Transit of Venus: In Tolaga Bay, the clouds part as the anthem sounds

by Toby Manhire / 06 June, 2012
A magical day on the east coast, as the sun shines, and Venus slides across it.
The 2012 transit of Venus, seen from the wharf at Tolaga Bay, New Zealand. Photo: Toby Manhire

While the big weather bashed most of New Zealand about, Tolaga Bay was a bright, warm thing of beauty today. The sun shone. Venus did its transit dance. And the locals put on a pretty amazing party.

The forum-goers were bussed from Gisborne over the hill to Tolaga early, with the first stop the Hauiti marae. Wayne Ngata welcomed us on behalf of Te Aitanga-a-Hauiti, in a fine bit of oratory. I didn’t understand most of it, but he raised laughs with a joke at the expense of education minister Hekia Parata (Ngati Porou), and I knew what he meant when he described the place as “paradise o te ao”.

The wharf crowded with transiteers

Then it was on to Tolaga Wharf, the launch of the Tolaga Bay Sustainability Project and the rededication of the 660-metre long wharf. The clouds were lurking like would-be gatecrashers.

In the absence of the prime minister, who reportedly has been at a birthday party in London, minister of everything Steven Joyce did the honours. The wharf renewal, Tolaga and the transit events to follow offered a “symbol of our dual heritage", he said. And the wharf itself was “a place we can all hitch our waka”.

During the national anthem, of all things, the sun burst through the clouds. We all applied our cardboard sunglasses and craned our gazes upward. If you looked very carefully, there it was, Venus, puncturing the circumference.

It was almost enough to make you wonder whether Paul Callaghan, whose vision inspired the gathering, was upstairs, twiddling the knobs. And doesn’t that transit of Venus look a bit like a dimmer switch?

Out on the mighty Tolaga wharf – repeat after me: the longest concrete wharf in the southern hemisphere – telescopes were set up to provide a better view. It was special. Very special.

Back to the buses, and on to Tolaga Bay Area School. Plainly, the transit of Venus has been a big deal here – the students and teachers have been looking forward to today for years. There was plenty of terrific kapa haka, a new mural was unveiled (by Parata), and time capsules prepared for burial.

Hauiti Marae

Later, 750 trees were planted at the mouth of the Uawa River.

After a Hangi lunch, off to the handsome Reynolds Hall and a tremendous dramatisation of the 1769 Tolaga landings by students from the school.

In a day of many speeches, the best of the lot came from a couple of (I think) 10-year-olds from Tolaga Bay Area School, ahead of the time capsule burial. Their names (I think) were Costa and Sue-Ellen.

Sue-Ellen spoke about the tricky process of deciding what to store in the capsule, which will be opened in 20 years, by which time she hopes to be “a marine biologist or a Silver Fern”.

They’d considered iPads, iPods and similar technology, but those things so quickly date it hardly seemed worth it. Just think, it was only a matter of years ago we were still using floppy disks, she said. Kids these days didn’t know what they were.

“I only know because my principal showed me one.”

Organisers of the Transit of Venus Forum, the talk-fest part of which begins tomorrow, could hardly have hoped for a better prologue.

More tomorrow from Gisborne. And a short interview with David Shearer.

Full coverage of the transit of Venus and the Transit of Venus Forum from the east coast here.


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