Meeting of The Three Sisters, Tongaporutu, Mount Taranaki, New Zealand

The Three Sisters rock formations has always been a much loved scene growing up in New Zealand. The funny thing is, I don’t ever remember visiting this very spot and standing right here in all my 42 years, yet I have always been surrounded by artwork depicting them. In my 18 years living in Australia there have only been a handful of opportunities to catch a glimpse of this seascape when driving south from Auckland along the North Taranaki coast towards my childhood home of Waitara.
tongarorporutu-2013-107-085rMy cousin Erika Muna Lee (nee Niwa), together with her daughter Te Manu Lee and I were this time returning to Auckland from our weekend as guest artists in the ‘Call of Taranaki Exhibition’ at Puke Ariki Museum, New Plymouth and were on an incredible high with all the amazing experiences and opportunities that had unexpectedly presented themselves during our time in our home province.
We never imagined our day would be topped in any way. Earlier that morning Muna had taken me on a VERY SPECIAL educational and spiritual journey to Pukerangiora Pa, an ancient Maori settlement and stronghold where our Te Atiawa tribal ancestors once lived. For those who are gifted like Muna, they can feel and see the spirits of our tupuna (ancestors) here.
The pa sits high on a bluff about eight kilometres upstream from the Waitara River mouth, on a spur of land that looks out towards the ocean in the distance. It rises about 100 metres above the water on a sudden loop in the river. The scene is expansive and incredibly beautiful. There was no wind, the sun was shining and the birds were twittering, I almost felt like I was dreaming. I had been looking forward to this day for several months since reconnecting with Muna at our family reunion earlier in the year. I hadn’t explored this land since aged 11 yrs with my classmates on a school excursion with my dad who was also our teacher. Whilst at the Pa, Muna took Te Manu and I to a sacred ‘puna’ (spring) once used to heal the sick. The location which is known to only a few, is hidden in bushland on a hillside. I will share more about this experience and privilege in a future post.
Tongaporutu, The Three Sisters, Mt TaranakiStill buzzing from our morning session, we were about to pass through Tongaporutu about an hour north of Waitara and saw a huge sign ‘The Three Sisters’. At a whim I felt a desire to visit them, so immediately asked Muna who was driving, she was just as eager to explore. Normally with trips back and forth between Waitara and Auckland (where I fly back to Sydney from) there isn’t time for unplanned stops. On this occasion however as a result of something unexpected happening, my business meeting in Auckland was postponed so there was no longer a deadline to return. We detoured alongside the Tongaporutu river, which is lined with glorious old baches (small beach shacks) and followed the signs to a car park. Here we saw another sign advising ‘caution – low tide access only’ to The Three Sisters. Muna and I then of course, looked straight to the river (pictured above left) to discover… it was low tide! This was a high five moment to smile about and add to our memory bank.
As we walked along the river for about one kilometre towards the river mouth, I was fully prepared with a myriad of Canon camera gear. My brisk walk turned into an eager run along the sand. I was busting to see the view and the mountain which was out in all its glory. With Mount Taranaki it is like a game of hide and seek… you never know when she will appear from behind the clouds, and when she does, she casts the most magnificent magical spell upon you… you feel soooooo alive in her presence!!!!
muna-lee-tongaporutu-tania-niwa-2013This place holds special meaning for my family on my mum, Raewynne’s side. Mum’s grandparents were the very first family to build a bach along this river. She has lots of funny stories to tell about the mischief her sibblings would get up to and hours spent around the rocks while their grandparents fished. My Aunty Lyn has just told me she and Mum used to play around The Three Sisters, and when visiting at night would get to enjoy seeing glow worms in the rock formations. As a youngster I recall going with my Nanna, Sylvia to purchase a brilliant painting of ‘The Three Sisters’ and Mt Taranaki she commissioned her artist friend Ray van’t Hof to create. Although Nanna has since past, The Three Sisters is a trigger to remember her. My family get to see this artwork every time we visit Grandad, Mel who is now 94 years old and lives on a hill at Spotswood in New Plymouth (with another magnificent view of the mountain). I also have a daily reminder of this Tongaporutu scene at my home in Manly, with an artwork by renown Taranaki artist Peter Lambert titled Tongaporutu.

Looking at the scene, you might be wondering where the third sister is. Well, she doesn’t exist any more. She has eroded away. From this particular angle you might very well consider the peak of Mount Taranaki to be standing in as the third sister. Images from this day will be included in an online gallery of Taranaki Landscapes and fine art to be released in time for Christmas gift orders.
Muna, Te Manu and I felt like time stood still here… we soaked up the atmosphere for four hours until we heard the tide turn… we never even looked at our watches… Something else happened while we were there… again, we were astonished… this is the start of another story…… Light punching through the darkness. The awakening. Thanks Tony Kemp for naming my cave image above so aptly and using the image for one of your daily inspirations.