Wednesday 3 January
Opononi at Hokianga Harbour was our next stop, and here in the small visitor's information centre, we heard the tale of Opo the gay dolphin and watched a black and white video from 1955. I have searched Youtube but have been unsuccessful in finding it, so I will tell you the story.
The Story of Opo
In the early summer of 1955, a lone bottle-nose dolphin swam into the Hokianga Harbour and started reacting with humans. Known as Opo, she became a favourite, first of the local community, then of its holiday-making visitors, and finally of the whole nation.
She reacted well with most everyone she came in contact, and especially with thirteen-year old Jill Baker, whose parents ran the nearby tearooms. Opo and the girl formed a very strong bond; Opo would tow Jill around the bay, and the girl would teach her tricks. Opo was especially careful and gentle when she was around small children. She loved children but seemed to know how fragile they were.
Very few local Maori played with Opo. They believed Opo was a taniwha, a messenger sent by Kupe back to his point of departure for Hawaiki. Dolphins have also figured in Western mythology, from the time of the Greek gods, as creatures friendly to humans. So in Opononi, Polynesian and European mythology came together to form a fabric that was a uniquely New Zealand one.
Once the first newspaper articles and photos appeared in December 1955, Opononi became a magnet for holidaymakers wanting to see her. Hordes travelled by car or bus along dusty, unsealed roads to stay in the camping ground or the hotel, both of which quickly became booked out.
As thousands of visitors started to arrive at Opononi, she put on a show for them at the beach there almost every day, making some people scared for her safety: they thought such extreme interaction with humans would harm her. In response, the government passed a law limiting human interaction with her. But not everyone welcomed this law. Fishermen blamed Opo for their empty nets, others saw the law, which protected all dolphins in the Hokianga harbour, as a threat to the supremacy of man over nature.
The day after the law was passed, Opo was found dead. During the night, a fisherman had blown her up with gelignite. The whole nation was devastated. The local community gave her a public funeral, and erected a statue of her in remembrance of her loving spirit.
Opo's memorial statue sculpted by Russell Clark.
Read this eye-witness account by Piwai Toi. Ehare te toka i Akiha he toka whitinga ra tena, ko te toka o Mapuna, ko te ripo akake e kitea.
Below: Click on blue marker for photo
View West Coast New Zealand in a larger map
Tēnā koutou katoa
This is all about New Zealand - Aotearoa - and the time I spent there. Magical times, beautiful scenery, gushing geysers, thermal wonderlands. Hear about Waitangi Day, discover the meaning of the word "Aotearoa", see the Glaciers, read about hangis and Hakas, and visit the beautiful Bay of Islands. So come with me on a journey - a journey to The Land of The Long White Cloud.
CHRISTCHURCH EARTHQUAKE TRIBUTE 2011