Hokianga: Resting by the sea

By Liz Light

Liz Light visits Ralph Hotere's final Hokianga home

Mititmiti Beach, wide, wild and seemingly endless. Photo / Liz Light
Mititmiti Beach, wide, wild and seemingly endless. Photo / Liz Light

I drive from Kohukohu, beside Hokianga Harbour, towards the sea and Mitimiti.

The roads curl and are dusty, taking me past dark forest and glossy black beef herds in fields seedy and brown from the dry summer. Pheasants take flight in fright and roadside quails scatter. Horses, and more horses, graze paddocks and the roadside and blackberries clamber over fences.

This is Maori country. The road passes through remote villages built around pretty red-roofed churches and their accompanying marae; Motukaraka, Panguru and Waihou. It's Catholic country, too. Bishop Pompallier arrived in this part of Hokianga in 1838, learned Maori and established a mission. His charm, and respect for their culture, endeared him to Maori people.

The road meets the sea at Mitimiti where giant Tasman waves line up behind the low tide mark. This beach is elemental, expansive, windswept and there is no one on it but me, two horses and a lone rider.

Mitimiti village, 20 houses perhaps, straggles along a hill above the beach.

The heart of it is St James Church and Matihetihe Marae, which rest in a valley where a stream cuts through to the sea.

Not far north along the beach another stream unravels like a worn rope across the sand. Above the beach two small, lonely houses and a big water tank sit on the grass. Here, in a house that has long gone, is where Ralph Hotere was born.

On a hill high above Matihetihe Marae, there is a cemetery and, a row of marble Hotere tombstones. In this cemetery, on Monday last, Ralph Hotere, arguably New Zealand's greatest artist, was laid to rest beside his father.

It makes sense that the great man was born in this remote, beautiful place and has chosen to lie here. Hotere's work speaks of this untamed part of New Zealand, its spacious beauty and the complex crossover of Maori and Christian spirituality that emanates from the cemetery, church, streams, rocks and the great wave-swept beach that stretches to infinity.

- Herald on Sunday

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