Early on Wednesday morning I visited Shag Point, which is about 20 minutes drive up the coast to the North of us. Although there is easy road access, and a gaggle of old houses that mostly serve as holiday homes, Shag Point can feel fairly wild and remote.
It is a fine place to watch the sun rise above a steel coloured sea, with nothing but the sound of the wind in the tussock grass, and the cry of sea gulls for company.
The point has several short and narrow inlets between slabs of sandstone and mudstone. Out at sea are dangerous looking reefs over which waves crash at high tide.
|Looking South. On a good day you can just make out the Otago Peninsula near Dunedin.|
Shag Point has the Maori name, Matakaea. Matakaea is the also the name of the pa (fortified village) that overlooked the Shag River mouth. I tried to find the meaning of the Maori name, but have been unsuccessful so far.
I did not notice any shags at Shag Point, but there were a good number of seals that looked like big black slugs when seen at a distance... Just imagine what slugs that big would do to your cabbages!
Hidden away at the landward end of one of the inlets, is a boat shed and a steep boat launching ramp. The rocks and the sea look particularly unforgiving around here, so I think that it would need an experienced sailor, and someone well versed in the local area, to use this harbour safely.
I did speak to someone who said that people used to go out in boats from here and harvest kelp by wrapping chains round it and dragging it back to shore. Kelp is a heavy, and enormously long, variety of seaweed; and the shore is ringed with bull kelp, whilst just off the coast is a subsea forest of giant bladder kelp.
You can see dark masses of kelp just off the rocks in the photo above.
|A partly collapsed tunnel and a short seam of coal.|
|This would have been used in the mine to move coal.|
Probably history has recorded the mine as being closed due to economic reasons, but I can picture pumps churning desperately, sea water rising and imagine the booming sound of waves echoing in dark tunnels. There used to be a short railway branch line that connected to the main South line to transport the coal, and you can still see some clear and level areas where the railway once went. Many of the small houses at Shag Point date back to the coal mining days.
This area is rich in Maori and European history, fossils have also been found in the mudstone rocks here that include a 7 metre plesiosaur, but it is the sea that makes all history seem insignificant.
|Shag Point looking South. NZ flax in foreground (Phormium tenax).|
Indeed, the sea watched over the infant land like a midwife whilst it steamed and quivered, and finally set.
Now the sea nibbles and sucks at the land's cold toes, turning hard rock into sand.
One day the sea may cover this place again, sliding over it like an undertakers shroud; and where grass and trees once grew, forests of sea kelp may dance and weave, and fish swim in a new sky of water, like ghosts of the birds of the air.