Island’s own miracle of the fishes
PAUL CHARMAN UNCOVERS A FISHY TALE ON GREAT BARRIER ISLAND
A Skoda Yeti City proved ideal wheels for my recent attempt to revisit Great Barrier Island’s perplexing mysteries and cold cases.
Skoda NZ liked the idea and provided a 1.40litre petrol TSI car and a tank of gas. I caught the Sealink ferry and was soon chugging down the big steel ramp at Port Fitzroy.
The Skoda City soon found itself in country conditions as I stopped for road works on the big hill between Rarohara Harbour and Karaka Bay. On the steep metal road the wheels spun, and even in low gear, the seven-speed DSG autotransmission wasn’t happy.
But the natty City was a bliss to drive. Its impeccable visibility and substantial ground clearance handy on the Barrier’s narrow and windy roads.
I reached Karaka Bay and checked into nearby Orama Oasis, largest accommodation facility on the island.
Orama, which began as a Christian camp in 1962, now provides camp accommodation for Hillary Outdoors, plus hosting its own camps and retreats. This month it was to have hosted a production company filming the story of the Rose Noelle, but those plans seem to be on hold.
A shame, for the mystery of the Rose Noelle was one of the main reasons I’d come to the island.
The 6.5 tonne trimaran washed ashore at the southeastern tip of Great Barrier in September 1989, after turning turtle during a stormy voyage to Tonga.
For four months, skipper John Glennie and crew members Jim Nalepka, Phillip Hofman and Rick Hellreigel huddled together in the upside down, partly flooded cabin. The men cut a hole in the hull, caught rainwater and lived off stores, plus fish which swam into the craft.
I’d always wondered how she could drift for 119 days, covering 3000km, to wash up at Little Waterfall Bay. Somehow the upturned yacht found a tiny gap in the rugged cliffs, the only place her crew could survive the swim to shore. The adventure of the four (of whom only Glennie and Nalepka are alive today) is one of the world’s great survival tales. But that wasn’t the only mystery to ponder at Orama Oasis.
After reading the history of the place, I steered the Yeti down a steep bank and onto the vast lawn in front of the main building. In the early 1970s this coastal strip was the scene of two “miracles”, involving dozens of fish casting themselves ashore just as the residents held prayer meetings for food.
The phenomenon of sharks herding fish into the shallows and the fish then jumping out of the water is well attested.
But that this happened just as the Almighty was being petitioned for a feed did, in my view anyway, appear miraculous.