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No. 35 (June 1961)
– 42 –

MAURIANUKU

Below Te Aka, the long dry root of the pohutukawa which does not quite reach the sea, is Maurianuku, the entrance to the underworld. Puckey calls this place Motatau and says that here the Maori spirits godown to their hell. He describes how the kelp used to slide back and forth over the entrance, and how the rocks are reddened with Kokowai or red-ochre, with which the Maoris used to daub themselves. According to Puckey's guide, even the fish caught at this place were red. But there is no sign of Kokowai today, only coralline, the reddish sea-algae.

I put on goggles and flippers and swam, rather tentatively, in Maurianuku. Although the coast, a hundred yards away, is thick with paua and crayfish, here the underwater walls of the Reinga were almost bare of any growth. One could put this down to the force of the perpetual surge, the backwash of the tidal-rip. I found no sign of any great depth, but there was an eerieness in this water that made me stay close to the rock and not look too far.

As we climbed back up the slow steep ridge to the lighthouse, we could see more clearly the ocean beyond Te Rerenga Wairua, running like the rapids of a river, a square mile of water convulsed in the clash of tides. But the constant, distant roaring seemed to be diminishing—the change of the tide was approaching.

Now we would see Te Ripo-a-Mauria-nuku, the current of Maurianuku, the first sea-stage of the spirits' journey. Slowly, the sea subsided and was still, and the Ripo took form, a winding line of demarcation between those two uncongenial bedfellows, Tasman and Pacific.

Te Ripo-a-Maurianuku leads the spirits out to Manawatawhi, mis-called Great Island by the Pakeha, the largest of the Three Kings. The Maori name is just as literal, but infinitely preferable to the pakeha: it means, “Last breath”, for at Manawatawhi the spirits came up for the last glimpse of their island home. Then, the way was theirs' alone, into the unknown.