What Lies Beneath Waimumu

Sinclair Wetlands, Otakou

Sometimes it’s good to ponder the geographical features of where we live. Not so long ago we took a wander around the Sinclair Wetlands, situated on the edge of Lake Waihola.

Sinclair Wetlands, Otakou

Whenever I take the time to think about what lies underneath my feet, what shimmers along my line of sight; what has formed the hills and landmarks; I tend to go back to my high school education, dipping down through time into the depths of hoarded geographical knowledge stacked in my memory by teachers who, apart from one or two enthusiastic types, largely looked disinterested. (Maybe because the small, dull town of Gore was not exactly where they envisioned ending up after getting their teaching qualifications?)

Pond weed, Sinclair Wetlands, Otakou
A sea of reeds, Sinclair Wetlands, Otakou

We were fortunate enough to spot a fern bird during our meander. Tiny and brown, with a long tail and fairly rare, it darted about above the reeds and tangle of flax and manuka, its squeaks of pleasure making a lie of its online description as a skulking bird.

It is apparently more commonly heard rather than seen. But we saw it. And took smug delight.

I shouldn’t scoff at my swotty, shy, dreamy, bespectacled fifteen-year-old-self. She was taking a lot in. A lot that has stood my present self in good stead as I meander, manage, manoeuvre and generally endeavour (still, even now, after all these years) to make sense of life on this planet; of life in my own particular corner of this globe as it spins in its orbit, its held path, in an infinite universe.


Some thought that. ‘Scuse me while I kiss the sky …

Holes in the fabric

I think what the notice board outlining the Maori legends of this piece of Aotearoa tells me, is that I am more than a wee bit grateful for the gift of my education, even if my high school memories aren’t entirely fond ones. Knowledge gleaned has proved a strong base for future and ongoing gathering in and overlaying of story that weaves so magically – so fittingly – around taught scientific facts. I’ve discovered both can lie together.

Information Board doing its thing

After our visit to the wetlands, we travelled farther south to Gore taking in once more the pleasing symmetry of the Hokonui hills ahead. As we approached, the set of peaks facing us looked like peaks formed by properly-whipped cream. Like a gather of soft cloth hooked up by the sky.

Rolling Hokonui hills and rolling clouds, Waimumu, Eastern Southland / Murihiku

While in Gore, we took Robert’s mother for a drive on country roads farther inland, finding ourselves smack bang in the soft, green midriff of Murihiku farmland framed by the Hokonuis.

Seen through a deer fence lightly – Hokonui hills, Waimumu, Eastern Southland / Murihiku

What myths and tales, past flora, ghosts of forests? What pre-historic trauma of land rising up from the sea are there to be revealed from the shape of the land?

A memory of a high school geography trip in a bus with a teacher in a tweed jacket and high cheekbones, standing up at the front of the bus and telling us with contained passion the facts we were there to learn. The shells to be found in the hills. The lignite. The how’s and the why’s.

Mr Thyme making it quite clear that he was as real as the hills – that he was there with a personal investment in improving our knowledge. Even if a little removed, still he was there, like us, with his packed lunch. There to provide us with the opportunity should we care to take it (he wasn’t about to insist – it was up to us to seize the day; Robin Williams in Dead Poet’s Society he was not) to learn what lies beneath.

Winter grass, Hokonui hills beyond, Waimumu, Eastern Southland / Murihiku

I’m of an age now that everywhere I go, there is a story to tell the grandchildren.

Here, in the middle of Murihiku, the story turns out to be about an invite. An invite to a party at the house of a high school classmate. An invite I didn’t take up. A fifty-year old invite petrified in the amber of memory.

I cannot remember why I didn’t go to that party in a farmhouse out in the still, silent countryside. I’m sure all those who did go had a wonderful time. Or so I imagine anyway. (Which in turn leads me to suspect there remains a hint of residual regret?) All I know now is that once upon a time I was invited to a party. In Waimumu. And I didn’t go.


Writer from Dunedin, New Zealand.

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