Opinion: Let’s get clear about Te Waikoropupu and our national taonga
By Charlotte Squire
Ok, it could be said that I dwell amongst the most extreme greenies in all of New Zealand. Golden Bay was not so long ago found to have the most Green Party voters per capita, so I’m certainly amongst friends here. And so therefore what I’m about to say is coming from the very extreme perspective of a people loving, planet loving, optimist. I don’t feel very extreme, but hey, extremists never do, do they?
This blog is about Waikoropupu Springs, the sacred waters bubbling from the throat of the earth, the Taniwha that watches over the place, grateful tourists, and Time.
Let’s start with Time – those fresh water springs, gurgling some 14,000 cubic metres per second, water that comes from the the the snow and the ice and the heavy falling rains of the Kahurangi National Park and the Takaka Hill with its gaping and mysterious Harwood’s Hole and all the mountains that cup Golden Bay – by gum those waters they keep on giving.
Floods come, droughts come, snow falls closer to sea level than anyone can remember, babies are miraculously born, people die in the strangest ways, the world seems to slide to a complete stop with every extreme event, and those springs, they keep flowing fast and strong. And they have done since … forever. They’re a steady thing, in an unpredictable world.
People arrive, people fly here from lands across the seas, they find the Springs and they’re stunned. They can’t believe the pure clarity of the water, the sheer volume of water, the calm atmosphere of that place. They can’t believe we’re letting all that water flow out to sea, and they can’t believe it’s free to visit, especially when back where they come from, people charge good money, to see far worse.
Some stand on the viewing platform near the springs and theorise that us Kiwis don’t quite get how amazing our natural environment is. They say we understate it. They say, this is the world’s purist Fresh Water Spring and all there is to show for it is a small yellow sign on the main road that points to the turn off and says simply ‘Spring’.
“I could have missed this!” Breathes an Australian man. “I could have driven right past that small sign that said ‘Spring’! Where I come from a place like this would be surrounded in high rises and bottling plants.
Ok, so that’s not our way. We don’t do Vegas. But in a country where our Government is cutting funding to our conversation efforts, I got to wondering … if this is about budgeting, why we’re aren’t charging just a little bit for people to see these places, these special, sacred places that we absolutely must preserve?
“The day they charge me to visit this place, is the day I bail” mutters a Kiwi man. So how about we only charge tourists then? Seriously. How about it?
Perhaps I’m going all capitalist on you here. But if it comes down to it, decades down the track would you rather see places like Waikoropupu Springs unprotected and unmaintained, vulnerable to Didymo and far more drastic commercialisation and god knows what kind of other activity, or would you like to see it continue to be revered and honoured and preserved?
It seems to me, that in today’s times, placing monetary value upon a place gives it real, true value in they eyes of our society. Yes, I know, these places already have value far beyond the financial, they’re valuable beyond measure, but not so in the eyes of the majority of today’s voters, because look at the political party they voted into power, and look the organisations who are loosing funding these days – our environmental sector is copping it big time.
What if, all that would be required to add to our conservation coffers, was be a small fee, paid by thousands of tourists who barely noticed the money changing hands, every summer? I mean really, would it be so bad to ask for two dollars at the gate? That’s great value for the experience of the most pristine spring water on the entire planet.
There’s said to be a female Taniwha guarding those springs. Her name’s Huriawa. She travels deep beneath the earth to clear blocked waterways, she’s brave and wise and she dives the land and sea. Now I must say, that in the strangest of ways, I feel incredibly welcome at the Springs. Coincidence? I think not, it’s Huriwa I tell you! I feel supported and nurtured and I always, always find clarity in myself when I’m there. I find connection with the deepest parts of myself, in the stillness, when I walk through the forest at the Springs to stand near the waters. Spending time in such an ancient, revered place is medicine for me. I always leave there with the reassurance that all is well, and my goodness is noted and true … in the same warm kind of way I used to feel when I let my Grandmother’s house, with my belly full of cake and my heart full of love.
So let’s return to Time. In twenty years, would you like to take your children, your children’s children to the most pristine Fresh Water Springs on the planet and see the same beautiful clear water you see today? Of course you would. Because you, plain and simple, are of your environment. I mean that. You know it and I know it, we just don’t have the language for it. We think we look like fools speaking of our land as if it’s an ancestor, or a member of our family, but actually we’re foolish not to.
I think we need to be trading on our 100% Pure Image internationally, more, much more, and yes perhaps using the language that our culture have so readily embraced, for now, that being the language of money. And in doing so, this may re-frame the way our culture regard special places such as Waikoropupu Springs. Our Government may even just catch up with the rest of the world and remember just how precious these taonga, these treasures really are.
One more thing, I claim the right to change my mind about this. I claim the right to alter my opinion, or to remain sure of this, depending on what I discover next. I think that’s the right way forward, to be supple of the mind. So show me a better way forward, or don’t. But one thing’s not going to change: those sacred places around Aotearoa need protecting, honouring and preserving, because they’re family. Is that extreme? Not where I live.