Shag Pt / Matakaea

Shag Pt / Matakaea

On a trip to Dunedin we stopped over at Shag Point for a few days.  Less than an hour north of Dunedin, this is a wonderful spot.  Scenery, wildlife, history, geology – Shag Point has it all.

Each morning I managed to get out well before sunrise.  The results were worth the effort:

Shag Point

The settlement at Shag Point consists of a row of houses and holiday homes stretched along the small road that heads out to the point.  Some are the typical “kiwi bach”:

All of the buildings share similar, outstanding views.  Here’s the sight from the front window of the house we were staying in:

The geology is interesting.  The rocks along the shoreline contain many spherical boulders which, unlike those up the coast at Moeraki (see the next post), erode more quickly than their surroundings and leave behind round holes:

But back to the early morning trips.  Shag Point is a very special place.  It is managed jointly by the Department of Conservation and Ngai Tahu (see here).  The deed of settlement between the NZ Government and Ngai Tahu in 1998 recognised the special traditional relationship Ngäi Tahu have with the natural environment.  It included the concept of Topuni.  This comes from the traditional Ngäi Tahu custom of rangatira (chiefs) extending their mana (power and authority) over areas or people by placing their cloak over them. The Töpuni cloak was nvariably made from the kurï or Mäori dog. This distinguished those who wore such cloaks from all others and represented the highest order of mana. Töpuni provides an enduring public symbol of the tribe’s commitment to conserving areas of high natural and historic values, as well as ensuring an active role for Ngäi Tahu in the management of these areas.  Töpuni has been laid over 14 areas of public conservation land of significance to Ngäi Tahu.

The name Matakaea recalls the tradition of the Arai Te Uru canoe, which capsized off Moeraki. The crew managed to swim ashore, leaving the cargo to be washed ashore. The crew  members fled inland, and were transformed into mountains. The navigator is said to have been transformed into a large rock just off Shag Point, shown here:


He looks as if he was quite a determined fellow:


 I learned how the area got its pakeha name, Shag Point.  On each morning, just a minute or so after the sun had popped up over the horizon, a flock of shags appeared flying fast and low in a vee formation.  They came up from the south, headed around the point and off towards fishing grounds further up the coast.  Another appeared, then another.  Perhaps 40 or more squadrons, many thousands of birds.  I tried to photograph them, but I had been using shutters speeds of several seconds because of the low light level and all I got were some blurred dark shadows.

They reminded me of a pelleton.  Although the sea was fairly calm, there was quite a large swell coming in.  Every so often a wave would rear up, the leader of the flight would suddenly lift to avoid a mightly splash, the bird behind would lift a little higher, and so on.  The poor birds at the rear were going up and down like yoyos.

Shag Point also has some intesresting industrial history.  It was the scene of the first coal mining in New Zealand and remains of the mines, which operated until the 1970s or so, can still be seen on the point.  Some of the seams extended offshore.  You can read about that here and here.  It even had it’s own railway.


1 comment

Beautiful photos…I stayed a night at Shag Point in my campervan one time…I’ve never been so friggin’ cold in all my life! The dawn was grey & bleak, & I fled at first light & headed inland to St Bathans. Was much warmer despite 14 inches of new snow! Maybe I’ll venture back here one day in the Summer…you sure make it look nice in your photos.

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