It was really late by the time we got to Takahanga. After all the adrenaline and emotion of the ceremony at Canterbury Museum, most people in the repatriation party used the bus trip north to catch up on some sleep. Many had been up since 4am, on the biggest day of their lives, and almost everyone nodded off as soon as it got dark. I dozed and watched the dark countryside of North Canterbury blur by. Even though it was huge, the retreval of the tupuna from the Museum was only the first stage in a multi-day operation. And this day wasn’t even over yet – not by a long way. Next stop was a marae in Kaikoura, Takahanga, where we would all spend the night before setting off to Blenheim in the morning.
Of course protocol is everything during an event of this magnitude, so by the time we were officially welcomed onto the marae and all sat down for an enormous meal it was 10pm, but everyone had perked up again and excitement rippled around the dining tables as we feasted.
I sat up late drinking cups of tea and yarning to people – everyone was thrilled to be part of these historic events, especially parents who had brought their kids – the next generation of Rangitane who will inherit the guardianship of these ancestors.
By the time I went to bed, I realized I would have to pick my way back to my spot in the Wharenui in the dark through 100 sleeping people covering the floor of the entire meeting house! Not easy, and my apologies to anyone I stood on, but I made it in the end. It’s a unique experience sleeping in such close proximity to so many other people – a bit difficult because of the symphony of snoring and other bodily noises, but also strangely comforting – everyone is part of this and so we live as a group for the duration of events. I lay awake for a while looking at the beautiful carvings on the ceiling of the wharenui, and then slept really well in the end.
The highway along the Kaikoura coast is one of my favourite pieces of road in all of New Zealand. After a huge breakfast we got back on the buses and headed off on the next leg of the journey. It was a beautiful morning – Wednesday 15th April – as we sped along the rugged coast, seals basking peacefully on the rocky shore, ducking through road tunnels that seem hardly big enough to fit a large coach through. Everything feels a bit squeezed along here – the mountains crowd right down to the ocean, which itself falls away quickly from shore to form an enormous undersea canyon. It’s epic country.
When you first descend into Cloudy Bay, on the main road into Blenheim, you can see Wairau Bar from the main road for a while, but it’s hard to appreciate exactly what you’re looking at – it’s a long way away across flat terrain. But if anybody appreciated the place it’s this bus load of people, and as soon as we see it the buzz on board the bus went up a notch, and the anticipation began to build again. After at least some sleep and a couple of huge meals we were ready for the next stage of the voyage.
We arrived at Rangitane’s Omaka marae about lunchtime, and the tupuna were led into the Wharenui by a rousing and energetic welcome home. Kiley and his warriors led a triumphant procession onto the marae grounds, and they were laid in state for one final night’s rest before the ultimate return tomorrow morning.
There was still a lot of work to be done – tomorrow was the big day, when hundreds of guests, media and VIPs would be present for the repatriation ceremony out on the windswept expanses of Wairau Bar itself. I tried to make myself useful – and in fact work quickly found me, as I was “drafted” by a group of Rangitane wahine and put to work carrying heaps of flax leaves they were cutting from around the marae. The leaves would be woven into traditional mats that the caskets would rest on – and it took a lot of carrying!
It was an early night for all except the weavers, who ended up staying up all night completing their task – an amazing effort considering how tired they must have been already – great work ladies! (I must admit I could have stayed up all night and kept them amused by letting them tease me, boss me around and call me “Bloggy”, but I sneaked off to bed…).
And so ended day 2 of the trip – the 15th of April. The tupuna were very, very close to being home, but their journey, and ours, would only finish once they were back in the ground on the Boulder Bank at Wairau Bar at 10 o’clock the next morning…
Many thanks to Christine Cornege, Claire Connell and the Malborough Express for the amazing photos. Please check out their coverage of the journey at Claire’s blog here.