The Tukituki River

The Tukituki River rises in the Ruahine Range, flowing across Hawke’s Bay, before entering the Pacific Ocean near Haumoana south of Napier, New Zealand.  The Maori name Tukituki roughly translates “to demolish”, presumably referring to the power of the river in flood. In 1893 floods on the Tukituki washed away road and rail bridges and inundated the township of Clive.

The river flows through dry hill country, lush river flats, and willow lined river banks. The land bordering the river is used for farming, vineyards, and holiday cottages.

The Tukituki is a superb fly fishing river. Our son, Adam, wrote about his experiences. His knowledge of the river was intimate and his words express a depth of feeling that is authentic and personal.

“I have had many great and memorable experiences fishing the Tukutuki River. In late summer, when whitebait comes in from the sea, large trout can be seen in the shallow clear waters surrounding and feeding on schools of fish. The trout weren’t frightened and sometimes came only a few metres from where we stood.”

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Adam’s connection with the Tukituki River was beneficial for his health and wellbeing. As ‘positive’ psychologist Miriam Akhtar suggests, “It only takes around 10 minutes of ‘green exercise’ – physical activity in a natural environment – to produce positive emotions.”

The natural environment also provides us with inspiration. A sensitive person is attuned to the creation and all that it has to say to us – challenging, informing, instructing, and empowering. The Tukituki River had a message for Adam that was potentially transformative. It is a message that is relevant for us today.

(1) Be prepared for change.

It should be clear to everyone that ‘nothing stays the same.’ Adam was aware of this. He says,

“Describing this magnificent river is hard because it changes around every bend. It is forever changing. The weather alters how high or wide the river will go or how low and shallow it will be in parts. I have seen the wide river split in two over a month and turn into two flowing streams.”

(2) Be mindful of your purpose.

Adam understood the journey a river makes. He says,

“In a place called Hawkes Bay, located on the east coast of the north island of New Zealand, lies a spectacular wide river which flows down from the snow capped hills and makes its way through many twists and turns and departs out to sea.”

The purpose of any river is to make its way to the sea. The health and vitality of a river system is maintained by its connection with the sea.

We too need a purpose in life. To quote Miriam Akhtar again,

“A purpose in life gives us a solid bedrock of meaning which can help us be resilient, as well as being a target to aim for.”

It is when life loses its meaning that we are at risk of giving up on life altogether. We reason there is nothing worth fighting for. All hope is gone.

Nick Vujicic is the author of the inspirational book Unstoppable: The Incredible Power of Faith in Action. He says,

“Those who are overwhelmed by suicidal urges often feel they have no purpose in life or that their lives are barren of meaning. They feel the future is without hope because of their pain, whether it’s due to a broken relationship, a medical issue, the loss of a loved one, or other challenges that seem insurmountable.”

(3) Recognise and respect your vulnerabilities.

I’m sure Adam never entertained the possibility that the Tukituki River might be vulnerable.

I read an online article recently, dated January 2015, that reported the failure of a wastewater treatment plant in Central Hawkes Bay resulting in the discharge of pollutants into the Tukituki River. By not adequately testing the equipment the district council acted carelessly and irresponsibly.

Similarly, Adam was affected by life experiences that exacerbated his mental anguish and contributed to his confusion and desperation. Whereas a more resilient person might have found a way forward Adam succumbed to despair.

The International Federation of Red Cross explains vulnerability as “the diminished capacity of an individual to expect, cope with, resist and recover from the impact of a natural or man-made hazard.”

There are many hazards in life. There are many situations that can get the better of us. There are moments when we think we can’t go on. This was Nick Vujicic’s experience. He says,

“There are times though when I struggle to recover from a setback. A major crisis can be difficult for anyone to manage. Even a minor challenge can seem overwhelming if you are wounded or vulnerable.”

The good news is that there is a regenerative power in rivers. If we work with them they will thrive.

The same is true of us. With the right support and encouragement, our inner being can be restored and we can move on with our life, responding appropriately to every new situation. We regret that Adam wasn’t able to find the support he needed to tackle his challenges and find renewed purpose in life.

Unstoppable: The Incredible Power of Faith in Action

Author: Bruce Rickard

Reflections on Suicide and Staying Alive: My son's suicide changed everything. I felt an obligation to understand why anyone would want to end their life. My regular blog posts explore the causes and prevalence of suicide and what is needed to sustain a healthy mind and a hope-filled future.

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