“Have you noticed the time for high water on New Year’s Day?”
That seems a strange question from one busy housewife to another, on a bright sunny afternoon early in September. But then you must remember that New Year’s Day was the day for the Riwaka Community picnic at ‘Tapu’ and to get there meant the crossing of 1 ½ miles of sandy beaches and mudflats, which are covered at high tide. There were no telephones to utilise for the necessary arrangements, so it was essential to make an early start, or it might so happen that there would be four or five hams and no turkeys, with the possibility that some may not care for turkey. Then too there were not motor cars or motor boats. Cars would have been useless as there were three or four tidal creeks and several muddy or soft spots. The general method of transport was by a spring cart, with a staunch half draught horse, one used to the water if possible. Perhaps the choice of the seaside as the site of the community picnic was because it passed the small beach where the first settlers landed so they proceeded to a beach further on, which had more scope, but still accessible by horse transport. Everyone would ride until the mudflats were reached, when all the children would discard their shoes, and paddle across the creeks and sandy stretches, and so lighten the load in the cart, as it was heavy going in many places. One tricky part was over the rocks at Wood Point. This would have been impossible in its natural state, so some of the settlers had blasted a channel through the soft granite rocks, just wide enough for wheel traffic. The ruts worn in this soft granite seemed to accumulate black mud, so if you were late to negotiate this part with the tide rising, the traffic would stir up the mud, and discolour the water, making it difficult to locate the track.
As parts of the rock alongside the track were two feet high, it could well mean disaster. This was the chief reason for taking particular note of the tides. With a tide range of twelve feet, there were other portions where water could be too deep, and any running late on the tide, would have to wait two or three hours for the tide to recede.
The picnic area was about two and a half acres of a rather sandy flat on the southern side of a long spur, which juts out to sea between Tapu and Steven’s Bay, ending in a rocky promontory with an isolated patch of rock off the end of it known locally as Big Rock. This spur is only about 100 yards wide, fairly flat on top, but with cliff faces 50 to 60 feet down to the sea level on each side. It had been used as a Maori pah or fort, as there were two deep trenches across the spur, about 100 yards apart, the ends of each trench extending from some inaccessible part of the cliff.
On arrival at the picnic site, the elder boys would be sent to collect driftwood, while the men prepared fireplaces and spread two or three white duck rick covers, on which the long linen table cloths would be placed. After the initial preparations were completed, the boy would proceed to the end of the sandspit for a swim. Bathing togs in those days would be of the neck to knee type, but were conspicuous by their absence. The few girls who fancied a dip in the briny, generally favoured a secluded nook at the far end of the beach, beyond the Archway Rock, where a sentinel would be posted to ensure privacy. Some adults would organise games for the smaller children, such as baseball, rounders, teazel, drop handkerchief, and the like. I have mentioned no motor boats, but there were usually two or three small sailing boats, and the same number of dinghys. These were always popular with the children, and the owners were kept quite busy.
A shout would announce when the big kettles were boiling, and all would hasten to the dining site. The linen cloths had been spread, and each family brought along their contribution. When all were seated either the village parson or some other head of family would briefly offer thanks for the food. Each person brought their own cup, plates and cutlery and sometimes large boilers of new potatoes and green peas were cooked. Another item on the menu was plum pudding and the children soon discovered which ones had been favoured with a generous addition of three penny and six penny pieces.
After any remnants of the food had been safely stowed away, the men would perhaps have a game of cricket, married versus single. The pitch was rather sandy with poor turf so no big scores were recorded. A few keen fishermen would take off to try their luck fishing off the reefs, while others would make for the cockle or pipi beds. These succulent shell fish one of the chief foods of the old time Maori, were usually cooked on return home, as the shells strewn along some driveway, where wheel traffic and the trampling of horses could crush them, provide useful grit for the poultry.
The adolescents would perhaps wander in groups over the low hills toward Kaiteriteri but with the march of time, gorse has been allowed to take charge, and the young people of today are denied the pleasure of the lovely vistas which were available from many vantage points.
On the sandspit I have mentioned, there was a rather rare type of grass growing, spiny rolling grass (Spinifex hirsutis). The seed heads of this grass resemble a ball about 8 or 10 inches in diameter, with long spines protruding from the seeds. When the tide was out, and the wind favourable, these seed heads would blow along the beach faster than any children would run, and the children would have competitions as to which seed head would reach a certain point first.
It is a pity that this old time favourite picnic spot with its sandy flats have been completely eroded by the sea. But perhaps providence ordained it, so that we should be compelled to share our blessings as we were forced to construct good motor roads to Stevens Bay and
Kaiteriteri. These bays have become so popular with visitors from all over New Zealand, that we are again compelled to raise our sights, and the eventual goal must be the formation of a good road near the coast, which will give access to the many bays of equal beauty, which extend right to Totaranui and thence to Takaka. Much of this road would pass through Tasman Park and together with the existing tracks and the genial climate of this area, would open up a veritable paradise for trampers, fishermen, and the general public of New Zealand, who are such ardent lovers of the open spaces and the unspoilt beauty of our country.