Frontline: Gisborne - Captain Cook hated it, but it has a special place in sun Special sun will shine on place Captain Cook rejected

ON A fine morning, dawn in Gisborne is a spectacular sight. The sun rises out of the Pacific Ocean like a ball of fire, casting its early rays across the water and lighting up the skies over the easternmost city on the planet.

If there is a God, She will surely heed Gisborne's prayers and decree clear weather for daybreak on 1 January, when the eyes of the world will fleetingly focus on this city on New Zealand's North Island, the first to greet the new millennium. Amid all the bickering by South Pacific nations about which of them will witness the first sunrise of 2000, New Zealand basks in the knowledge that geography has gifted it two places with widely accepted claims: the Chatham Islands, its eastern outpost in the Pacific, which will be the first inhabited landmass to see the dawn, and Gisborne, on the mainland.

Although some might quibble with the definition of Gisborne as a city, which in New Zealand means anywhere with more than 30,000 residents, it is difficult to begrudge it a few moments of fame. For it is not just a charming, laid-back beach community that, thanks to its physical isolation, is well off most tourist itineraries. This is where New Zealand's history began. It was at Kaiti Beach in Gisborne, according to legend, that the first Maoris landed after an epic voyage across the south-western Pacific in a massive waka, or canoe. Centuries later, Captain James Cook, the explorer, arrived in a sailing ship, in October 1769. Cook was unimpressed and departed after christening that stretch of coast Poverty Bay.

Gisborne remains one of the most richly diverse areas of New Zealand; half its 48,000 residents are of Maori descent, and the two communities - Maori and Pakeha (European) - function as equals in public life. Accordingly, the dawn ceremony on New Year's Day - the centrepiece of which is to be a concert by the city's famous daughter, the opera singer, Kiri Te Kanawa - will draw heavily on both traditions.

When the first rays of sunshine strike the ocean at 5.46am between Tuamotu Island and Tuahine Point, a headland at the western end of Poverty Bay, a flotilla of Polynesian waka will sail into shore, bringing blessings from around the South Pacific. The ceremony on Midway Beach, the site with the best view of the sunrise, will also feature a Maori pageant telling the story of New Zealand and the lowering into the ocean of a stone sculpture of Tangaroa, god of the sea.

There will be separate festivities on Mount Hikurangi, a mountain 80 miles north of the city that is sacred to Maoris and will be the first place on the New Zealand mainland to see the new day - seven minutes earlier than Gisborne.

Planning for the events has involved painstaking collaboration between Gisborne's communities, but tensions are never far from the surface - a pattern that was set, according to Kathryn Akuhata-Brown, a journalist, when Captain Cook's men shot dead four Maoris during their first two days ashore. "The memory of that incident has not gone away, and it still plays a huge part in communal relations," Ms Akuhata-Brown said.

Tracey Tangihaere, chief executive officer of Te Runanga O Turanganui A Kiwa, the local tribal authority, says that while the millennium has no particular significance for Maoris, a lunar people, they have decided to use it as an occasion to reflect on the past and the future, "to show the world that we have struggled and survived".

For other residents, it is an opportunity to put their city on the map as a travel destination. Although poor ticket sales forced the city to cancel its plans for a concert featuring David Bowie and Split Enz, tens of thousands of visitors are expected. With only 3,000 hotel beds available, accommodation is at a premium and some American tourists are rumoured to have paid pounds 650 a day for beachfront homes.

Phil Parker, who produces a Beaujolais-style wine called First Light, says: "We are the front porch of the world. We may be off the beaten track, but we have the best view."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
peopleJonathan Ross has got a left-field suggestion to replace Clarkson
News
Johnny Depp is perhaps best known for his role as Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean
peopleBut how did he break it?
News
Andy Davidhazy at the beginning (left) and end (right) of his hike
video
Arts and Entertainment
The teaser trailer has provoked more questions than answers
filmBut what is Bond's 'secret' that Moneypenny is talking about?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Sport
footballDoes Hodgson's England team have an identity yet?
Sport
Lewis Hamilton secured his second straight pole of the season
f1Vettel beats Rosberg into third after thunderstorm delays qualifying
Travel
travel Dreamland Margate, Britain’s oldest amusement park, is set to reopen
News
news
News
Founders James Brown and Tim Southwell with a mock-up of the first ever ‘Loaded’ magazine in 1994
media
News
Threlfall says: 'I am a guardian of the reality keys. I think I drive directors nuts'
people
Voices
voices The group has just unveiled a billion dollar plan to help nurse the British countryside back to health
News
The Westgate, a gay pub in the centre of Gloucester which played host to drag queens, has closed
news
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped commission: SThree: Does earning a 6 figu...

Recruitment Genius: SEO Executive

£18000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: New Lift Sales Executive - Lift and Elevators

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A challenging opportunity for a...

Day In a Page

The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

Lobster has gone mainstream

Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss