Golden Bay writer Helen McKinlay shared the following piece, about the Rototai Environmental Arts Project, with us.
Three years ago, I had a strong urge to give my poem Low Tide at Rototai, to the beach of that name. Rototai Beach and the adjoining Motupipi estuary, is an area of ecological and archaeological significance and fragile beauty. I have been a visitor since the days when it was dominated by the adjoining rubbish dump and the smoke from the Golden Bay Cement Works. Although, the dump and cement works are now closed and in recent years, the council and groups of volunteers have worked hard on restoring the native plants in the beach reserve and parts of the inlet; the quality of the estuary and its birdlife is still at risk. This project was my gift of aroha, to a land that has suffered much, a contribution to its guardianship.
At Rototai, low tide can reach beyond horizons. Looking back from out there, one is in the centre of Golden Bay; encircled (from left to right) by the mountains of Abel Tasman National Park, the Pikikiruna Ranges, Rameka and the Takaka Hill, the view up the Motupipi inlet to Mount Arthur, and the mountains of Kahurangi National Park, which stretch round into the West Coast. And always, behind lies the long curve of Onetahua, Farewell Spit, with Mount Taranaki looming in the background. Lastly, there are the mysteries of the ocean bed and the multitudes of birds who feed there; royal spoonbills, white faced herons, pied oyster catchers, pied stilts, black shags and the rare kotuku, to name but a few.
After much thought, I chose a boulder as the poem’s frame. I searched for a boulder people could touch and enjoy, one they could lean on as they stared out to the ever changing views of tide and inlet. One that would suit the landscape. One that would have a space to place my poem on in letters big enough for those who had left their reading glasses at home. And one day the perfect boulder was there in front of my eyes. After a lot more phone calls and paperwork the big day arrived. I can’t describe the excitement I felt when it arrived at Rototai. It was indeed a truckload of boulder. Minutes later the digger, ‘one of the big boys’, arrived, and with great delicacy the driver put it exactly where I asked…that was a huge moment. Now it was just a matter of designing the poem to fit the plaque to fit the boulder, waiting for the carvers and the weather and organising a celebration.
Finally, on July 13th 2019, the boulder, an ancient piece of Papatūānuku from the Jurassic period and the poem, not quite so old, were finally unveiled before a large gathering of people. Members of the Manawhenua Ki Mohua performed a karanga and waiata, and it was time for my daughters, granddaughters, and myself to lift off the harakeke covering made by Sarah Hornibrooke. I gave a short talk and then all present joined in the singing of Mozart’s version of Dona Nobis Pacem, grant us peace. Flautist Patrick Riddett played ''Her Mantle so Green'' (an old Irish air) and there was a final karakia, before kaumatua John Ward Holmes asked people to walk up to the boulder, touch it and read the poem.
My greatest wish had been that this gathering of people would be like a large dose of aroha for this place and I felt it was. There were a few teary eyes and a lot of emotion expressed before we all chatted over our cuppas under the warm winter sun. All in all it was a gorgeous Rototai Day.
Now that the project is finished it looks so simple. But it was sometimes hour by hour, a mission which challenged all my senses, faculties and beliefs. I had no idea how to find a boulder, how many hours of work it would entail, how many people I would talk to, how many listened; how many emails I would write, how many permissions I would need, how to approach the funding, and what an amazing experience it would be. Or, that the project would increase exponentially until it became more about the spiritual connections between people, arts and the environment.
An act of kaitiakitanga.
This project was funded by Creative Communities Tasman and Golden Bay Community Trust.
Once at Takaka, continue along to the roundabout at the end of Commercial Street. Go though the roundabout and continue past the High School down Rototai Road. Carry on past the cemetery on the right until reaching Nees Road on the left. Continue along Nees Road to the carpark at the end and you are at Rototai Beach. Once there, look to the right and you will see the kaitiaki boulder between two ake ake trees.