“Waiheke Island and the Hauraki Gulf are my tūrangawaewae”, writes graphic novelist Sid Marsh
Ox owned the high ground. And he knew it. He patrolled non-stop, especially at night. But not those nights when on the make. Ox was the alpha male kākāpō on Te Hauturu o Toi aka. Little Barrier Island. For him it was nothing less than total commitment in the ‘seduction market’. His wondrous track-and-bowl system had been lovingly crafted onto the very summit of this island. His patch was immaculate. Every last plant and root had been grubbed with his tin-snips (this doubling as a great ivory beak) and forthwith turfed over the side. Ox also had a zero-tolerance policy for rogue leaves littering his court.
It was a sweaty grunt to make it up there, on our day off, to savour fully our patch in the Gulf. 722 metres from sea level, with a Hillary Step near the top thrown in for good measure. Irene Petrove (Hauturu Ranger) and I made the summit by late afternoon and forthwith selected our nest: a wee step lined with filmy ferns, near the main bowl. Soon after, we were tucking into a picnic of treats including plonk quaffed from crystal glasses. Our view southwards encompassed the entire Tīkapa Moana o Hauraki. Cloud forest of stunted tāwari, tāwheowheo, rātā and neinei ringed our position. Many of these neinei trees had been snipped scissor-like by kākāpō beaks. Lower down, a canopy of tōwai, tawaroa with kauri emergents clothed the jagged flanks of Hauturu.
By nightfall Irene and I were snugly wrapped beneath a twinkling cosmos. It was dead still and we dozed off to calling koekoeā, ruru, kākā, kiwi, wētā punga, and the squawks and raspy laughter of invisible petrels flashing past. Sometime later I felt some animal brush past my back. In the lull which followed my ears picked up strange noises not unlike tradesmen hammering and shifting timber about on some distant construction site. This was followed by a low hum and then deep resonant booming. It was Ox. The world’s largest parrot was but three metres from our feet and fully Zen. He lay in his dusty bowl like a puffed rugby ball, thoracic cavities and lungs synchronised to sustain a fog-horn-like didgeridoo.
Those booms packed a punch. I could hear them echoing off the spur opposite and even further down near the Hillary Step. However, these weren’t echoes but other kākāpō males calling for mates. Because kākāpō are so rare, each and every parrot has been named in order to be able to identify it. Joe and Bill were down some, both in the Strigops pecking order and elevation. Blades, too, was probably at it but out of earshot. At the centre of this ‘exploded lek’ Irene and I drifted off to the hypnotic cadence.
A dawn chorus of kōkako, hihi, tīeke, pōpokotea and korimako roused us. Ox was long gone. I opened an eye and then sat bolt upright. A merino shag pile one-hundred metres below us smothered the entire Gulf. Punching up through this convection fog were only three other highpoints, these appearing in sharp relief and uncannily close, a short stroll over the woolly carpet laid before us: Hirakimata, Moehau and Kohukohunui. These are the respective caps of Great Barrier Island, the tip of the Coromandel, and the Hunua Range.
Much later in life I made that walk to Kohukohunui, to track kōkako. This part of the Hunua Range carried a dense population of kōkako in splendid tawa/rimu/rātā forest. On that job a lookout or clearing would suddenly have me marvelling at my two distant island homes resplendent in the sparkling Tīkapa Moana o Hauraki: Te Hauturu (past) with its quixotic kākāpō, avifauna, happy memories; and Waiheke Island (present) brimming with bohemians, culture, liberality, rawness. And it was while gazing at these, an urge within to write about this seascape surged powerfully through my core.
In my first graphic novel, Crow of Whareatua, I’d ‘walked the whenua’ and talked with Tangata Whenua – Māori and Pākehā – on a life-changing journey through Te Urewera. What helped that project was being employed by Manaaki Whenua to protect kiwi around
My new book Dreadnought Jim was conceived in 2014 when I fronted up at Little Oneroa Beach on Waiheke, the first of many visits. I pictured a pod of orca hunting stingrays in the shallows; a wāhine with moko kauae stood on the sand alongside and together she and I gazed out to Te Hauturu; I was transported back to 1806. I had my setting.
Waiheke Island and the Hauraki Gulf are my tūrangawaewae. I am Ngāti Pākehā, proudly Tangata Moana-nui-a-Kiwa: a child of the Pacific Ocean and Aotearoa… in that order. I have a second-to-none empathy with Ngā Kararehe a.k.a. The Originals: te maki, mangō-taniwha, hāpuku, haku, kōura-kākāriki, kōura-kura. Not to mention: kākā, whio, weka, kākāpō, kōkako and four species of kiwi. All of these species I have known intimately over a combined 36-year career as a diving instructor/wildlife ranger. My blood, sweat and tears are one with the silt and seas of Tīkapa Moana o Hauraki and mashed into the papa mud of this land.
And, no different to Ox, I do give a shit about my patch.
The very good, vivid graphic novel Dreadnought Jim by Sid Marsh (Lasavia Publishing, $20) is available directly from the publisher or in selected bookstores.