Last week the HMB Endeavour returned to its base in Australia after spending more than five months travelling around the coast of NZ as part of the Tuia 250 commemorations.
This ship means different things to different people. To some, it is a quaint replica of an 18th century square-masted sailing ship. To others, it is the "death ship" carrying the "great invader".
• First contact, 250 years on - Tuia flotilla arrives at Waitangi
• Tuia 250: Stirring haka as flotilla journey into Whangārei Harbour
• Tuia 250 route tweaked after Waikare objects to being left out
• Tuia 250: Flotilla heads to Bay of Islands after Whangārei visit concludes
In actual fact, it is a cunningly disguised time machine.
When I stepped on board in Gisborne, I felt I had stepped into a "between-times place". I was surrounded on deck by 18th century masts, ropes, sails, wheel and anchors. But I could still see the logging trucks driving past delivering their loads to the huge cargo ships at the end of the wharf that dwarfed the Endeavour.
When I descended the companionway ("hold on to the rope, watch your head"), I fully entered the 18th century. I was surrounded by hammocks, sea chests, the anchor rope locker up fo'ard with the bosun's and carpenter's workshops while aft were the cabins of Cook and Banks. And then there was the great cabin. It looked as if all Bank's specimens and Cook's charts had just been cleared away and they might just come back any minute to pick up something they had left behind.
Once we were at sea, and the lights of Gisborne faded astern, the Endeavour time machine increasingly immersed us into the 18th century. By the time we dropped off at the mouth of Cook's Cove beside Tolaga Bay, the 21st century was left well behind. We came ashore in Cook's Cove and received the most awesome and powerful powhiri I have ever experienced.
These were not kapa haka kids nor was this a Māori concert party performance – the military precision and ferocity of the haka must have been the closest you could get to a 1769 encounter.
There were no buildings - the cove had changed little in the intervening 250 years. The conches, the waiata, the calls of the senior women gave a sense of authenticity I have never seen nor experienced anywhere else in New Zealand – neither before that day nor any subsequent powhiri around the coast of Aotearoa/NZ.
This atmosphere was added to by the presence of the Tahitians who arrived after travelling from Tahiti in their replica ocean-going va'a. They were there to honour Tupaia, Cook's Tahitian navigator.
He was a learned to'unga and navigator who had joined the original Endeavour in Tahiti.
Cook had neglected to bring Tupaia with him when he first landed at Turanganui-a-Kiwa/Gisborne but after it all went so bad, decided to bring him on later encounters. His Tahitian language was quite understandable to the Māori (he considered Māori to sound like an old-fashioned version of Tahitian).
So by the time the Endeavour reached Uawa/Tolaga Bay, he was the prime ambassador for the Europeans. Subsequently, the Māori in this region have a vastly different attitude to Cook's visit than those of Gisborne/Turanganui-a-Kiwa.
Tupaia was feted by the local Maori and held great gatherings in the local settlements telling them about their homeland (their Hawaiiki), their distant relatives, their religion and the lost art of oceangoing navigation. He stayed in a shallow cave partway up the side of Cook's Cove. This acted like a sound shell enabling him to address possibly thousands of locals. They in fact thought the Endeavour was his boat (not Cook's or even Banks') and honoured him by naming many of their sons after him.
But Tupaia never returned to Tahiti and his people felt that loss. He died in Batavia (modern-day Jarkarta) which was the nearest outpost of western civilisation on the western border of the Pacific and there he was overwhelmed by diseases never seen his Tahitian homeland.
So when the Tahitian va'a Fa'afite came into Cook's Cove, those on board were straining their eyes to catch an eye of Tupaia's Cave. This was the last physical place on earth that has a definite connection with their to'unga. After the powhiri they gathered in the cave singing beautiful waiata to honour their long lost to'unga and then reverently laid gifts of stones from Tahiti at the base of the stone from which Tupaia addressed the people to honour him and reconnect with their esteemed leader.
After leaving Tolaga Bay/Uawa, HMB Endeavour battled a fierce storm around the East Cape before reaching Whitianga. At this point, the Endeavour time machine had moved us into the early 19th Century.
We were met there by the local Ngati Hei who had been the first Māori in NZ to welcome Cook with a formal powhiri in 1769.
Being the meat in the sandwich between aggressive northern tribes and those of the Bay of Plenty, Nagti Hei had embraced a pacifist approach to resolving disputes. So while the welcome in Cook's Cove was fierce and confronting, the welcome in Whitianga was more gentle and conciliatory.
There was an atmosphere of solemnity, scaredness and peace in the bay as they sang beautiful waiata and made speeches. My understanding of te reo is somewhat rudimentary so when one of the speakers broke into English, my ears pricked up. What he said was so heartfelt and so moving it brought tears to my eyes. This is what he said:
"You brought us your civilisation and then you decimated our ranks with your strange diseases and modern armaments.
"You supplied us with firearms and in the lust of war we had slain almost half the flower of our race (and a few of yours) you punished us rebels and confiscated our lands.
"You gave us the Bible and broke its precepts. You taught us ethics and you had no scruples in your own transactions with us.
"You gave us alcohol and then punished us and gave us an evil name for using it.
"Our fathers desired to be civilised but because of your inconsistencies, they abandoned your teachings and opposed it with their hearts blood. We retrograded and the gap between us widened.
"You have had to make up the ground lost by the bad examples of your forefathers.
"We have had to overcome the distrust and suspicion engendered in these hearts of ours and transmitted to us, 'ere we could once more take up the broken thread of progress."
To me, it was such a moving appeal. It expressed the broken hearts of a people who had been promised so much and gained so little – who had been devastated, dispossessed and disenfranchised. But a people who, despite the deep hurt, would hold out their hands to pick up the pieces and offer to work together for a better future.
I wanted to go to the speaker and thank him for what he said but he had disappeared into the crowd.
As I made my way to the giant greenstone altar-like structure on the edge of the dunes, I felt I had stepped on to sacred ground. There were three plaques on the altar; the first two spoke of the first powhiri between the local Ngati Hei and Cook's retinue (including Tupaia).
The third plaque stunned me – it was a transcript of the speech in English that had just moved me so much. Then I saw that this hadn't been an original speech but the speaker was quoting from something said by the Te Arawa chiefs – in 1907.
The cry of the heart of the Māori for justice and reconciliation had been made 102 years ago and it is just as relevant today as it was in 1907.
As we sailed up the Coromandel, across the Firth of Thames and along Tamaki strait into the dazzling 21st century of Auckland, I realized that the Endeavour time machine had taken me deep into the past of Aotearoa/NZ (and into my own past) as well into the hearts and the hurts of tangata whenua.
More than ever before, I am now able to move forward by looking back into the past.
Ka mua, ka muri.
• Dr John Clark is a GP who likes to spend his spare time climbing mountains, riding motorbikes, sailing square-rigged sailing ships and having fun with his family.