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MFA Semester break, 7 June-4 July 2021

Updated: 6 hours ago

Exploring fractal patterns using burnt log sourced from Muritai beach, Reading chapter The Lake in the Sand Country from Geoff Park's Nga Uruora, The Groves of Life.


Stone rubbings on tissue paper placed over log to imprint its charcoal on paper -

Charcoal drawing over creases made on top sheets of tissue paper after stone rubbing -

Pencil drawing of burnt stick


For the last 15 years my family has shared an old bach in Waikawa with five other families. It is located along the Horowhenua coast that runs parallel to State Highway 1 just north of Wellington and Kapiti. The community of holiday homes, reminiscent of small 1950's holiday settlements, is nestled close to the Waikawa river and framed by farmland owned by local tangata whenua.

Horowhenua loosely translates as shaking or rippling earth and that is exactly what is happening below the surface; slow-slip earthquakes have recently been discovered and measured along the Hikurangi Trench as the Pacific plate subducts westward beneath the North Island.

If you fly over the Horowhenua Plain you can appreciate just how stunning this coastline is and its deep connection between the Tararua mountain range and the Tasman sea, with its latticework of rivers and sand dunes shifting and settling along the straight stretch of west coast that forms part of the Manawatū-Whanganui region.

While I have always been captivated by the scale of Horowhenua's sea and landscape, I had never understood its extraordinariness in Aotearoa's history until reading Geoff Park's second chapter of Te Ururoa :The Lake in the Sand Country.

Pre colonial settlement the land was entirely covered in forest. Now, apart from Papaitonga, the plain is all agriculture and farmland, testament to the claim that Horowhenua has 'the finest soil in the world' (Park p 165).

Park describes the beauty of this forest: "The first European to capture an image of it, Charles Heaphy, painted it from a shipdeck in 1839: a green, unbroken seam between sea and mountains. Covering everything but the sand dunes and the wetter swamps, it survived Europeanisation longer than any other forest of its kind... Right into the 1870s, keen eyes (...) saw 'one solid forest' from the Manawatu River until its low-lying flats met the steep, rocky Wellington coast. Palmerston North was but a mere clearing in it... Nowhere in New Zealand is there still such a forest... the Horowhenua lake country which the Europeans saw was the 'most picturesque' in the North Island. It had its own life: 'a pair of papango, having emerged from a bed of reeds, are floating on the placid waters, a small black shag settling itself in for the night in a kowhai bough... a solitary pekapeka flitting silently overhead, chasing in zigzag lines the minute insect life upon which this bat subsists'" (Park, pp 165-167).

Having re-imagined the forests of old for his reader, Park then shatters this image when he writes, "Never before or since has a New Zealand landscape been so quickly and ruthlessly 'cleared'" (Park, p 167). He describes how the last forested area to be prised from Maori in 1880's quickly succumbs to bush fires and scrub clearing so as to make way for sections 'of a rectangular form' as described in the 1877 Land Act and Levin Village Settlement Plan. Sharing his sorrow for the loss of 'a moist, ancient forest...its myriad plant and animal species constantly crumbling leaves, accumulating nutrients and keeping decay in pace with growth", he laments, "as one with an eye for nature, I find it lonely and full of melancholy" (Park, pp165-169).

And it is not just the loss of the flora and fauna that Park describes, but also the decimation of Mua-upoko, the indigenous people who lived here prior to the 19th century invasion led by Te Rauparaha from the Waikato region.

Retracing the Mua-upoko's way of sustainably living within the forest, Park writes, "Mua-upoko or their predecessors could have incinerated the whole plain at any time, but what is now fashionable to call 'biodiversity' was crucial to their quality of life, and they treasured it... As one settler explained before Mua-upoko's landscape vanished, they knew 'berries grow mostly on the outskirts, rarely in the centre of the forest'. Over centuries, they left patches of old-growth forest intact, and opened up and cultivated others. A consciousness of limits, creating, so to speak, a country of edges - lake against harakeke, swamp forest beside dune forest, open areas for moving through from one fruitful forest to another' (Park p 184).

Mua-upoko's pa was sited within a grove of planted karaka and ti kouka on the island in Lake Papaitonga; a lake formed 9,000 year ago by geological forces that caused land to rise, sea to recede and 'the windswept sand and gravel flats became plains, the brackish lagoons freshwater lakes" (Park p 166). A patu "dragged up in nearby Lake Horowhenua suggests some of Aotearoa's earliest people knew these lakes in the forest ... (and middens indicate that) ... by the 13th century they were crossing the Tararuas" (Park p 185).

So it is a land where many have walked and its fertility a place that many have coveted. Walter Buller...Papaitonga... land claims

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