'October 10The death of the dolphin was a mystery – still is. And now the magic, tragic dolphin has entered the mythology of this distant place.
Jane and I stood with our hands on the sun-warmed sculpture of Opo, not far from her burial place, and tried to imagine what the summer had been like. To this tiny settlement on the edge of the remote Hokianga harbour, thousands of people flocked that summer. They came to see Opo the dolphin playing with the children on the water’s edge. They came from all over the country, driving along dusty unsealed gravel roads through empty endless countryside. They came in their hundreds, day after day, in the long summer from December ’56 to March ’57. The country was in love with Opo.
Too many people came to Opononi, a tiny fishing settlement, hardly even a village – a few hundred houses, a handsome two storiedverandahed Victorian pub, some Victorian shop fronts and a wharf where the fishing boats tied up. The people of Opononi became increasingly concerned for the welfare of Opo, as well as for their village, as the crowds kept on coming, and the people lined the sands and the narrow road along the edge of the sea, and grown men tried to climb on the little dolphin’s back. On March 8 they achieved official protection status for Opo. The next day she was found dead, wedged in the rocks. No-one knows who, how or why, but her death shocked the country, leading the news. The local Maori people gave her a full ceremonial Maori tangi.
Over forty-five years later, Jane and I paid our respects to her memory, and were caught by surprise at how strong the memory of Opo still is. We are not the only ones. People still make the pilgrimage that we had made to visit Opononi, which looks out across the blue Hokianga harbour to gold sand dunes the other side. It’s still the home of the fabled dolphin, and there still seems a lingering ineradicable sadness at her absence.'
Excerpt from Valerie Davies' book The Sound of Water