Bruce Bay cairns, New Zealand

In Maori mythology, southern right whales (tohorara) have god-like status. Hoping to glimpse these increasingly rare beasts, tourists driving the west coast of New Zealand’s South Island stop at Bruce Bay. Weather permitting, people from every continent get out of their rented vehicles and stare out to sea. They have time on their hands. There is no café; only the road, the ocean and the rocks in between.

Bruce Bay 1

Something in this wild, beautiful place impels the visitors to leave hundreds of carefully balanced cairns. Some are simple; some show ingenious engineering skills; some are beautiful. All have a primitive appeal. Are they just marks of passing for the next tourist or is there at play some great whale-spirit?

Bruce Bay 2

Bruce Bay 3

Bruce Bay 4

Bruce Bay 5

I left my own cairn at Bruce Bay but I felt like an intruder. Reassuringly, it will have been washed away, like the others, in one of the great storms that lash this rugged coastline.

There is a Maori cemetery at the end of the beach.

Anna King’s Tui brooch

The cover of a New Zealand hunting manual published in the 1990s has a photo of an adolescent Anna King. With rifle in hand and flaming red hair she poses near her trophy beast. A decade on, she meets her unshaven prince-in-camouflage. She embarks on jewellery-making wanting to combine ornament with a fervent love of things natural. Her self-designed silver brooch is the only output before family life takes over. It is a work suffused with love.

Anna King's Tui Brooch

The Tui is New Zealand’s second iconic bird. Its plumage is metallic blue-green. Its white feathery throat bobs characteristically as it chimes and cackles. The circular Tui triad of Anna’s brooch is completely balanced. It speaks to nature’s great cycle and whispers celtic silver. (A link to the red hair?) This is beauty.

When I first meet her, she is wearing the brooch at her throat. Surprised by my magpie-like interest in things beautiful, she tells me of its provenance. I ask what else she has made. “Nothing really” she replies. Her young son watches her prepare for the next hunt. “Got to feed the family” she says.