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Day 1 – A blessed departure from Te Rerenga Wairua

Feb 17, 2020

A minor mechanical problem upset my planned departure from Te Rerenga Wairua this morning. But Abbey Brown had one too. At the time, I hadn’t heard of the man or his truck trouble. But when we did meet for the first time at the Cape an hour or so later, it turned the start of my ride from Cape Reinga down to the far end of Aotearoa into an even more meaningful moment in life.

My day began just before 5am when the Tapotupotu campground, just to the east of the Cape, sprang to life. It seemed that some 60 of us Tour cyclists all decided that was when we needed to get up in order to make the 7am start to the Tour from the Cape. This was well before dawn but tents and grounds were lit by a host of fireflies, it seemed – headtorches and other cyclist devices. This is what the campsite looked like yesterday evening, and early this morning.

I’d had an OK night’s sleep, tho, the roar of the surf woke me up a few times during the night. I set to and managed to breakfast and pack up in an hour. But I was still almost the last cyclist to leave but the steep, rutted, gravel road that climbed from the beach back up to the headland was very dark. Just 50m up the track I realised my bike’s front light was pointing way up into sky, leaving the road black.

It took me ages to repack the bike to free up the light so by the time I finally got up to the Cape, a slog of a 45 minute ride up, all the other cyclists were heading out of the car park and fast downhill in the massed start to the Tour. I learnt later they had had a brief gathering at the lighthouse, the traditional departure point, before they began their journey but without a ceremony or blessing.

Well, I wasn’t going to rush away. I had all day for my 75km to my camping place tonight Hukatere, of which 50km was down 90 Mile beach (it turned out to be a delightful ride). Far more importantly, the Cape is such a beautiful and spiritual place which I so rarely have a chance to visit. For Maori, Te Rerenga Wairua is the place where the spirits of their dead launch off into their after-life. The palpable spirituality of the place is felt by many visitors, as Lynn, Celeste and I have on our previous visits.

Standing there on my own as the rising sun broke through a thin band of clouds, I vividly remembered one of my previous cycling departures from there. It was in February 2010 when I was riding to Bluff in an event organised by the Heart Foundation to raise $5m for a new chair in heart health at the University of Auckland – we cyclists were tasked with raising $1m of it. The Guardians of the Cape, Ngati Kura, the local iwi, honoured us with a departure ceremony to bless our journey. It was one of my most cherished memories of Maori cultural expressions I have had the honour to experience.

I rode slowly from the lighthouse back up to the car park. The only other person I saw was the man doing some maintenance work in the men’s toilets. I greeted him with ata marie, my favourite salutation which means peaceful morning. His shirt proudly displayed Ngati Kura’s name so I mentioned the ceremony his iwi had given us Great Ride for Heart participants a decade ago. He said he was there and remembered us. We had a good old chat about that and other things, and he introduced himself as Abbey Brown.

Abbey said he was particularly disappointed this morning because he had been asked to bless the departing Tour Aotearoa riders. But he couldn’t start his truck. Arriving late, they were streaming past him out of the car park. He asked if I’d like him to say a karakia for my journey. I said that would mean a lot to me. So he prayed for me, we said Amine together, we hongied, we bid each other farewell, I hopped on my bike and rolled down the hill away from the Te Rerenga Wairua.

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