Looking down into the main spring

While searching for Joe Wellington in the north part of the South Island, I stumbled upon Te Waikoropūpū Springs. I wasn’t sure what I’d find here, having only seen the sign for it along the road with a large dirt car park and barely any vehicles, I was certain it’d be ‘just another tourist destination’.

My son and I walked hand in hand toward the entrance and to my delight, I saw the word ‘hine’ (girl, daughter) in several of the brief explanations about the area. Perhaps Joe Wellington has a deep appreciation for Māori mythology? Worth a check, anyway.

Maroon posts of the marae were carved with the legends of strong wahine (women) and descriptions on each one. There’s too many for me to name, but while reading about Hine Ahu One (the first mother of the land), I knew this stop wouldn’t be trivial. Having to chase after a preschooler, I wasn’t able to linger and read more. What I did understand before taking to the path was this: the grounds and water are sacred. Don’t dump anything in the spring. Don’t take water from the spring. Don’t smoke or eat or drink. Respect the guardians and the Papatūānuku (earth mother).

Once on the dirt path sheltered by Manuka trees, it was stop and go several times due to a pebble hitching a ride in my boy’s shoe. He was in good spirits, his playfulness refreshing. But I couldn’t shake the feeling like we were being watched. Not in an eerie sort of way (although, that’d make a good story), but there was a definite presence. Joe Wellington of the Wind? Right. Joking aside, you could just tell you were in a special place.

We approached the main spring that looked like a normal, quiet pond with flax plants and pebbles lining the shore. But when I peered straight down into it, the colours were none I’ve ever seen of water before. It was like a Monet (see above photo).

the waters represent the lifeblood of the Earth Mother & tears of the Sky Father

My boy gazed into the water, too, mesmerised by the eels and trout living beneath ‘the submerged garden of Eden’ while his grandparents explained as best they could the importance of not disturbing the sacred water. This was a place full of history, spirit, and conservation.

According to Māori mythology (forgive me if I’m misunderstanding), these springs are  protected by female guardian Huriawa. I’ve not had time to research as much as I’d like, and to be sure I don’t get it wrong, I’ll offer Wikipedia’s explanation on Huriawa:

“She is a diver of land and sea, travelling deep beneath the earth to clear blocked waterways. She is brave and wise and believed to still rest in the waters of Waikoropūpū, when she is not away attending to business.”

It’s said to be an honour to gain guardianship over such sacred places as this. The role has been passed down over several generations from the ancestors to “ensure that the matauranga (knowledge and legends) and aroha (love) of our sacred place is not lost.”

‘the tears of the spirit ancestors’

Aha! So it’s the female guardians whose presence I felt along the path; now making it a spiritual experience for me. Geez, I can’t give up knowing more now… These mythological taniwha’s are the ‘dawn maidens’, the ‘mothers’, the ‘keepers’, the ‘sisters’, the ‘protectors’. They are described as brave, wise, strong, but also full of knowledge and love.

I’m finding in my mid-thirties, I’m appreciating what an honour it is to be a woman; grateful to the women before me who’ve fought to have their voices heard and to the women who’ve stayed silent but with a loud spirit. I’m in awe of the women who’ve carried shame, and the women who’ve not had time for it. I weep for the women who’ve suffered and applaud the women who’ve persevered even when silenced. I adore the women who dare to have an opinion and the women who laugh when insulted for speaking up. I join in solidarity for the sacred stillness we long for within.

Let no one take our power or the life-force we protect. I only hope I can pass on to younger generations (such as my son) a devotion to all things fragile, breathing, connecting us all.

It says at the entrance to the sacred grounds, “Because the physical and the spiritual are inseparable, the health of the whole system reflects the well-being of our community”.

Well, I can’t deny that.

Sorry, Joe. Maybe we’ll connect at the next stop. And this concludes my search on the South Island (until next time). Right now, I’m too busy protecting my womanhood.

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