Leaving Ralph Hotere’s former studio and hoping that one day I’ll return to find it more than just an empty building slowly eroding away, I decided to do something completely illogical. On a whim, I decided to visit the Ōtākou Marae on the Otago Peninsula. My thinking was simply based on the reasoning that if I went to Port Chamlers because that’s where the settlers landed, then I should go to Ōtākou because the Marae and Pā sites have been in existence a lot longer. I must admit, this did feel somewhat like a token gesture, but I reasoned that it was better than complete ignorance and so off I set to a location some 30km away.
Sometime later, parking the car by the bay at Ōtākou, it was a short walk to where the marae is located. I then spent the next wee while taking in all the different views that looked out on the water. The harbour was still and it seemed an ideal place to waste away the hours and reflect on the fact that long before any European came to these shores, local Māori had named every mountain, hill, lake, river, stream and other smaller natural features. Names, often given as a reminder of people or events connected with them.
For instance, Dunedin’s highest peak was known as Kapukataumahaka and there are two stories which explain its features. The first is about three young women who were travelling home to Ōtākou when they had to spend the night sleeping on the mountain. However, while they were sleeping they were turned into the 3 main peaks we can now see.
The second is about an old wise man who climbed the hill and lay down to rest and became transformed into the peaks that can be seen today. According to the legend, it is believed that he is lying on his back, his head to the west with the summit being his stomach. We however, know it as Mount Cargill, named after the co-founder of the Otago settlement which landed on the 23rd March 1848. I think I prefer Kapukataumahaka.