Whoosh! Issue 40 - January 2000


IAXS Book Review
By Carolyn Skelton
Content copyright © 2000 held by author
Edition copyright © 2000 held by Whoosh!
1562 words

Untamed Coast (01-02)
Pristine Beauty (03-05)
Bethells' Beach And Environs (06-11)
Maori Traditions (12-14)
In Sum (15)

Backdrop to Xena: Warrior Princess
Untamed Coast: A Book Review

Untamed Coast

Sounds of Auckland pending Y2K and America's Cup celebrations

Book is available at Amazon.com and other online outlets.

[1] This is a commentary on the book Untamed Coast: Auckland's Waitakere Ranges and West Coast Beaches by Bob Harvey, Exisle Publishing, Auckland, 1998.

[2] The "Untamed Coast" of Bob Harvey's book is the Waitakere City area west of Auckland, New Zealand. The majority of the outdoor scenes in Xena: Warrior Princess (XWP) and Hercules: The Legendary Journeys (HTLJ) are shot there.

Pristine Beauty

[3] Harvey stresses the pristine and spiritual aspects of the untamed coast. He writes of the way Maori spirits are thought, by Maori, to cross the west coast on their way to the northern tip of New Zealand at Cape Reinga, where the spirits of the dead are thought to leave this world for mystic Hawaiki.

[4] Ted Scott's photographs of the area take advantage of natural atmospheric lighting, and they capture the haunting and spiritual qualities that Harvey describes. There is something of a glossy, tourist postcard quality to many of the photos, but they are still very pleasurable to look at. Some of them, notably the ones of the Bethells' area, are strongly reminiscent of particular scenes in XWP.

[5] Harvey writes knowledgeably about the local vegetation and wildlife. He gives detailed descriptions of many walks. The book's lovingly described details of the attractions of this enticingly wild area incites a desire to explore the Waitakere area. Particularly intriguing are the stories of coastal caves that were used widely by Maori before European migration to the area. Caves tend to be featured quite a bit in XWP, and there is certainly inspiration in the ancient use of such phenomena in the area. For instance, one semi-underwater cave described by Harvey sounds much like the cave Xena inhabits during ADVENTURES IN THE SIN TRADE I (69/401), when she is sewing her new outfit. That scene was actually shot on an indoor set, but nevertheless, it would be fascinating to visit some of the caves Harvey describes, with their intriguing mystique and sense of history.

Bethells' Beach and Environs

Beware of women riding clamshells...

Bethells' beach, site of many HERC and XENA eps including the famous Xena/Callisto chariot action.

[6] The chapter entitled "Bethells Te Henga: Beach Dreams and Swamp Music" deals specifically with the area where most of the XWP/HTLJ shooting is done. This beach is featured in DESTINY (36/212) (the beach with the crosses on it); RETURN OF CALLISTO (29/205) (the chariot race between Callisto and Xena); TSUNAMI (65/319); and HERE SHE COMES... MISS AMPHIPOLIS (35/211), among others.

[7] Lake Wainamu is featured in FINS FEMMES AND GEMS (64/318) and ADVENTURES IN THE SIN TRADE I (69/401)(the sand dune and lake where Xena leaves Argo). The sand dune beside Lake Wainamu is featured in THE DELIVERER (50/304), when Bodiccea is first seen; RETURN OF CALLISTO, when Joxer calls to Xena and Gabrielle that Callisto is free again; and in the chariot race along the shallow stream beside the sand dune in CHARIOTS OF WAR (02/102).

[8] Several other locations are worth mentioning. O'Neill's Bay, next to Bethells' Beach, is shown at the end of TSUNAMI (65/319). The bay is just beyond the small sandy hill in front of the disgruntled warlord. Ihumoana Island is just to the left of him as he walks away. The edge of it can be seen as Xena and Gabrielle turn to walk away in the opposite direction. Erangi Point is just behind Ihumoana Island, and it can be seen from another angle towards the end of GABRIELLE'S HOPE (51/305) behind Xena as she chases Gabrielle and her baby. It is also behind Xena in the title sequence of XWP.

[9] Harvey says, "Te Henga was probably continuously inhabited by Maori for centuries, and today the area still contains the largest concentration of archaeological sites of any district in the Waitakere ranges or on the coast. Some 75 sites have been recorded by archaeologists. These include pa [Maori fortified villages], pits and terraces, rock shelters, and a remarkable rock wall formation. The area also contains the best-preserved examples on the coast of an island pa site, Ihumoana Island, [almost in vision at the end of TSUNAMI (65/319)], where tradition records that the Maori chief Takere was murdered."

[10] It is from chief Takere that the whole Waitakere area got its name. ['Wai' is Maori for water.] The area has traditionally been occupied by the tribal group Te Kawerau a Maki, whom Harvey describes as "the holders of the term 'manu whenua' over the Waitakere coastline, the traditional inheritors of the mana."

[11] Harvey describes Bethells'/Te Henga as "the grandest of the west coast beaches. It is awe-inspiring and dramatically beautiful. Its splendid isolation and sense of history are quite overwhelming. To walk the Bethells dunes, to swim the fresh water lakes, and to run the high hills is to absorb the essence of the west coast." Pictures of the dunes and two nearby lakes, one of which is a sacred Maori area, abound. "Local Maori buried their dead in the sand dunes near Lake Kawaupaku. This is the main reason why this lake's access is still restricted."

Maori Traditions

Not to be confused with Pastifika, which honors the introduction of pasta to NZ.

Pasifika is an annual festival in Auckland, bringing together diverse cultures from all over the South Pacific (including Maori). There is music, dancing, stories, artifacts, and displays that are wonderful to see. If it's on when you're there, don't miss it!

[12] Harvey has recorded some Maori tales from the Te Henga area, one of which took place in the neighboring bay to Bethells': "In the center of O'Neill's is a large rock column known as Tikinui, a tapu [sacred] sentinel three or four meters high. At the base of this rock, the Maori chief Taratuwhenua speared a young man who was secretly courting his daughter while lying concealed under layers of bull kelp. Taratuwhenua plunged his taiaha [wooden weapon with blade] into the young man's heart while addressing his daughter, who was sitting by the pile of kelp. The rock bears silent witness to this tragedy...."

[13] Harvey seems proud of the way the Waitakere area has been used in movies and TV programs, yet supports the Waitakere City Council's commitment to ecological conservation and preservation. In its presentation and expression, the book presents a similar contradiction. In addition to celebrating and maintaining the pristine wilderness, Harvey seems to want to promote it to outsiders, thereby encouraging tourism and media enterprises.

[14] Hercules: The Legendary Journeys and Xena: Warrior Princess are examples of major American television productions using this area for colorful backdrops and useful landscapes. Many of the local farms are used extensively as locations for feature films. THE PIANO production team built a cluster of cottages at Te Henga, and the lakes [are often featured] in local television commercials. There is a growing fear among locals that over-use by the film and television industry could harm this wonderful asset."

In Sum

[15] This book has a glossy, coffee table look to it. There are many stunning photographs that capture the wild beauty of the land, and the text is engrossing. Like XWP, which has 20th century characters within a world that delves into mythical antiquity, this book has a similar story. The Waitakere area was created from split tectonic plates and volcanic upheavals in the mists of prehistory. The tales derived from Maori oral history - stories of lost loves, battles and mysteries that occurred in the coastal caves, waters, and fortified hillsides in the area - make for fascinating reading. No less interesting are the stories of colonial struggles, European settlers, local characters, artists and ordinary people who are still living in the area. Each historical period has left its mark on the countryside, the same land that is the backdrop of XWP.


Carolyn Skelton Carolyn Skelton
I started my life in Auckland, NZ, Moved to London, England in my mid-20s, and lived there for many years. I have lived in Sydney for the last four years. I have worked in various sectors of Education. Since being in Sydney, I have been teaching on a casual contracts, mainly in a TAFE college, and I occasionally do a bit of University tutoring and lecturing. Sometimes, it seems like I teach just about anything people will pay me to teach, but actually various subjects within Humanities, Social Sciences, and Education. My academic qualifications: BA (Auckland); MA Language and Literature in Education (London); MA Communication, Culture and Society (London)
Favorite episode: Very hard to choose just one. ADVENTURES IN THE SIN TRADE I (69/401), gave me a Wow!! reaction at first viewing, and remains a strong favorite, for many reasons including the stunning use of the natural landscape.
Favorite line: Again, hard to chose just one, but the most recent one I've liked is the delightfully ambiguous line from Xena in CHAKRAM (92/502): "Of course you could just kiss the girl."
First episode seen: By chance, the first Hercules episode I saw was WARRIOR PRINCESS (H09/109), where Xena first made her appearance. I saw the rest of the Xena Trilogy, then SINS OF THE PAST (01/101), and every episode of Xena since.
Least favorite episode: Hmmm... well, there's more than one to chose from here, too. Perhaps GIANT KILLER (27/203) and A SOLSTICE CAROL (33/209). They were first shown together in Australia on the same night, and I found it a dissatisfying experience. Two episodes for the children.

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