I flew once on a flight into Auckland, not cutting in from the eastern ocean but rather straight down the middle of the northern portion of the North Island.
The jaded and tired American passengers - eleven hours out of Los Angeles - suddenly came alive. An audible buzz of amazement ran around the cabin. Necks craned at the windows. One could hear a single word whispered in awe from many lips . . . ‘green’. The word rippled around the cabin and was joined by another . . . ‘beautiful’.
This time we approach from the west across the black sand with the white lace of the sea cast against it; across the rugged cliffs; the green, crumpled land; across the hills of Titirangi - the fringe of heaven - and circle in to land beside the Manukau where, in the dawn of time, the canoes of Toi and Ohomairangi sliced the undefiled blue water. Auckland International Airport: where the policeman carries on his belt . . . a large torch; where the sniffer dogs are searching for illicit vegetables; where every arriving visitor is offered a free cup of tea and a biscuit. Remember that day in Te Hiku o te Ika a Maui in the height of summer that we watched the dolphins cartwheeling endlessly in the bay; walked barefoot along the sands where the toheroa lie hidden like buried chests of treasure? Remember the hazy blue of the sea out by the headland rocks? It is the colour of the shirt that the customs officials wear. At their shoulder, beneath the words ‘Te Mana Arai o Aotearoa’, the golden coat of arms - Zealandia with her flag, the Maori warrior with his taiaha: the flag and weapon crossed in unity, fulfilling the plea which we sing in our embarrassed and reticent manner when forced to sing our national anthem - ‘Guard Pacific’s triple star from the shafts of strife and war. Make her praises heard afar. God defend our free land.’ The smiling Polynesian face above that blue shirt - unknown but so familiar. He scanned my passport and handed it back, and as I took it, he smiled again - ‘Welcome home, sir.’
Robert Louis Stevenson spent the last years of his life in Samoa. You can climb up through the bush to the summit of Mount Vaea to his tomb - a plain, unexceptional concrete construction. Inscribed there, his own words . . .