I wanted to test the thesis that "Sustainable vernacular urban design respects the mobility of the coast."
Any joumey, like life, should be an integrative process. Some discovery, but also a little nostalgia. Confimation of some assumptions, but also challenges to others. The opportunity to feel and touch what has only become known second hand through books, slides or friends. The return from the journey with a renewed passion for delving back into secondary sources to search for understanding. Incentives for action. Life with Fred was about all these things.
I wanted to test the thesis that "Sustainable vernacular urban design respects the mobility of the coast." I wanted to restore some of the balance which had been distorted by the confrontational political process of conservation battles during the last twelve months. I wanted to investigate the changing role of DOC.
I achieved all these objectives, and along the way became enthralled with the wonder of creatures and the awesomeness of landscape. From time to time we all need to fall in love again with our own countries. For me falling in love with New Zealand is very easy to do.
The period just before Christmas is my preferred time to travel. Everyone else seems to be busy celebrating, leaving our wonderful landscape to be simply enjoyed in a meditative rather than competitive way. By good chance the weather on this journey was perfect.
Wednesday 7 December
Karaka Bay - Patea
It is an exqusite dawn with the light shimmering across the flats. The pohutukawas are bursting into bloom with the honey flow on its way. John Crockett relaxes on his deck enjoying the dawn.
The Waikato is high. The farmland shines in the morning light. We take the back road through Pirongia, turning off at Ngaruwhahia.
As we swing into Rod Smith's deer farm "Farndale" Sylvia is already on her way to pick berries, and Rod is in an appropriate posture for reading the NZIA joumal. Rod is a delight as always, with tales of Wayne suggesting to the Institute that using sex to sell a sponsors product was not an appropriate ethical position, and being told of course that extensive market research had revealed, surprise, surprise, that sex was the real seller. We muse about the Institute castigating Pete for allowing himself to be associated with a whisky advertisement. Discussing double standards leads to Rod telling of Cameron McIver's letter to Bhutta. Who needs opposition from anyone else when you have "staff-who-think-they-are-leaders" like Cameron and Geraldine? The beauty of the journey slowly massages all these concerns away.
Geoff KiveU will have already left for work, so on through the sparkling green of late spring growth until the river leads us down to Awakino. A small boy is walking home beside the river carrying one of the largest pitchforks I have seen. His other hand has fingers outstretched and on every finger hangs a fresh flounder. Lunch. We settle for
delectable local whitebait fritters and a coffee in the local cafe to catch the mood of the town. The waitress suggests there would be twenty people living in Awakino.
"No", insists the local district nurse who has also dropped in for a chat. "There would be twenty-five. There is Jack and Mary, Isabel and Frank, and then there are five Paynes...." We agree when everyone has been identified that there are in fact twenty-five.
Awakino is the classic example of the urban form I am studying on this trip. The river mouth is mobile, subject to sand build-up in westerly storms. It curls quickly around behind the dunes and then meanders a little until its path becomes assured. At this point the town was established, I suspect with a wharf but I will need to do more research to sort that one out. Certainly the road along the river intersects with the road away from the river which runs directly towards the hill overlooking the town. The hotel is on this road, and the courthouse is a block back from the river. The down-river saleyards define the edge of the town. It is quiet now, but the walkways above the pens pulse with the presence of those who will walk up to the pub when the sheep have been loaded back into the trucks to go on to their new owners.
A sensitive understanding of landscape and sustainability avoids all of the absurd results generated by those who think They can challenge the sea with gabion walls and "erosion control". The hill gives excellent views over the town, and a little to the south a headland overlooks the Awakino river where it joins the sea.
Excellent sealed roads have taken away the challenge of Mount Messenger, but the barn with the mural on its side and the Motonui synthetic petrol plant have hardly changed over the years.
Delving further into the history of Waitara is left for another trip. Time constraints also demand very selective glimpses of New Plymouth, which however seems to have gone down the Auckland path and alienated itself even further from the sea, if that could be seen as a possibility. One strong but neglected axis does extend down to the water from the corner so beautifully marked by the "Australian" verandah of the White Stag hotel looking diagonally across to the new clock tower. At the sea the axis ends with an unfortunate wimper. A pile of ugly basalt rock, such as Tonkin and Taylor are recommending for Karaka Bay. The Govett Brewster Gallery is on this axis, but it is closed for the mounting of the Len Lye exhibition which will extend over the summer. The public relations manager very graciously shows us over the work in progress, and we end up talking Cibachromes, as Christine Webster's exhibition has just finished. A Cappuccino and cake in the cafe.
Exploring the waterfront and the hill overlooking the town is a sad experience. How is it possible for any nation to be so destructive of such magnificent landscape?
The beauty of Taranaki basking in the soft aftemoon light draws us inland from Okato for a closer look, and then we tum back to the coast road at Puniho, where Dale Copeland and Paul Hutchinson live. Dale is a wonderous collector, ably assisted by people such as electricians who, having found dead possums in the roof, feel that they should be given to her rather than thrown out. One drawer is full of a dentists castings of people's mouths. Every detail of Mrs Mulroney's teeth have been rescued for posterity by Dale. The whole house, which lurks cautiously behind her collection bursts with wonder. Paul shows us the pastel studies for the oils we will later see in the Suter Gallery in Nelson, where five Taranaki artists including Dale and Paul have an exhibition. Instead of an opening they are all gathering for a closing. It will provide an opportunity for discussion of responses and ritualise the joumey home of the treasures. Sadly we decline the offer to stay for the night, and after a coffee head on south.
Cape Egmont is more than a lighthouse. The terrain is relatively flat and the westerlies roll the fine sands away to north and south, leaving only large rounded boulders such as are found on Little Barrier. A dramatic and unusual stretch of coastline. This is Michael Smither country.
Parihaka remains as a thom in the side of the establishment. Milton Hohaia came up during the year to talk to the Faculty Whaihanga of their confrontation with planners and building inspectors. They have so few resources, and those they do have are drained away by the bureaucracy. When we called they were busy building a community space among the haphazard cluster of houses. The emphasis placed by architects on elitist buildings has left most of our society to fall victim to the magazines and advertisements which promise everything but provide no vision of a quality environment founded on simplicity. A komatua gives us permission to visit the wharenui, with its thatched roof in need of repair and temporarily protected by black polythene. There are no carvings, straw on the floor, and the form has a double "transept", so that the major space is approached at right angles to the axis. Te Whiti's tomb stands on the same knoll, looking down the valley.
The colonial house close by is probably the one which was left when the troops burned the whole settlement to the ground to destroy Te Whiti's peace movement. A new house now being built above the marae creates an unforttmate domination. The place seems to call out for an "urban design" workshop of architectural and planning students, combining the physical task of repairing the roof with the design task of reestablishing an interconnection between buildings. Have we left architectural colonialism far enough behind to avoid the mistakes of the past? It would be a ptvilegc to bask in the aura of Parihaka. The atmosphere of sadness at what has happened here mingles with the hope of what might be.
Kapuni, like Oaonui, does not merit a stop when there are so many deeper issues to consider. Hawea.
The sun is setting over Taranaki by the time we reach Patea. This seems an improbable place to spend the night, but Patea proves to be a gem which leaves me wondering why I have never stopped to explore it in the past. Once again a river struggles to spend its force against the westerly winds. The mobility of the mouth has been arrested with timbering and groynes which stretch out into the surf, but before these were built the town had been established well back from the mobility of the cliff edge and the dunes. It seems so appropriate that the camping ground, with its frail, tensile, mobile architecture should hug into the spit and face the river, with its back to the westerly wind. A place of spiritual presence, and a cabin is only $20 for the night.
We explore the Patea river mouth, stock up at the local store, and watch the moon rise. Only one other person, an unemployed local who is paying off the caravan he is living in, is staying at the camping ground. He goes to the pub for some social contact, and picks up any odd jobs he can. I cannot shake off the image of Patea as a place where people have had their lives and their hope torn away by management rationalisations.
Thursday 8 December
By 6.30am the sun is streaming in, and it is wonderful to have a place to unpack the chaos thrown into the car, sort out gear, and pack everything in an orderly way. It reminds me of the first day out on a yachting trip. A leisurely bacon and egg breakfast, and off at 1Oam after a glimpse of the river mouth in a different mood.
A sign to Bushy Park leads us about 8km up into the hills. guided only by a memory of a photograph, which was of course not Bushy Park but Hurworth, which is known as "Bush House". (Historic Buildings of New Zealand, North Island, p 184) The reality hits home when I present my Historic Places Trust card and the receptionist needs to go away to find out what that organisation might be. Bushy Park was gifted to the Forest and Bird Society and is owned and operated by them, The old house is set on a knoll with superb views towards Wanganui. There are walking tracks through the surrounding native bush, and the house is operated as a guest house. $75 for the main bedroom, with a bay window opening out to the view, and a chamber pot. $55 for the other five bedrooms. The table is set with crystal, and for $25 a head she will present a feast. The ladies retiring room, the gentleman's room, the formica room for those who want to escape for a cup of tea and relief from the eccentricity, and out the back there is a bunk-house, hall for lectures, and assor-ted farm buildings in varying stages of decay. Guests can go down to collet the mail by horse and trap. The way to enjoy this place would be to book it all out for a weekend and have a party. Patsy and Nick spring to mind.
Wanganui is another town set back in the shelter of the land, away from the mobility of a river mouth where groins attempt to contain the whip in the tail of the river. The old bridge sets an organic axis across the land and this is crossed by the formal intellectual axis which connects the Sarjeant Gallery to the memorial on the hill. This formal axis can be projected through to the coast, and in the other direction to the west of the snows of Ruapehu glistening in the distance. The purity of the snowmelt source becomes the sluggish tidal old man, taken where he would not go, with the youth and vigour of the gorge only a memory in the town.
A new "motorway" bridge now crosses the river, just downstream of the old, missing the whole point of "meaning" in urban design. Traffic engineers who think that roads are only a technical problem have done more damage to this country than any earthquake, but no one seems to notice. The connecting roads fill the void between the formality and cultural confidence of Wanganui and the informality and working men's struggle of Castlecliff. The new industrial development along the river has that carelessness which is the hallmark of developers. It stands in sharp contrast to the power and clarity of the old railway line reaching right out to the river mouth. Today the river mouth looks like a rubbish tip, surmounted quaintly with a sign "Tip no rubbish". A fishing boat coming over the bar expresses the vulnerability we all feel when we are crossing boundaries.
Back in Wanganui the tension of misunderstanding is expressed by the Maoris huddling outside the plate glass window of the War Memorial Hall, while within a memorial to the Maori land wars has been added to that commemorating colonial troops fighting a war far away. They died for values which would later be put up for sale. Across the subsidiary axis the Museum dusts off our Maori heritage.
The Werner Bischof photographs in the Sarjeant Gallery are stunning. The opportunity to trace his move from capturing exquisite patterns and the sensuousness of skin to conveying the human condition with such clarity and passion, only to pay the price of his involvement and total commitment by being killed in a car accident in Chile at only 38, was very humbling.
The light quality in the renovated gallery is superb. A Christine Webster cibachrome is a shadow of the exhibition which finished at the Govett Brewster a week ago.
Michael and Marilyn Payne have moved from their house at 24 Turere Place, and I fail to track down their new address. Searching out architecture must wait until another expedition, but we do get to the Ratana temple and marae which are only 3km off the main road. The town is almost deserted presenting a very different atmosphere from the last time I visited.
As soon as the air force hears that we have called in to Ohakea for a coffee they orgariise a spectacular display of the entire Aeromachi squadron. The building shakes as plane after plane takes off, and as soon as they have spent their budget for the day doing aerobatics they all return to their parking lot and peace returns. We decide to give the new museum a miss.
The Tannery at Foxton offers a full tour, which provides an opportunity to learn about the environmental impact of tanneries, which, it would seem, have been substantially reduced. Almost all of their production is for export. Today 10,000 lambswool car seat covers are on their way to Korea, through Napier. Levin.
Sarah TreadweH's work on Rangiatea at Otaki, and the recent completion of the restoration have aroused my interest, but the reality exceeds any expectations. The interior is now absolutely superb. (Historic Buildings of New Zealand, North Island, p254) The local Maori vicar, his brother, and a helper engage us in a test of observation and sensitivity before asking for opinions about the ties in the west wall.
Barbara Smith is not home so left a note at her Waikanae house, which backs on to the Tararuas. I find out later that she was in Auckland. A Chinese meal.
Ian and Heather Watkins have just arrived back home, but they put to one side their own need to unpack and get some sleep, offering us warm hospitality, and the use of a flat attached to the rear of their house. What luxury, with Heather even stocking the refrigerator with fresh milk. The sad news is learning that Ian is waiting to have a triple by-pass operation. Over a lingering breakfast we talk about family stories from the past and family news. Lance, Ann Marie, Scott and Connie. Wayne has four daughters. Jocelyn has two children. Lindsay.
Friday 9 December
Otaki - Nelson
Mirek Smisek's Pottery at Te Horo has changed little over the years. The garden setting and the interiors of the kilns are as wonderful as ever. (Craft New Zealand, Doreen Blumhardt and Biian Brake, p264, p292) (Artists and Craftsmen in New Zealand, Peter Cape, p69)
Arrived at the Picton Ferry terminal after the 10am boat had gone, but no problems in getting on the 12.20 Arahanga freight sailing. This is the ideal ship to be on as it is totally without pretension. Cars are squeezed in among the railway wagons, the only special space is that set aside for the truckies, and the drivers are able to demonstrate their skill during loading. The last cattle truck is too high to go under the upper deck and so it needs to back up the full distance of the curved ramp. There is plenty of outside deck space and the salt wind blows through your hair.
During the hour wait on the wharf met Barry le Dans, an architect who knew Aalto and Utzon. He is on a fishing holiday, and we agree to a contra. I will take him sailing at Karaka Bay and he will take me sailing in Denmark.
The scenic route from Picton to Havelock. The sky is blue and the day is hot. It feels great to be in the South Island. Vivaldi's Four Seasons fills the air from Lisa's stereo. It will also fill the air at almost every National Park Headquarters we visit. Aspiring will seem a little out of touch. The Ngakuta Bay campsite reminds me of days when I have camped there with my Morris Minor. From the end of the jetty we enjoy the reflections in Queen Charlotte Sound. The South Island always seems to be deserted, and the newspaper reports telling how Auckland's motorways will need to be doubled in size because they have reached their limit of 3200 cars/lane/hour seem incomprehensible.
A summery ice-cream at Momorangi Bay. A walk to the end of the Anakiwa jetty. In the grove of trees beyond the Outward Bound interpretation centre there are now five plaques for people who have lost their lives doing the course. Black swans swim around the jetty across the bay. Damage to the road from the storms several months ago is still being repaired.
The view from the lookout over Havelock has now been almost obscured by trees, but the new marina is such a visual jar in the landscape that perhaps the trees are only seeking to heal wounds. The sedges in the flats around Havelock remain among the best in New Zealand, and the old wharf still has its charm.
Pelorous bridge is for me a sad place. Less than 1% of the original forest cover in this area remains, and that only because it surrounded an accommodation house. Now a few magnificent rimu and totara stand as a silent testimony to what we have done to our unique, priceless, irreplaceable "rain forests". Time spent exploring, enjoying the river cutting through the gorge, and wondering whether to stay in the DOC cabins next to the roar of the traffic make us an hour late getting to Nelson, but we were not to know that all the architects would be gathered at their AGM followed by a dinner at David Jerrarn's. Min and John were there, and unfortunately we missed them when we tried to make contact later. Peter and Judith, Steve and Kristin were there.
A nostalgic look at Rona, still at the same berth. The pure delight of Tasman scallops at Chez Eelco. Eelco chats briefly, but they are very busy. Jessica Hollis has been more than gracious in extending the hospitality of the family, and we are sound asleep when Steve and Kristin return.
Saturday 10 December
Nelson is always a tonic. The scale seems to set a standard for other cities to follow. Richness and diversity, and yet everything seems to be within walking distance. We brealdast on the terrace, looking down the Maitai Valley to the city centre. A walk to the market. Dried tomatoes, olive bread, excellent cheese. Ross Johnston is up from Blackbird Valley (RD 2, Upper Moutere. Phone 543 2858) with a great array of his hand-forged knives. They are irresistible. I purchase three.
Steve explains the core and the early growth of Nelson as we walk past the old Provincial buildings. Alan Russell is on the desk at the Suter Gallery. In Nelson you seem to fmd friends everywhere. A cappuccino in the restaurant, which has now enclosed most of the old terrace. The exhibition of five Taranaki artists includes the oils of hands by Paul Hutchison and the astonishing assemblages of Dale Copeland.
Lunch back on the Mayroyd terrace with all the goodies we have obtained from the market, and some time in Kristin's studio enjoying her recent work.
Peter and Judith Wood are so gracious that they give only a hint that they are very busy, with guests arriving on the morrow and the need to drive to Christchurch to meet their daughter at the airport immediately afterwards. Peter suggests that I should organise another reunion in Nelson, and so another plan is hatched. Peter is now with David Ragg, and enjoying being back into architecture, but they are dreaming of an extended tour of US National Parks.
The boundless energy and enthusiasm of Terry and Clare Gavin is a tonic. They are a fund of information about routes and tracks, and their house is enriched with the patina of a full life. They have recently purchased a block of land between the road and the Buller, just below Kawatiri Junction. Sam, their eldest son, has just finished his second year in architecture, and Tom shares the work he is submitting for his portfolio in the hope of beginning at Auckland next year. Kate is their daughter.
Debra and Giles Grigg have turned their spacious colonial Nelson house into a bed and breakfast. Giles retired from his Canterbury farm several years ago and has become an avid gardener. He delights in allowing us to discover a cricket pitch in the midst of all his planting. Debra prepares a delicious feast and we talk late into the night. Fortunately Kristin has given us a key and we are able to creep into the Hollis home without disturbing anyone.
Sunday 11 December
Nelson - Awaroa
Again that Nelson sense of scale makes it possible for Steve and Kristin to walk down to 9am Mass at St. Marys. The lazy Aucklanders need to pursue them by car. The priest is a real card. He begins his sermon with the story of the cleric who announced that there seemed to be something wrong with the mike, to which the congregation replied "and also with you". Within a few sentences he had woven his story around to saying "Peace be with you". Half the congregation had begun to say "And also with you" before they realised his game.
More stories as everyone gathers in the sun to talk. Hot bread for breakfast back at Mayroyd, and then very reluctant farewells around 11.30am.
Guruvati and Harudev Dyer have a spirited family which obviously keeps everyone on their toes. They told me how to get to the Tui commune. John Palmer is unfortunately not in, but we are able to clamber all over his new house, which is just roofed in. Brian and Hillary Tear are not in. We will learn later that they are sailing. The Waimea Pottery seems a little tired. The glass blowers are blowing for the tourists at Hoglunds glass studio. Mapua wharf now has an excellent little restaurant, and a hole in the wall supplying twenty species of smoked fish. We settle for smoked salmon, which carries well in the chillybin, and provides several days of exotic eating.
Ruby Bay offers shade beneath the pohutukawas along the pebble beach. Motueka. We decide to press on over the Takaka Hill, but reach Ngarua caves just before the 4pm tour which is the last of the day. There are a lot more moa bones than when I was last there. Superb and tempting views over the tablelands, but there is not the time for tramping. Takaka. Fortunately petrol is available at Pohara. The days are so long that I keep forgetting to fill up before the early closing times. On to the Tui Commune at the end of the road past Wainui inlet. The coastal walk leaves from this road end. At last I am able to catch up on Reinhard Kanuka's house, in which he lived for the years while he was at Tui. Only yesterday they celebrated ten years on this site, and everything now seems well established and settled with many houses dotting the hillside, and a generous communal building. We are invited to stay by Robyn, but decide to spend the night under the stars.
Over the steep rough road to Totaranui Beach. I am shattered. DOC have concreted a boat ramp right across that glorious sweep of sand. The concrete has accelerated erosion so that now it is difficult to clamber over the ramp to even walk along the beach. How could anyone be so stupid, particularly when the old ramp tucked away into the invisible comer of the estuary set an example of environmental sensitivity? The camping ground now looks like Dachau. DOC seems to have picked up the worst overseas trends and sacrificed the conservation estate to cheap "tourism" values. Finally everyone will lose. The sun is setting and this was the "dream" I had come to experience again, but with sadness we decide that the spirituality of what had been one of the most magnificent beaches in the world has been drained away.
Back up to the ridge and down to camp at the road end above the Awaroa Estuary.
Monday 12 December
Awaroa - Saint Arnaud
The tide does not seem to be low enough for a crossing, but on the other hand the weather is too glorious to press on without a little exploration. One delightful water pattern leads to another, until we are enticed right around the edge of the estuary and over to the hut. Trampers with immense packs are flexing their muscles. A little further on is Ian Athfield's "commune", as delightful as ever. From the beach looking across to Totaranui the kayakers are just setting out on the next leg of their journey.
It is here that I find Fred, the paddle crab. Fred is in perfect condition, and catches the pure sculptural beauty of nature. Fred joins us on our joumey. By now the tide has dropped and we are able to follow the orange marker route back to Lisa.
Ice creams at the Pohara Beach store, and an inspection of their cabins. Along the back road through East Takaka, and washed Lisa down just before joining route 60. Salmon and camenbert by the river. Over the Takaka Hill. Min Hall and Rita live only a short distance down the Kaiteiiteri road, but sadly we have missed them yet again. The "office" welcome however is generous and we are able to see the newly completed building alongside Min's house. Gael Montgomerie, the woodcarver whose exhibition opening we had been to at Susie Brown's Carnival Gallery in November, has her studio and house just down the road from Min, so we call in briefly and chat to Gael.
The only address I have for Ron and Edith Sharp is the Riwaka Store, and they only know a phone number. "A pity you were not here a few minutes ago. The children were in." Cell-phone technology to the rescue, to discover we are only a few hundred metres from their "fresh organic vegetables and dried fruit" sign. At last I am able to see the house, inspect the extensive vegetable garden, and of course spend some time reminiscing. I had forgotten the time I recommended that Ron should stand for Council and then received an astonished phone call to say he had been elected and what should he do now? Daniel and Stephanie show us the goat and kids. We stock up on fresh and dried fruit and vegetables, as well as juice and jam and Elderflower wine. Edith mixes up a brew of dettol, vinegar, pennyroyal (and olive oil?), to ward off sandflies.
Back through Motueka and south to the Jacaranda Park Gardens. They have been on the site for many years, but have just decided to enter the tourist circuit with a restaurant attached to a new garden centre. It was their adobe building which had attracted me, but we discover a superb site overlooldng the whole of the valley, and a Tati type atmosphere as they attempt to catch elusive flies before the evening guests arrive. Over a cappuccino Helen arranges for them to sell Sally's silks.
The roading pattern seems to be a little complex, but when we stop to ask we are only a hundred yards from Riverside, which is right on the Lower Moutere road, and not difficult to find. Riverside is the oldest existing commune in New Zealand, having originally been founded on a Christian comniitment to pacifist ideals in 1940. It has changed a great deal over the years. The original chapel is now a community building. Only recently they decided that they would accept agnostics into the community. They have a flourishing 500 acre farm, run the local garage and are well integrated into the local community. Houses are separate from each other, and some of the more recent suffer from the architectural desensitising which has beset the rest of New Zealand. From 86 members they are now down to 53, so they actually have a surplus of accommodation. Stocked up on fresh eggs we make our way back over to Ngatimoti and the river. The snow on Mount Ar-thur shimmers in the distance.
Contrary to the directions I had been given Pokororo is on the other side of the Motueka, half way between the bridges, so we need to double back. No one seems to know where the Mountain Valley School is, but eventually we find the commune and Don Gilkenson's yurt. Unfor-tunately Don is away until late, so I can only talk to the horses about the queries he raised in his letter, and wander back across the baseball diamond to head south again. In this area the houses seem to be as varied as the people.
It never seems that it should be so, but the road is excellent and thus it really is quicker to go to Kawatiri Junction and then to double back to Saint Arnaud. A little more civilisation has crept in among the beech trees, but the pure delight of Peter Wood and Tony Douge's spiritual retreat remains as perfect as ever. Erin Hawke, Alastair's girlfriend, seems to be very much in evidence, but must be away somewhere else as we never see her during our stay.
Tuesday 13 December
The beech trees reach up to the blue sky. The tuis swoop through the gaps, pausing only to sing. Black fungus. Honey dew. Time here seems to stand still, and any visit always begins with centering one's soul. Breakfast on the deck, and then a walk through the beech forest to Lake Rotoiti and the visitors centre. Geology intrigues me more and more as I become interested in the mobility of New Zealand and the inability of New Zealanders to live with it.
Lunch back at the lodge, and then we drove to the top car park on Mount Robert. There was no sign, but the keas were obviously waiting for us, and they spent some happy time pecking their way through Lisa's soft rubber covers to the wing mirrors. It could have been much worse. Meanwhile we laboured up to the iidge, and along the tops, pausing for some food in the shelter overlooking the ski-field. On along the iidge, to Lake Angelus, which is surprisingly frozen over and covered with snow. Snow also covers the last part of the track, but this is a trip for delights rather than achievements, so we luxuriated in the beauty of the high tarns and the setting sun rather than going all the way to the hut. Hot showers back at the lodge are indulgent luxury.
Wednesday 14 December
Saint Arnaud - Barrytown
Another morning of pure being, and then we reluctantly began our journey down the Buller river around ipm. Owen River. Petrol at Murchison. Earthquake scars from another time, and delays while road repairs are made where there have been more recent slips. Some real West Coasters in the car ahead. Lean, scraggy and asking for a Robin Morrison photograph.
The Ariki Falls are a flat crevice like the Huka Falls, but the water is turquoise and the rocks are pink. The Buller bridge. Above Inangahua the trees, like the gorge, are very enclosing, but below the valley opens out enough to provide one vista after another. In this exquisite weather it all seems better than my memory of it. As many cyclists as there are cars.
Westport is another of the river-mouth towns I wished to look at a little more closely. The township is once again set well back from the mobihty of the mouth, with a lagoon behind the bar similar to that at Greymouth. Groynes once again attempt to stabilise the river mouth itself, and we are able to walk right out to the end, on the northern side. The housing at this edge of the town is very small in scale, and low to the ground. An urban quality similar to Castlecliff. Workers' housing. The railway line parallels the river, running the length of the wharf, and terminating at the characterful building which establishes a pivot point where the wharf projects into the lagoon. A new deck is being built on part of the wharf, but the pace here is measured, as concrete replaces timber. The road to Karamea which reads strongly on maps does not read at all on the ground.
The flat tussock land to the south, inland from Cape Foulwind and the Okari Lagoon, slowly gives way to the limestone escarpments of the Paparoa National Park. Another time I would walk up the track which follows the Fox River. It leads in to the Bullock Creek flat and a 3 day round trip is possible, coming out the Pororari. At the Paparoa National Park Headquarters park staff recommend doing this the other way around, and also recommend the Mount Bovis track. A brief look at the tourists looking at the Punakaiki rocks, and seeming not to notice the swirling kelp. A cappuccino at the Nikau Palm Cafe, which seems to have resulted from the continental shelf drifting south from Rarotonga. The DOC camping ground is reasonable enough, but it has people in it! I cannot see why friends have recommended it so highly.
The road up Bullock Creek is definitely for fine weather, but leads all the way in to the farm up the most magnificent valley, with towering limestone escarpments reaching out over the swampy river flats. Epiphites hang from the Kahikatea. There are several fords which are passable after so much good weather, but a flash flood would lead to spending extended time with the bullocks. The old cattle track leads through the upper flats, forming the link between the the Fox and the Pororari. The walk up this river is exquisite, but failing light suggests that we should retrace our steps and continue to explore tomorrow. We never do. We try on this tip to never look back, and to have no regrets.
Camping spots are hard to find, but the road at Barrytown leads down to the coast, and there is just enough room for a tent. The surf pounds in. The moonlight shimmers across the landscape. Another day in paradise.
Thursday 15 Decea-iber
Barrytown - Okarito
Early dawns and camping make for early starts. The tent is already coming down by 6am, and it is possible to contact Clive from Greymouth on the 7.30am schedule we had agreed. There are few signs of life, but the hot bread shop provides that appropriate welcoming aroma. Greymouth is another of my river-mouth towns. The large lagoon within the south head is where the cool stores of the fishing fleet look across to the fishing boat marina. It is too early for tuna, but ling are being unloaded from the holds. What slimy, ugly, unpleasant fish they are.
Over at the fishermen's marina nets are being repaired and the conversation focuses on preparations for Christmas. The children of every person are well known in this close community. Their small Blaketown houses cluster around south head, surrounded by earth bunding to turn the floods coming down the river. It would have been enough to cope with the vagaries of the sea, but now they must deal with the destruction of the watershed as well. The bar is infamous, and for me the unforgettable description is that of Adrian Hayter in "Sheila in the Wind". The turmoil of the breakers and Sheila surging through to the placid waters beyond. The form of the concrete "wharf" at south head does not seem logical, so some more library research will be needed. Dolphins play carelessly in the swell, leaping out of the waves. The harbour-master's boat crosses the bar and returns, perhaps taking soundings.
Greyrnouth township is now buried behind the defensive breastwork intended to control flooding. It is a visual disaster, and I suspect will become a technical one too. After the flooding I had suggested allowing the town to creep further back up the river, thus keeping the integrity of the urban form while gaining the higher ground. The pragmatic engineers won the day and achieved neither one thing nor the other. Now I wonder whether it should have been turned into a walled town, with the river beyond the wall. Do something properly if you decide to do it.
The new Art Gallery in the old post office. A coffee at the visitors centre in the refurbished cinema. The Jade Boulder tourists shopping centre in the old garage. Some new architecture perhaps appropriate for a magazine, but wildly out of place in Greymouth. The railway station which generated the upper end of town. A walk up the hill to the King Park lookout provides views over the whole city, and also allows the extent of reclamation to be easily discerned.
The billboards along the road to Hokitika announce that there have been changes. Now there is the Cafe de Paris, so far from Akaroa. The joke is on us. The chef is famous enough for people to spend six hours driving from Christchurch for a meal. We settle for lunch, a cappuccino, and the visual delights of bagged walls, wrought iron chairs and endless glass jars of preserved delicacies. Hokitika has always been on the tourist circuit as the greenstone centre of New Zealand, but in the past there have been mostly New Zealanders wandering through the factories, looking at the glass cases and coming away with slabs of greenstone to put on the mantlepiece. The new tourist supermarket, the Coast Art Shop, has only opened in the last month and it has Asian expectations.
The timeless Hokitika remains untouched. The "Guns and ammo shop" clearly has no Asian expectations. I am able to buy a history of the development of the town for $5. Out at the river mouth the driftwood builds up in one storm only to be cleared away by another. Sadly the promenade has become another example of inept, internationalised-nothingness urban design. The relationship between the surf and the still waters of river, so beautifully captured by the mobility of the spit has not been captured in the latest moves in the urban design game.
Few people probably visit the Ross cemetery. The marble headstones are polished by the winds and the wildflowers dance in the sun. The knob of the hill looks down on the twisting strands of the Totara river and back to the mountains of the divide rising above the rimu and totara. The story of Ross is told in the tombstones. The vicar and his sister drowned while crossing the Wanganui river. A wonderful place to rest.
The pumps in Ross are manned by an Aucklander. "The wife comes from this area, so I though I would give it a go here."
Lake lolanthe. The giant matai. The Wanganui river. The South Westland bowhunter's clubhouse. Haiihari, which still has ample parking outside the solitary dairy. Riverside eggs and salad by the river. No luck for the entrepreneur who hoped we might be coming to pan with him for a little gold. The two Whataroa stores looking at each other across the road, in fierce competition. I suggest that a little co-operation would enable them both to take a holiday, but change does not come so easily in Whataroa. There has been some. The library is closed and the paddock out the back is the local heliport. Tourist fly in, and deer and sphagnum are flown out.
Westland National Park. Lake Wahapo. The turn off to Okarito. The old school house has become a community-run hostel, which is also an auxiliary youth hostel. We stay here for two nights, at $10 a night, with showers over the road in the camping ground offering three minutes of hot water for 50 cents. Memories of French camping grounds. We establish an instant reputation by driving off to catch the last rays of the blood red sunset falling on the snow of the divide, and then calling in to have a shower on the way home. In the eyes of Mark, a Dutchman who is cycling around New Zealand, we become "the Aucklanders who drove across the road to the shower". I did walk across the airstrip to explore the beach.
Friday 16 December
Last evening I had arranged to hire canoes to explore the Okarito lagoon. At $25 for the day they are a bargain, but it is important to go up on the rising tide and to return on the falling tide. There are no restrictions, with an excellent aeiial photograph supplied as a map, and a couple of red arrows on manuka poles to identify the main channels worth exploring. I presume they are having me on when they explain where the kotuku will be feeding, and that the northern part of the lagoon is inhabited mostly by black swan and other species, but they are absolutely right. Only minutes after we have set out there are three kotuku beside a boatshed alongside the road. Soon we are among them feeding on the flats. Turning a corner in one of the tidal creeks two kotuku are sitting in a kahikatea only a few boat lengths away. We must have seen about half of the known remaining rare white herons in the world.
There were other delights. Turning around to discover that the cloud had lifted to leave Mount Cook and Mount Tasman glistening against the blue sky. Portaging over a log dam to explore quiet upper reaches. Following another inlet through the dense forest until fresh water met salt at a deep swimniing hole. The perfect place to be drying off in the hot sun while devouring lunch. The maze of waterways is endless, and we look briefly into the upper lagoon before acknowledging that the time has come to follow the rapidly falling tide.
Lower-body exercises follow. A 45 minute climb brings us to the view from the trig, which is acknowledged as one of the best in the world. Below is the dense podocarp forest, with Okarito Lagoon to the north and Three Mile Lagoon to the south. Directly in front the whole of the divide seems so close as to be within reach. Cook and Tasman silhouetted against the blue sky. Two women, Californian environmentalists who have been fighting to save the forests of the Nevadas, are overwhelmed at the majesty of it all.
There is an inland track which branches off the trig walk, winding its way up and down through cuttings covered with sphagnum moss for a good hour to Kohuamarua Bluff and Three Mile Lagoon. A bridge over the lagoon mouth makes it possible to continue on south down the coast, but we turn back to follow the coast to Okarito. This route is only recommended around low tide, but it could not have been more exhilarating than when we did it. The orange sun was setting into the sea, and the near full moon would greet us as we turned the last corner. Gulls soared in the uplifts provided by the high cliffs. The waves exploded like fireworks as they crashed into the great blocks of rock strewn everywhere.
Around 1Opm we are cooking vegetables back in the hostel, while reading Keri Hulme's "Homeplaces" with Robin Morrison's photographs of Okarito, Moeraki, and Rakiura.
Saturday 17 December
Okarito - Haast
"You had better come down and have a look" suggested Ian in the morning "if you want to see something of the West Coast". His wife had driven their car up to Hokitika to do her Christmas shopping and had returned after dark. The front of the car was blackened with a solid crusting of dead insects.
Past the reflections on Lake Mapourika to Franz Joseph. Mark Mellsop is enjoying a day of holiday, so we share a coffee with him in his little flat just down the road from his office. His children Brook and Guy are in his care for the day, and his flatmate Charlotte looks in briefly. Sadly Mark's marriage broke up during the year and his wife has taken over the house they restored.
Finding yourself in the perfect place on the perfect day is an invitation to extravagance. It is so easy to convince yourself that it was meant to be, when it just happens that a helicopter flight is leaving in 30 minutes, if they just happen to find two people to take the number above the two who are already waiting for the longest flight, over the divide to the Tasman. There are delays as the Fox helicopter is out of commission, but soon enough we are soaring up the bush at the edge of the Waiho River, almost throwing the craft at the ridge to bounce off the updraft and over into the cleft of the Franz Glacier. The crevasses are bottomless as we peer a hundred metres down into the blue light. Torn, heaving blocks of snow and ice which feel as though they should be in Antarctica. Right over Almer Hut and across Climbers Col in the shadow of Elie de Beaumont to the upper reaches of the Tasman Glacier. Right along the knife edge ridges, across the Grand Plateau and past the eastern face of Cook, with the scar from the rockfall still looking spectacular. Back across the divide to land on the snowfields above the Fox. On over the tops with the stunning sensation of the whole world seeming to open up beneath us as we crossed each ridge line. Only Sibelius was missing. Down the Franz and an hour later our feet are back on the ground. It takes some time for our emotions to catch up.
Pausing at the visitors centre enables us to relive the past two days through some of the superb photography, which has so changed our way of seeing the environment. A dutiful look at the Glacier. The Waiho river does not seem feasible for rafting, but apparently there is a commercial operation running here. The visitors centre at Fox, with excellent facilities for changing Fred's nappies. Lake Matheson to talk to the brown trout and eels and watch the dragonflies mating in the sun by the wharf. Down Gillespies' Beach Road to Peak View, and jolted back out of euphoria when a cattle truck thunders past. It would have been so easy to do a U-turn imagining that there was no traffic within miles.
Wisely we decided to turn back and head south while the weather was so good. Another dutiful look at another glacier. At the Cook River we cross into the World Heritage Area. The Copeland River has hues of blue and green. Jacob's river. Pastoral scenes with sheep browsing around in the shadow of the southern alps. Our Lady of the River church. An astonishing navigational failure when we fail to stop at Bruce Bay, although it is clearly marked on the map as "gemstone collecting". Good trips always leave something to go back for.
Photographs of the Mahitahi river valley and the "Disappearing Mountain". Just north of the Paringa River is a salmon farm. A cursory look becomes a trip back to get some fish food. They really do drive themselves into a frenzy. Bought some smoked salmon, but then noticed that the BBQ was free, with condiments and utensils provided. Some more fresh salmon and in no time, with some help from Brenda Monk who suggests taking the cap off the flint to make it easier to ignite the gas, a delicious meal is on our plates. We try to convince some campervan Belgians to join us. With their lively sense of humour I feel sure that their descriptions back home will do justice to the occasion.
The small camping ground at the edge of Lake Paringa is crowded. Why here when everywhere else is deserted? Lake Moeraki. By now we are developing a symbiotic relationship with an English angler who is being shown around the West Coast by his New Zealand girl-friend. At every bridge he stops to stare goggle eyed at the brown trout swimming in the rivers. We see a lot of each other as there are many rivers, many bridges, and even more trout.
The Knights Point lookout is now adorned with a most unfortunate architectural edifice. We are so busy agreeing how bad it is that we forget to look over the edge, and consequently miss the seal colony down below. The Keas circle around waiting for the summer tourists to arrive.
Ship Creek has been one of my objectives on the trip, but Peter Kent's DOC interpretation centre there is an anticlimax. (Architecture NZ, Nov/Dec 1993, p78) The landscape is exquisite, and now it seems to be dominated by architecture. The buildings should have been set back. It feels like those American National Parks which take away the experience they were intending to interpret. The depth of the double-skin roof had not been obvious from the illustrations. We will find identical construction methods at Jackson Bay. The light is failing, making good photography impossible so I decide to come back tomorrow. We never make it.
The Haast Beach Motor Camp, run by Brian and Phillipa Glubb, is about 15km south of Haast Junction, and a cabin there takes away the need to find a sandflyfree away-from-swamps camping site. Not to mention the luxury of hot showers. Fred spends the night in a bucket under the cabin.
Sunday 18 December
Haast - Hunter Valley
Starting times from cabins trail camping spots by several hours. It must be the time spent trying to work out how to operate all the equipment. By 10.30 we cross the Hapuka River without pausing to follow the signs to the lagoon. Only at the end of the day will I discover that this lagoon was the third elusive Peter Kent site, which I could not find. It was within walking distance of the Motor Camp. To my real friends I can confess it was just over the road. There is no interpretation building, which is a courageous, and I feel correct, architectural move.
The Waiatoto is a grand river, and I think of Dave and Glenys struggling up here to gain access to the Matukituki. The Arawata River is another name that makes my heart sing. The piers of the first bridge lie like driftwood on the shinglebeds. The second was built and supervised by the Ministry of Works. I wonder what would motivate private enterprise to cross such a river.
There is now a superb sealed road all the way to Jackson Bay, which astonishes me. The few houses now existing give only a hint of the settlement proposed for here, and studying the relationship is rewarding. The "plan" shows no respect for the environment, and fails to take advantage of the sweep of the bay, the micro-climate or anything else. The surviving houses hug the transition between the the flats sloping down to the Bay and the steep bushed hills behind. They are set well back from the mobile edge, just as the wharf reaches well out into the Bay before making a subtle turn of angle which creates both enclosure for the fishing fleet and a resonance with the snow capped mountains north of Aspiring. Then there are the changes from the last twenty years. Pragmatic "Talleys" simply filling up the waterfront because to them it was just a convenient place left over. The traumatic irrelevance of a static legal process is perfectly expressed in the defining limits of the penguin breeding sites of the Okahu wildlife refuge.
I like the theoretical position adopted by Peter Kent's new DOC interpretation centre but it remains architecture rather than urban design. (Architecture NZ, Nov/Dcc 1993, p78) The memory of history is there. The axis of the wharf is extended to the land with neo-classical formality, and the "facade" is a powerful statement. The panels within explain the history of the urban form in a simple and direct way. It is not as though information was not available. The problem is that no one seems to have realised the uniqueness of Jackson Bay, nor the possibility of catching the sustainability of that uniqueness through every urban move. This trip has left me absolute convinced of the need to write a book on indigenous, vernacular New Zealand urban design. This spiritual journey to Jackson Bay, which I resolved to make after speaking in Wellington at the CHH/QANTAS Awards in 1993, has been well worth the energy because it has helped clarify the issues.
In a theoretical sense Jackson Bay was to be the turning point for the tip, but the Cascade road is the southernmost on the West Coast. At first it follows along Jackson River, which is a classic South Island river valley. Braided shingle beds and grassy flats. Steep side streams tumbling into the main valley. Mountains setting the context. Not to be missed, and absolutely perfect on this hot day with a deep blue sky overhead.
It is startling to discover a whole bank of bright red moss, punctuated here and there with a patch of the expected green. Perhaps it is the soil quality because we are right at the edge of the Red Hills, where the ultramarfic soils inhibit growth, leaving the barren red top standing out from the surrounding ranges. New Zealand is quite a quirky country and the land here is a perfect match for another piece of land which was originally adjacent but is now 660 km further north where the plates have slipped. I ponder how people who live in air-conditioned architecturally-correct offices will never understand that I feel like an idiot needing to stand up in court to explain that we live in a very mobile country.
Life is always on the rhove, but it also moves slowly, and the lichen on fenceposts close to the Cascade River provides an art gallery in the wilderness. The track up the Pike leaves from Monkey Puzzle gorge, and there is also the track around to Martins Bay, but DOC have taken away the signs. 'We don't think these are suitable tracks for tourists" they explain. Whose country is this? Are the townies so busy making a few yen that they have forgotten to conserve the traditions they so proudly display in sepia photographs in interpretation centres? What is going on?
The Lake Ellery birdsong walk is a national treasure. It only takes about 50 minutes return and begins about 4km up the Cascade Road from the Jackson junction. It has not yet been sanitised so that you can still stub your toe on a root while meandering beside a still shallow humus river up to the lake. The bed of the river is a carpet of colourfld plants waving gently in the current like Japanese cloth washing in a river. Black water and sharp greens of many different textures.
By now the washing back at the Haast Motor Camp is dry, and we reach Gary Hopkinson's Haast Visitors Centre a little before it closes at 6pm. The building is better than I expected. (Architecture NZ, July/August 1994, p44) Beyond the magazine photographs with the fancy lighting, which make it look like a neon number from glitzland, there is an honest industrial aesthetic which seems totally in harmony with those early days when the road first reached Haast. The usual displays, and a struggle to fmd a Maori presence in Haast.
There is a light drizzle, and not enough daylight to justify a return to Ships Creek, so on to Aspiring National Park. The numerous waterfalls cascading out of the sky seem to get more impressive over the years rather than less. Memories of the Eglington. Stops also at all the named falls. Depot creek falls. Thunder creek falls. Fantail falls. The Haast river is duck egg blue. The Landsborough disappears into the mist. Pleasant Flat. The Gates of Haast. Haast Pass. A short walk across the swing bridge to the Blue pools, at the junction of the Makaroa and the Blue River. The Young River valley. The Wilkn River, with all its memories for me. The cloud cover suggests that it would be futile to pursue dreams by taking a jet boat ride. Some other time I will go back and walk up the Wilkin.
I had intended to stay at Makarora, but is has become a tourist trap. The old A frames are $60 a night, but have no spiritual presence. A symbolic hawk hovers overhead. We press on, totally entranced by the sunset and stormclouds over Wanaka. Being Sunday evening we miss the delays caused by the widening of the road here. It seems to me that they have been working on this section of road for at least thirty years. Perhaps there is only one man on the job.
Across the Neck to Lake Hawea and up the Hunter Valley road. DOC has a camping ground at Kidd's Bush Reserve, but there are people there. The grandeur of this country demands the solitary tent, with the moon and the stars for companions.
Monday 19 December
Hunter Valley - Tairoa Head
The first rays of the sunrise catch the tops of the ranges, around 5.30am, and the mood seems to change as every minute passes. Up to the Hunter Valley Station Homestead, but there is no sign of life. Back over the fords and along the dusty road to the Neck. A brief return to Lake Wanaka to see the snow capped mountains in the morning light, and then on to Hawea. Checked out the "hostel" at the back of the Hawea hotel. The Albert Town free camping ground is now controlled by DOC and costs $5. Is there no room for the eccentricity of keeping great traditions alive? I remember the times when we used to meet here, at the source of the Clutha, for tramping trips. Now we only wash Lisa and change Fred's nappies.
Around the corner to Wanaka. The visual pollution of architecture totally failing to respond to one of the most superb urban sites in the world. Coffee by the lake. The Aspiring Visitors Centre. A video of Aspiring. The old tradition of a shave in the basement. Some half price maps to support DOC.
Central Otago. Rock outcrops. Responsive architecture. The pain of visiting Cromwell. The remnant of the old town is being done over to become a Disneyland papier-mache world. The new town shows that money is no substitute for design. Lake Dunstan is lifeless. The gabion walling everywhere trying to control the rockslides is far more extensive than my wildest nightmares. Not only has the whole of the Clutha gorge been destroyed, but also the whole of the adjacent landscape. Anyone seeing it now could never visualise the sheer beauty which has been sacrificed. I think of the busload of police having to turn back when they found that Keith had obtained a mining license. I think of the exhilaration when Maurice Casey's judgement went our way and we won against the government. I think of the bitterness when the government overrode the law of the land to follow faulty engineering advice. Now there is no consolation in knowing that time has proved we were right. Nothing could bring back what has been destroyed.
Clyde. Alexandra. A bank of cloud coming up from Dunedin and transforming the landscape until it feels like the Yorkshire moors. Schist outcrops like sentinels in the mist. Rae Varcoe assures me that the phenomenon is not uncommon. The mood is perfect to call at the Fruitlands Gallery for cake and cappuccino. Small English windows. An English garden. Excellent for its restoration, and also for the speed of service. Another time I would stop for a full English lunch.
A very wide house, taking up two lanes, whistles by at speed. Down here when they say "wide load" they mean it. Dour Scots. Roxborough for cherries, walnuts and dried apricots. We are too early for fresh apricots. A little further on we buy Benger Gold draught cider, and apricot juice. A Dorset Down ram sale on Baines farm. $200 to $800 for a ram, but all the entertainment is free. Lawrence, with Gabriels Gully a few kilometres away. (Historic Buildings of New Zealand, South Island. p224) The Lawrence Museum and information centre is only one aspect of this town re-establishing its own identity. I resolve to return for a more detailed urban study, and gather information to read. Even the coffee shop is distinctly Lawrence.
South Otago. Lake Waihola. A phone call ahead to a very excited receptionist. 'There are three albatrosses flying. I can see them now." Portobello pub. A brief stop at Southlight Wildlife to collect a $5 key for the penguins. Tairoa Head. Tim Heath's Royal Albatross Centre. (Architecture NZ, Nov/Dec 1990, p62) $25 per person for a lecture, videos, a walk up to the viewing hide, with a nest only a few metres away and dad patiently waiting for mum to return from feeding, and a tour of the rising gun emplacement. The gun was intended to defend New Zealand from the Russians, but never managed to hit anything. Humans seem to be so inadequate alongside albatrosses which spend nine months growing up and then the next six years circling the globe in sub-antarctic water without touching land, finally returning to the same nesting spot.
On the seaward side of Tairoa Head the yellow-eyed penguins seem to have chosen a ridiculous place to nest. They waddle ashore out of the surf and have animated conversations with each other before clambouring up a high sand dune. They slide and fall and rest. Eventually through sheer determination they stand proudly at the top of the dune, in the shadow of the cliff, to survey their protected little bay, and go off to the privacy of their burrows.
Close by the spotted shags have nested half way up a high cliff. The storms have hollowed out a few ledges, and on some of these there are up to three fluffy chicks with mum looking after them. How they avoid falling off and what they do when the winds are blowing remains a mystery. With a seal colony at the base of the cliffs, and a few blue penguins wandering around the activity is considerable. Watching the seals surfing ashore and the kelp swirling around among the rocks keeps us entertained until we return to the top of the Head to watch the sun set over the harbour with Dunedin in the distance. This really is an astonishing harbour. The last of our salmon for supper, and I reluctantly decline the offer of restocking with fresh rabbits. We have not yet decided where to stay for the night, and the need to find somewhere where I can gut some rabbits seems to limit the options. In fact we end up in the "budget accommodation" at the Yellow Eyed Penguin Conservation Reserve.
Tuesday 20 December
Tairoa Head - Geraldine
The weather has turned as a front moves up the country pushing away the highs we have enjoyed for the last two weeks. Torrential rain, and as we move north we will see a lot of wind damage. Noodles while looking across to Aramoana. A great place to stay. Everyone mentions the TV, the washing machines, the lounges and the kitchen equipment, but they put little value on hugging into the ridgeline with the harbour spread out below. Away at 9.30am to explore Dunedin.
The Octagon, which feels about as worked over as Christchurch's cathedral square. The railway station. (Historic Buildings of New Zealand, South Island, p 19 1) Law students standing in the rain on the steps of the high court to have their "graduation" photographs taken with each other and the mayor in his robes. (Historic Buildings of New Zealand, South Island, p 196, for the law courts, not the mayor.) The Museum is showing the "Butterfly Man of Kuranda" exhibition. He has taken the custom of mounting butterflies and turned this into an art work. The Art Gallery has nothing of interest. The University. Of course those wonderful Dunedin houses everywhere.
The rain continues as we head north past Karitane. At Waikouiti it seems too miserable to go down to Matanaka. An accident where a car has skidded off the road, smashing the rear window rather than the windscreen as it rolled over. By the time we arrived, and someone came from the adjacent house, the driver had disappeared. A mystery. There is no point in getting an ambulance for someone who is not there so we press on.
The township of Moeraki is a million times more interesting than the boulders. It has a tenuous grip on the land, and the foreshore path is barely wide enough to walk along. A strong community feeling, with strangers clearly remaining strangers. The boulders are now overlooked by boulder restaurant which has architectural boulders on the roof and supplies boulder dumplings to busloads of boulder-headed tourists. Does DOC really think they are into eco-tourism, or is it all a sick joke, taking the micky out of vulnerable tourists?
We probably should have stopped to explore the Totara Estate Farm Buildings and the Maheno flour mills, but then again it is good to leave a few treasures for next time. (Historic Places, November 1994, p3l) (Totara Estate, Martine Cuff, 1982 NZ Historic Places Trust)
The new route through Oamaru manages to create a totally false experience of the town, and we found ourselves driving out having seen nothing beyond commercial mediocrity. Doubling back we followed the coast, relishing the old railway station, recently restored, which is now isolated from the town centre. This station replaced the original which was at the "end" of the main trunk line. The trains needed to reverse out of the station to complete the journey south and so a new loop link was built which isolated the first station. The curve of the old track can however still be read in the curve of the street at the back of the Harbour Street warehouses. (Historic Buildings of New Zealand, South Island, p 134)
These warehouses are as magnificent as ever and remain in use, which for me is their unique charm. A railway wagon is unloading coal into the bunker at the back of the distributors. In the wool store the bales are being weighed and checked. We are invited in to shelter from the rain and experience the smell of wool and grease while talking to the workers. Across the road on the comer of Tyne Street the Whitestone Civic Trust have their project centre in the bottom of an old boarding house, the Criterion. (Historic Places, November 1994, p 10- 11) Michael Plunket, the President, invites us to look around the wonderful interior. It has been cleaned out, but fortunately not "restored". The peeling paper on the walls is as authentic as the large open space at the top of the stairs with the toilets opening directly off it.
A little further along Tyne Street Michael O'Brien has set up his bookbinding business. The books are as traditional as Michael. At $150 up they are a tempting buy, just to enjoy the sheer joy of being able to feel the leather, and perhaps timber, bindings. I decide that the better course is to get Michael to bind the next book I need in leather.
Next door is the building where the "world" pennyfarthing race celebrations were recently held. The smell of straw on the floor. The authentic signs. I only hope the Trust does not get misled and wander down the synthetic tourist path.
The Forrester Gallery was established in the old Bank of New South Wales in 1979. (Historic Places, November 1994, p8) The sculptures of Bing Dawe are worth a visit. The 1864 Post Office, immediately opposite, is now a trendy restaurant. The 1883 Court House. The 1881 Waitaki County Council building. Meek's 1878 Crown Flour Mill is a superb industrial building, just over the river. Mincemeat lasagne at the wool store to round off the Whitestone experience.
The blue penguin colony where the walkway around the coast begins is mildly ridiculous. Artificial burrows have been created and at dusk people pay to sit on "grandstands" to watch and photograph the penguins walking past. We say hello to a couple of penguins who prefer the other side of the road, but for sheer ingenuity you have to admire the penguin which walks the entire length of Harbourside Street up to the corner of Tyne Street to live under the old Criterion, getting through a vent where the grill has fallen away. Penguins are very cuddly in photographs, but the noise and smell of them living under your floor is something else.
Teschmakers is just to the south of Oamaru, and by chance Helen knows Ann Broadfoot, who answers the door. Originally a girls' school, and then a retreat and conference centre, it is now going through another transformation with an interest in the spirituality of permaculture. A tour of the buildings and gardens. We return along Beach Road which follows the dramatic coastline.
St. Patrick's Basilica was designed by Francis William Petre. (Historic Places, November 1994, p 15) (Historic Buildings of New Zealand, South Island, pl54-5) The soft yellow light reflecting off the Oamaru stone is superb.
The Waitaki River. A rainbow announces that the storm is over. I did not have Barrie Walsh's home address, but by good fortune he is still in his Timaru office when we call around 6pm. The view of the setting sun casting shadows across the buildings provides the perfect context as Barrie talks about the urban form of Timaru. There are two centres, one where the planners thought it should be and one where the prices were reasonable because it was not where the planners thought it should be. An old cattle track has become the road which links the two. Barrie was for a period the most southern architect in the world with Archicad, but now a firm in Invercargill has taken the honour. One wall of the office is covered with old articles of mine. You never know where writing will turn up.
Explored the waterfront, which is now totally divorced from the town, and then fortunately decided to ring Chris and Andy Cameron. They are leaving at 8am in the morning to fly to Hamilton for several weeks, and during that time they will call at Karaka Bay. On through Winchester to Geraldine, and then we try to not throw their lives into chaos as they pack, while we enjoy their wonderful house and hospitality. We are able to sleep in the extension above Andy's studio, with the full moon rising over the hills which have now become an extension of their property. This trip has been one wonderful experience after another.
Wednesday 21 December
Geraldine - Christchurch
Beth and Rose have not slept with excitement about their trip, and Andy and Chris have had little enough sleep as we have talked until late. Andy's sculptures which bring into harrnony his architectural work, the icon tradition, his personal floating wire forms, and the crafting and jeweller's detail of Scarpa, are stunning. His year of sabbatical has been very productive. We farewell them and then settle down to a leisurely breakfast with Ines, who then takes us down to her adobe house with its turf roof.
Ines Stager, a landscape architect working with Di Lucas, and Peter Keller have established a native plant nursery. We sit in the courtyard and over a cup of coffee discuss everything from the Arrowtown proposals, for which Mike Pritchard was one of the consultants, to the Vale's autonomous house. There was barely time to skirt the issues, so a return visit is a must. Ines took us up to their hill to look at the site where they will build another house.
Back in Geraldine the information centre is able to supply the map which is essential for any rock drawing hunter. Off to Raincliff, Hazelburn and Hanging Rock. We look at hundreds of drawings, and they are far more interesting than I had imagined. Even the context is exciting, with valleys cut through the limestone to leave escarpments down both sides. (Maori Rock Art, Michael Dt=, 1972 Reed) There are also rock drawings in North Otago. (Historic Places, November 1994, p27)
Passing back through Winchester we stock up on raspberry jam, tomatoes and Braeburn apples. The hot bread shop at Ashburton does not have the class of the public loos which are fully automated press-button numbers. The old Ashburton railway station has been totally restored with half becoming a tourist supermarket and the other half a restaurant which catches much of the flavour of the great days of train travel. Lunch by the Rakaia.
Lincoln University tries to be what it is not, instead of celebrating the fact that it is not in the middle of a town. Alick Bellerby's library addition however catches both the mood and the scale of what could have been possible. (Architecture NZ, May/June 1994, p73) The door of the Resource Management Centre is a poignant symbol. We are too late in the day, or perhaps in the year, for anyone to still be around. Lake Ellesmere. By good chance yet again we are able to refuel at Cooptown. Over the hill to Akaroa and on out to Onuku Marae. (Historic Buildings of New Zealand, South Island, p65) We locate Doctor Watkins' house, but can see no sign of his tombstone in the cemetery.
The sunset over Birdlings Flat lasts almost an hour and extends across the whole sky. I would like to have had time to explore further but it is already late for us to arrive and sing Christmas carols with Joss Naylor. She is exhausted but we talk late and fall asleep to the scent of her roses.
Thursday 22 December
It is around 11.15 by the time we have talked the morning away and spruced ourselves up a little for the civilisation of Christchurch. Ron and Llyween Cooper live just around the comer from Jos so they are first on our visiting list. Ron is away collecting furniture, but we sit in the English garden while Llyween tells us all about her Lady Barker walk, which begins and ends at Coalgate, following a circular route through the Malvern Hills. It is self-guiding and at $75 for two days with accommodation at the Coalgate cabins and the Glenroy camp is good value. Of course we also discuss education, and she tells us of the school which was given 60 computers by one of the parents. They had no idea how to use them.
The centre of Christchurch is only ten minutes away, and the Square is crowded with people enjoying a jazz orchestra. Christchurch always seems to abound in street life, with jugglers, clowns and eccentric people to enjoy them. In the Cathedral choristers resplendent in their red soutans are beginining a concert of Christmas music. Helen checks Aotea Souvenirs as a possible outlet for Sally's silks.
Peter Beaven's new house at 29 Gloucester Street is wonderfully Gothic in both proportion and theory. The wind blows through and drawings fly all over the place, like the sparks. Life is like that for Peter and Jocelyn. Peter is leaving for a month in India on Saturday, with a new woman thirty years his younger, although I always find it hard to imagine that he is nearly seventy. Busy as he is he finds time to take us on a grand tour of all his work. Going the wrong way down one way streets is all in the interests of architecture as we avoid Miles's work, and confirm that Peter has indeed rebuilt a large part of central Christchurch. The tour culminates in the Taitapu road mansion for Christchurch's garden centre entrepreneur. With Peter's normal luck we arrive for the end of year party and share a beer with the builders. Ideas flow. Monographs to explore single issues, rather than the struggle to keep publications going.
The Arts Centre is looking rather tired and commercialised. Many of the craftspeople and a lot of the spirit seem to have gone. At Cave Rock the display of Sally's silks is very extensive. We choose the Antarctic display in the Museum in preference to the more trendy Antactic Centre out at the airport. The bird call display appeals to me. On pushing a button a photograph of the bird lights up to provide visual reinforcement for the recorded calls. Across the Avon to the Vault. The Scorpio Bookshop remains my favourite. 124 seems to be as fashionable as ever. By now it has become a legend. Coffee and pizza at the Spiral Cafe.
Through Hagley Park to the Chateau and on to Taylors Mistake, past Sumner. The failing light limits photography, and then a violent thunderstorm which leaves the hills coated white with hail, and sends forks of lightning across the black clouds, stops play for the day. Back to Opawa where Russell and Buffy Devlin welcome us into their home and their lives. We talk what little remains of the night away.
Friday 23 December
Christchurch - Picton
Sam, Calam and Oliver are astonished to find us happily asleep on the lounge floor. The luxury of a long lingering breakfast catching up on shop talk, and then we returned to Taylor's Mistake for an indulgent photographic session. The baches at Hobsons Bay cling to the caves in the cliff face like the shags at Tairoa Head. Unfortunately there is not time to walk right out to the heads, but this is a must when I am next in Christchurch.
Over Evans Pass to Lyttelton. (Historic Buildings of New Zealand, South Island, p 100- 105) and on to Governors Bay. Miles is away at the office but his new housekeeper very generously allows us to explore the gardens of Ohinitahi. (New Zealand Town and Country Gardens, photographs by Gil Hanly text by Julian Matthews, pl40) (Historic Buildings of New Zealand, South Island, p50-51) It is the perfect time of the year, and the perfect day, to see them. The roses are in full bloom, the shadows on the topiary are sharp. Up the hill to the Sign of Kiwi, observing the volcanic form of the harbour along the way. Down past the Sign of Takehe, and on north.
Exotic cakes and a capuccino at the sophisticated Cider Garden at Amberley. We leave well stocked with fresh apricots and cider. Hurinui river. A photograph of Tormori station. Cheviot. Spotswood really does exist. The hills are golden and the wheat waves in the wind. The Waiau river. Hawkeswood overbridge with a hawk to add authenticity. Oaro river. Up the Kaikoura coast. Tunnels. Glistening seaweed. The Kaikoura ranges. The Kahutara rivermouth.
A sharp right turn into the airfield. No one is about, but the radio in the office makes it possible to monitor local traffic. Soon a cessna comes in to land, and the pilot is very obliging and content to take a flight with only two people. Off we fly on a whale watch air flight. Whales blow every six to ten seconds and this tell-tale sign is what we are looking for. At first it seems there is nothing to be seen, and then the pilot and I see the "blow" at the same instant. We only have a few seconds to watch the sperm whale lift its giant tail and then it dives. We go off in search of another. The second one must have been having a snooze, as they normally only stay on the surface for ten minutes. We go into a holding pattern and circle the whale for about fifteen minutes before it finally decides to dive. These sperm whales are around 40 feet long and weigh 40 tons. They will dive as deeply as 8000 feet, which means staying down for up to 2 hours 15 minutes. They do not use their lungs, relying instead on 5 tons of oxygenated blood. For deep dives they close down almost all their body functions, including half their brains. They can communicate with whales in Australia, and possibly as far away as Europe. At Kaikoura they are feeding on squid and groper at the end of the Kermadec trench.
An amusing "toilet" sign on the road at South Bay is pointing across the entire diameter of the race course. Are they serious? The tractors of Kaikoura always delight me, but now there are a few Fordsons as well as the traditional Fergussons. Star fish lie alongside them on the white stone beach. I never keep in touch with my friends as closely as I should and it is embarrassing to find that Graeme Lyman's marriage has broken up, and Kay has gone back to Te Anau.
The Fyffe house has now been completely restored, but it had closed for the day. (Historic Places, September 1994, p4-1 1) The contorted forms of the rocks just over the road are fascinating. More seals at the end of the road. The fishing fleet wharf. The main road through the town is closed off for celebrations on the first anniversary of the disastrous flood which did so much damage to the town. A cooked crayfish from "Food wonderful food". Another from one of the little stalls along the road to the north. Another seal colony.
The Ward camping ground is without presence. Grassmere. There is a double decker bridge over the Awatere River just north of Seddon, with the railway on the upper level and the road traffic beneath. (Historic Places, September 1994, p2 1) The sun is setting by now. Oak Tree Cottage, built in 1874 of cob, with an extension of timber added in 1911, is just north of the Awatere River. (Historic Places, September 1994, p36) Blenheim now has a confusing one way street system which makes it difficult to find anything. We decide to go on to the Koromiko camping ground, but it seems to have closed down and there are no other places to erect a tent away from the road. We are at Picton. A cabin at Parklands solves the accommodation problem.
Saturday 24 December
Picton - Wellington.
We had thought of getting away early, but there are other good things to do, and although we are on the edge of the tricky period for getting across Cook Strait I find it hard to break free from the South Island. Finally departed around 9.45 and at the ferry terminal the girl actually apologised because we would need to wait fifteen minutes. The Lynx catamaran only began to run three days ago, and few people were willing to book on it after all the teething troubles. The 10.30 sailing is only a little late getting away, and the journey takes an hour and forty-five minutes. Newspapers will continue to debate the environmental damage caused by the wake long after our return to Karaka Bay.
What is gained in speed is lost in experience. Lynx attempts to imitate a plane. Everyone is asked to take their seats to watch the safety video. A head pops out from the bridge to ask if it is loud enough. The stewards rush around trying to find the lifejackets they need to demonstrate, and share the passengers' confusion about white and black tapes. Constantly the video reminds all that the crew are very highly trained in evacuation procedures. Then there is a final announcement. 'We regret that as no hot water was available in Picton there will be no tea or coffee available on this voyage." Sealed windows to keep the air-conditioning in, but no ability to boil an urn of water?
The Museum of New Zealand is now almost to its full height as it rises out of the Wellington waterfront. The bridge across to the Civic Square is almost complete. Hotere's "Black Phoenix" is displayed at the City Art Gallery. It feels a little cramped after the Dunedin Ar-t Gallery. Aussemblage. A cappuccino in the Library Cafe, meeting Spenser Nicholls by chance. Gus is not in, so we leave a note. The "Queens Pictures" are on display at the Museum, but we find the "Shells" exhibition and the "Bone Stone and Shell" exhibition, which has just returned to New Zealand, more to our liking. Perspectives and Lois White are on display in the National Gallery.
Up the Te Aro valley. Heather and Hugh are not in, so I leave a card. Futuna. Jim and Diane Glynan. Richard, Geoffrey and Charlotte. Maurice O'Connor is not in, so another card. Paul and Mary Neazor are as inspirational as ever and they insist that we should eat half their meal. Stories of their visit to Buster in Paris. Elizabeth, Daniel and his girlfriend Jackie add to the crowd. It is almost 10.30pm when we finally get to Havell and Helen Stephen-Smith. We join them and Naomi at Tawa for carols and midnight Mass. By the time we have had another cup of tea and Christmas cake it is 2am before we get to bed.
Sunday 25 December
Wellington - Martinborough
Havell brings tea in bed at 9am. Another wonderful breakfast, and Helen chooses one of Sally's scarves. It is tempting to see more of my Wellington friends, but there is still a distance to go, and the possibility of a surprise or two. Neither Ian Athfield nor Derek Wilson are in. We will learn later that Derek is in Invercargill, and on his way back up the West Coast the mountains will be constantly covered by cloud. We were indeed very very lucky.
The Dowse Art Museum has a sign declaring "Open 365 days", but this must be the 366th day. Over the Rimutakas. Kaitoke Regional Park, to be explored some time when it is not Christmas Day. Featherston. Over the Ruamahunga River to Martinborough. This is one of only three towns in New Zealand with a central square, and mythology suggests that patriotism was responsible for the Union Jack street pattern.
Christmas lunch with Heather and Hugh, and assorted chooks and cats. Between us all we make quite a feast of it. Afterwards I make to press on, but Heather insists that she should drive us south. We see Barry Spring Rice's old house. Lake Ferry. From the road only the upper story of the classical revival house built by John Purvis Russell in the 1870s is visible. (NZ Historic Places, July 1994, pIO) Heather's bach at Whangamoana. Past the Putangirua Pinnacles Reserve. Ngingon Bay. Whatarangi Bluff.
Ngawi is a unique and totally unexpected treat. All the local fishermen own bulldozers of every shape, size and vintage, and their steel trailers have very long towbars. On to Kupe's Sail Rock, Nga Ra o Kupe, with classic baches close by. Mangatoetoe. Yet more seals. We certainly have seen a few thousand on this tip. Cape Palliser, or Matakitaki a Kupe, is a classified historic area. (NZ Historic Places, July 1994, p28)
We return to Heather's for dinner, and gaze in wonder at the millions of stars you never see in Auckland.
Monday 26 December
Martinborough - Karaka Bay
Views which are framed by windows are fascinating. Glimpses which give clues rather than panoramas which seem to say it all but cannot capture seasons, moods and memories. A double hung sash window with farm hills catching the early sun is the perfect meditative way to begin the day. The smell of wool from fleeces waiting to be woven. The call of magpies, which for me is the call of the Wairarapa. In the sixties they could be found no further north, and after a long night driving to Kopua to work on my thesis I would wake to the magpies.
The demands of a famiing life provide a constant rhythm. The chooks are waiting to be fed. The bliss of having no demands beyond the need to head north. The cup of tea which begins the day. Only one or two people give life to the square which is the town centre of Martinborough, and they, like me, are heading to the dairy for croissants and hot rolls. On the first Saturday of February and the first Saturday of March the square will be packed with thousands of stalls as people drive from Wellington for fresh jam, good wine, and local produce. This is an area for olives and wine.
Heather has chosen a silk scarf while I have been away. Breakfast, and on the road again. Turning right at the gate makes it possible to then turn north and follow a back-country road through Longbush, Gladstone and Homebush to Masterton.
The road past the Mount Bruce Wildlife Reserve has been realigned to move it further away from the birds and extensive landscaping with artificial mounds is underway between the old road and the new. The birds are meanwhile very busy about their own affairs. One pair of Kokako are feeding their young, with a video making it possible to watch the nest while talking to the parents. The rare Auckland Island Teal also have young. The Stitchbirds, Saddlebacks, Kaka, Kea, Kiwi, and Morepork are all very active, as are the brown trout and eels in the river. The Takahe are enjoying a siesta, or perhaps they are just hiding behind the tussock watching us have a cup of coffee. I discover that wetas are 250,000 (?) years old, predating the break-up of Godwanaland, and unique rather than common. The photographic displays are excellent, and information is readily available for the specialised visitor, but DOC again puts a heavy emphasis on tourism, in contrast to the old Wildlife Service. If there had been more time we would have visited Mauriceville to see the Scandanavian features of the 1881 church. (Historic Places, July 1994, p7)
Threatening clouds hang over the Ruahines. The woolshed just before Eketahuna is as delightful as ever, but now I see the town form as responding strongly to the landscape.
Pahiatua is a "planned" town, with an extremely wide main street, the centre of which becomes a park. Memories of the Japanese prisoner of war camp and Vincent O'SuMvan's play. This camp in 1944 became the first NZ home for 734 Polish warrefugee children. (NZ Historic Places, July 1944, p26) Some of them were to become my friends when they moved north for schooling at St. Peters, and during my university days we used to stay with the Polish community in Wellington. A monument alongside the road marks the site of the camp.
A little to the north of Pahiatua is the Tui Brewery at Mangatainoka, with its brew tower dating back to last century. (NZ Historic Places, July 1994, p3 1)
Woodville is the road junction to the Manawatu Gorge. A nostalgic detour to Kopua. Little has changed since I was last there. None of the monks are about and I do not wish to disturb them. Father Joseph, who became abbot after Father Basil, died only a month ago. Father John is now the Superior/Abbot. Father Decklin went back to Ireland by his own sudden decision, and is now at Mount Mellary. There are two New Zealand monks, with another having completed his novitiate I think, making a community of nine or ten.
We could have detoured to go to Onga Onga, but Gerard and Adrienne are in Auckland, and we see them there. Waipukurau. Waipawa. Te Mata Peak in the distance. Hastings. These are all towns I will need to come back to when I have more time.
Poohy keko lies dead on the road and becomes a companion for Fred. The die is now cast. We need to get to Auckland before the smell gets to me. Peaches, and boysenberry wine, just ahead of the 6pm closing time. A brief look around the best of the Art Deco buildings of Napier. ("Art Deco Napier" by Peter Shaw and Peter Hallett, third edition by Craig Potton, early 1994.) The Jacaranda at Rothmans is in full bloom and the entry is now a different shade of blue.
The Mohaka river. The Maungaruru range. The Waipunga river. A stop at the Okoeki stream. The Toetoe and the Manuka are in full bloom making the journey through here spectacular. The waterfall is like a piece of Iguazu. Tauhara looms in the distance. We watch the red orb of the sun reflecting in Lake Taupo as it sinks below Ngaruhoe, Ruapehu and Tongariro. A hot svlm at De Bretts to cap everything off.
A three and a half hour drive in very light traffic to reach Karaka Bay by 1.30am. Bed by 2.15am.
Tuesday 27 December
I wake at 6.30, with Karaka Bay seeming to be as exquisite as anywhere we have visited. At 6.56 Ray Southwell rings to see if I am home yet so that he can drop in a Christmas cake. Annie Bell and Xanthe Jujnovich bring croissants and pastries for breakfast, and we sit on the beach and talk about Mexico City, Xanthe's exploits in Ethiopia and teaching in Kenya. Chance is an important ingredient in any journey. Xanthe relates how she met her mother by chance in a Rome post office, when she called in to see if a letter from her had arrived. Bob Griffith passes by on his way up the hill. Joan brings milk and bread. Cedric is staying for a few days. Clive joins us after a call out at Middlemore. Warren comes over. As we farewell them Fiona Cotter arrives by renovated bicycle, and Rae Varcoe sets to to get the gears working. John Crockett calls in in the evening, and we are able to thank him for generously caring for everything while we were away. A welcome from Roxy. Sparky takes it a little more slowly. Only when the first rain comes will she race inside to sit by my desk. Life back at the Bay is underway again. There are stories to tell and exploits to share.
Fred settles in.