Part 1 - Going to Whangārei
The official trail takes Sobo hikers past Whangārei by directing them to Whangārei Heads where they need to take a water taxi across to Marsden Point for a price. We're not sure what that price was - the water taxi service seemed a little random for Nobos like us - but that's all good, cos we didn't need it.
I think I previously described hitching as a bit of a trail sin…on a scale of one to ten - ten being murdering, cooking then eating a fellow hiker and one being the failure to say hello to another hiker - we'd class hitching a ride to civilisation as one-point-one-grade trail sin.
Especially when civilisation means furniture and food.
With this is mind - we hitched to Whangārei - as the young Māori woman who picked us up called it. Weirdly we spent the next couple of days in a different place...the signs said Whangārei...most of the people we met said Wong-ga-ray.
Part 2 - It’s not what you say...it’s how you say it
As we've walked the country, we often use the quiet spells in our brains to retrain ourselves in the correct pronunciation of Māori place names. Hiking Aotearoa is ideal for this as it comes with plenty of time and maps that are covered in Māori.
We spent much of journey from Palmerston North to Taupō on our Spine of the Fish hike, retraining our Pākehā brains to say Taupō correctly. We spent days walking up and down mountains in the Ruahine, Kaweka and Kaimanawa Ranges trying, possibly unsuccessfully to reprogramme ourselves.
It’s been a hard journey - probably harder than walking the length of the country - and we don’t really judge people who don’t make it themselves because it’s bloody hard. We still struggle with Taupō.
I’m always criticised for my own pronunciation of English, which compared to The Queen’s, could be described as horrendous - but it’s MY pronunciation of English and I’d sound like a right dork if I wandered around talking like Liz.
So I’m never going to lecture anyone on correct pronunciation. But me being me, I am happy try to justify why we are TRYING to get Māori right. We’re trying because it’s not just about pronunciation...it’s about respect.
Whiona works in the public health system and she knows that patients with Māori names appreciate it when someone in a white uniform gets it right. In a stressful situation it puts them at ease. Imagine you’re dying of cancer and no one can pronounce your name...or your uncle’s name...or your best friend’s name...or your grandmother’s name. This never happens to people called Smith.
You’re getting the full rant here...but hey...I’ve obviously got nothing on this afternoon so I’ll continue.
I’ve got a name that most doctors and nurses can’t pronounce either...but my name comes from Germany. My ancestors come from Germany. My name is novel and I quite like the look of puzzlement and worry that it induces in people.
“Breehens?” “Brerns?” “Beeherns?”
There should be nothing novel in a name that comes from the land we are lucky enough to live in. Māori names aren’t novel. And they shouldn’t cause puzzlement and worry.
There. That’s it. My justification for the strange murmurings you may have heard coming from our mouths as we walked through Tutukaka, Paihia, Kaikohe, Raetea, Ngunguru...
The only problem with this whole thing is that heaps of New Zealanders don't understand us when we use “properly” pronounced words like Whangārei, Whanganui, Kauri, Taupō...Māori.
We've even found ourselves uncorrecting ourselves in conversation, because people just don't get what we're saying. We also often “catch” Māori doing the same.
We're not perfect - actually we're often hopeless, but we're vaguely proud of what we've achieved.
We also use placenames to learn Māori words. We’re never sure what the actual names of places mean - there’s often a long local story involved - but a trip to the Māori Dictionary website using names that we break down can be a real eye opener.
We don’t know the actual meaning behind Uretiti...but are quite happy to learn the Ure means Penis and Titi can mean Shining. Or titty...or nipple…
Te Reo speakers...that’s who.
A place in point
While we were in Whangārei we visited the mountain that many locals call Para Hackey (Parahaki).
In Māori this name is a nonsense - the actual name of the mountain is Parihaka.
The bastardised Parahaki, even found its way onto government maps in the late 1800s and it wasn't until the 2000s that the misspelling and mispronunciation was officially corrected. Lucky they fixed it before we arrived eh?
As with Whanganui’s great “H” debate, Whangārei locals who don’t like change and publicity hungry politicians protested. Most still seem to pronounce it incorrectly.
Change is hard. Respect seems to be harder.
But I digress
Once we got into town, we made a beeline for the basin - the city's dock area. We sat on the grass and ate cheese and crackers before I went into a bar and wrote while Whiona went to Bin Inn and Pak'n'Save.
After a couple of hours in the Quay, part of the same franchise we'd enjoyed cider at a couple of days previously in Waipu Cove, the phone beeped.
“Ros is in town. She's on her way over,” Whiona texted.
You're going to have to wait until Day 15 to find out why Ros is more than a little bit special to us.
But in the meantime here's a hint:
If you've read our South Island TA blog you will have met her before - somewhere near Mavora Lakes.
The great thing about slow travel is that you end up hanging out with friends and aquaintances that you might often miss because cars can easily take you on to the next place. Walkers, unless they're shy walkers, have to make contact with such people - not only because it makes the dollars go a little further, and because that's what friends are for - but because these people often love to show you around.
Tony, one of Fiona's favourite workmates from Palmerston Hospital, had recently moved back home to Wong-ga-ray. In-between lying prone on his super-comfy chairs and drinking his tea we got some real Wongarayian hospitality as well as a Wongaray tiki tour that we could never have completed by foot.
This was all topped with the offer of a ride to Mcleod Bay after our two nights of luxury - where the water taxi would have dropped us if we hadn't been feeling sociable.