Cannon Point Walkway & Birchville Dam: Dem Astronomical Akatarawa Views (Also: Happy Matariki, Whānau)

First things front-and-centre: ‘Ngā mihi o te wā nei, ko Matariki’ (or simply, “Happy Matariki”), whānau.

As-of the start of June, ‘Matariki’ – aka, the “Pleiades” star cluster – is now visible in our hemisphere, thus heralding the Māori New Year.

Without a shred of doubt, Matariki is, and means, many things to many people.  For those of us who dedicate ourselves to this particular time of year life, we are inherently drawn to the usual array of New Year’s traditions.  Key kupu like “remembrance”, “fertility”, “life”, “death”, and “gratitude” all assume their rightful place/s alongside the purposeful, necessary act of celebrating everything we are, as Māori.

Matariki’s our time.

For me, Matariki undoubtedly involves hearts – unified in the spirit of ‘kotahitanga’, of “oneness”, over our ever-important kai, and singing at top; joyous that we have one another in life, and simultaneously, grieving accordingly for those who have passed over, and on to the next realm.

Basically, you feel, and you celebrate whole-heartedly with your “tribe”, your ‘kin’, your “dearest” – whoever they may be.

And, yes – I do believe that there is indeed a ‘next realm’ where we eventually all end up, assembled and congregated together with those we have loved with all our hearts and lost in this lifetime, as-well-as those ancestors so removed that we were never afforded the opportunity to meet, and to know them, but who absolutely knew us and kept us safe, on-track, and “mana-ful” (i.e., apt to, able to, accustomed to, and/or having the qualities of: mana (nā Charles Royal)).

Traditional Māori lore is chock-full of examples of rituals and practices that petitioned to Matariki and the stars as spaces where departed souls were housed.  Anecdotal accounts describe weeping, and speaking the names of the dearly-departed to these ‘celestial guardians’ before offering the scent of kai as a means of strength, for stars were weak from cold at this corresponding time of year.

Māori legend is rife with stories too, and my favourite one avoids altogether the violence and despair of the notion that our wind-god, ‘Tāwhirimātea’, would literally rip-out his own eyes and hurl them to the heavens out of anger at the inevitable separation of his parents, our Earth Mother and Sky Father.

No-no, I much prefer to think of ‘Matariki’ (“little eyes” (Mata-riki), or “the eyes of god” (Mata-ariki)) as a mother surrounded by her 6 daughters, and as a wee family that arrives here annually to visit their great-grandmother, Māmā Earth ‘Papatūānuku’, to exchange knowledge and gifts with her.  They bring ‘mauri’ (their “life-force” or “energy”) with them and add-to her many environments, whilst she in-turn teaches them new things – treasures, to be guarded and passed-on appropriately.

How thoroughly warm-fuzzy.

So then, how very apt that my ankle rehabilitation journey continues right now, and I’m feeling nothing less than compelled to venture-out and pro-actively proceed with healing myself, via Papatūānuku.

Additionally, our new moon, ‘Hina Uri’ (Māori goddess of the ‘dark moon’), sits in Gemini (intellectual surrender, new direction/s, allowing inherent bodily wisdom to-the-fore – stuff like that), so impetus is high, cosmically-speaking, in any case.

This weekend, Mave and I reconnected with the Upper Hutt side of the Akatarawa Forest, re-acquainting ourselves with ‘Birchville Dam’ and the ‘Cannon Point Walkway’.

‘Akatarawa’ means “trailing vines”, and the forest here is huge, stretching from Upper Hutt to Paekakariki (15,000 ha).

Akatarawa’s also fairly remote, and the route to this walkway was actually pretty straightforward before some severe seasonal flooding last year rendered the bridge (on aptly-named ‘Bridge Road’) impassable, and useless.

Nowadays, the easiest way-in is through the Totara Park side – either by parking-up outside California Park and following the path north to join the Hutt River Trail and the Bridge Road entrance, or by parking at the end of Norbert Street (*off Akatarawa Road) and crossing the incredibly impressive bridge there to get on to said Trail.

It’s six of one and half a dozen of the other, really.  But when we go back, we’ll do Norbert Street just to cross there and take-in the extra river scenery, I reckon.

Alternatively, you can skip this step entirely and drive to Bridge Road from Larchmont Grove in Totara Park.  This is the road the residents of Birchville use to gain access to their surroundings, these days.

Cannon Point Walkway starts with a swing-bridge – s’not as epic as Kaitoke’s, but still equally swing- and suss-worthy.

Subtle little minor-tracks provide access to the walkway’s swollen waterway/s – be mindful, and take care here.  Those boulders are huge, and they’re slippery.

Birchville Dam is the absolute, unequivocal star of the show, here – and rightly so, too.

Fucking.  Epic.

Immediately past here is where the business-end of the hike starts.  The trek up to the top of the ridge is seriously steep – steep enough to warrant boots or shoes that are able to provide some peace-of-mind with regards to descending successfully, and avoiding assing-over the side.

A steep slope, loose gravel, and damp terrain (closer to the dam) make for a treacherous climb, at times.

Traction is what’s needed, whānau.

At the top of said ridge, the walk to the trig/summit assumes 2 distinct possibilities – a clear-cut 4WD forest-access road over the western side, and/or the “zig-zag”, which weaves to-and-from the access road and along the southern hill-face.

The trig’s turn-off is more obvious from the zig-zag.  Taking the access road (^) means an easier time cardiovascular-wise, but you’ll need to be continually looking-out for the appropriate signage or you’ll miss the track-change completely.

Needless to say, the views atop Cannon Point are utterly majestic.

Named in the saw-milling days (c. 1850s) after a large cannon-shaped tree that was left lying-around up here, the next-level vantage-point from this hill-top allows you to follow the Hutt River for most of its way out to Wellington Harbour.  You can also gather some semblance of the breadth of the Akatarawa Forest, especially if you look north-west.

Cannon Point (345m).  The Hutt River weaves its way out to sea (*behind us), with Wellington Harbour visible on the distant right.

This is by-far one of my favourite Wellington-based hikes, and I’m surprised at the low crowd numbers up here, tbh – especially with regards to the steeper portion of the walkway, en-route to the trig/summit.

Hence my devotion to this post – Cannon Point well-and-truly deserves more attention than it gets, in my view.

As a ‘one final thing’ aside: Wellington’s Matariki events calendar is particularly action-packed, this year.  Have a look and suss-out something that you could comfortably get involved in to celebrate the occasion if/while you’re in our “Coolest Little Capital” this month (and if you’re a local, well you really have no bloody excuse, do you?).

‘Matariki atua ka eke mai i te rangi e roa,

E whāngainga iho ki te mata o te tau e roa e.’

Or, loosely translated: “Divine Matariki, come forth from the far-off heaven, and bestow the first fruits of the year upon us.”

Tihei, e te iwi Māori;


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