The track is steep and deeply rutted after the early spring rains so my breath is heavy in my throat by the time I reach the top. I turn around to catch my breath, and my heart jumps. Below me stretches the harbor, laid out like a discarded blanket. From this height, Dunedin looks miniature, manageable, welcoming. It sits nestled, a haven between the wild Pacific and the foothills of the Southern Alps.
I turn to the left and see the Soldier’s Monument, its white obelisk standing sentry over the harbor. I cross an open gate into grassland and walk up the last few hundred feet to the monument itself, giving special deference to the few sheep who watch me warily. The air is crisp and sweet with the promise of summer. Gulls fly overhead, calling out as they trace their paths from the ocean to the harbor. The road below snakes out over the peninsula, leading to the Albatross colony and, beyond that, to the vast expanse of the Southern Ocean.
The Monument itself is sobering. It commemorates those young men from the Dunedin region who were killed in World War I. Names of the dead are carved into the marble of the pillar—Cowie, Dunford, Robertson, Samuel—and I am suddenly aware of the history of this place, reminded that nowhere is immune to the ravages of war.
There exists in Māori culture the concept of tūrangawaewae. Loosely translated as “a place to stand,” these are sites where a person feels particularly rooted, empowered, and connected to the mana—energy—of the land. I am from New England, a transplant to New Zealand, but standing up on the Soldier’s Monument, a cold wind whipping in my hair and the smell of salt, grass, and sheep manure in my nose, I feel rooted, empowered, and connected to the land and its history. I turn around and head back down the track through the overgrown gorse and the palm fronds to my car, my house, and my life in Dunedin.