashore to find spars and they were set upon, killed, cooked and eaten. Their attackers returned to the Boyd and slaughtered all but four on board. There were sixty murdered that day. The ship was burned when Te Ara’s father lit a flint too close to a gunpowder barrel. He died and killed four others in the accident. Of course there were repercussions and they were horrendous, too.

Had my friend M learned about the massacre and was feeling uneasy because of the story? Was she unused to the New Zealand bush, which is very different to her dry, Mediterranean home? Or perhaps her body was talking to her, and telling her there was a vibration around this harbour of the ghosts of murdered men.

I didn’t feel the ghosts. I thought it was a splendid run.

Author: Cristina Sanders Blog

Novelist, trail runner, book reviewer and blogger.

One thought on “Whangaroa: running with ghosts”

  1. I enjoyed reading about your time in Whangaroa/Totara North. Quite a few of my ancestors are buried in Totara North cemetery so the area has a particular magic for me. Whangaroa Harbour was such a hive of industry with the milling and shipping of kauri when my lot were there. A bit sad for the trees then as well!


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