Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Day Three: Whangarei to Sheep World

We woke up in Whangarei to a moody overcast morning. Dad made poached eggs on toast with the free-range eggs we bought the day before. I went down to reception to see if they would sell me some salt and pepper for our breakfast. The lady came out in her bathrobe and sleepily gave me a handful of individual salt and pepper packets for free.

Our first stop was the Quarry Arts Centre on the outskirts of town. This turned out to be a pleasantly rambling chaos of artist studios and sculpture, every nook and cranny - down the niches in the brick walls - filled with art.

mom and lanterns 2

Mom under lanterns, Dad in the background

artist villiage detail with me

Me in front of one of the artist studios

artist villiage pond1

Weird and wonderful sculpture pond/fountain

After a leisurely walk through the grounds, Mom and I followed some vague signs pointing the way to a pa site. Our trusty guidebook told us that a pa site was some kind of ancient Maori military encampment or fortification - we'd been seeing signs for them here and there and decided to find out what all the fuss was about. The trail lead us on a pleasant hike up the wooded hills that rise up directly behind the artist village. I was expecting the ruins of some kind of fort, maybe some crumbling rock walls - but when we got there it was just a flat piece of land with a good view overlooking Whangarei.

Next we headed to an area along the river where we strolled along the waterfront, checking out the boats on one side and the many art galleries and other shops along the other side. Our destination was Clapham's Clocks (aka The National Clock Museum). This turned out to be one large room crammed full of every type of clock imaginable. We got in half way through a tour of the museum: a docent going around the room discussing some of the highlights of the collection, making the cuckoos do their stuff, and so on. Not two clocks were in synch with each other; chimes and tinkling tunes and pirouetting miniatures were going off at random intervals. Not to mention the constant sound of thousands of clocks ticking. There were grandfather clocks and cuckoo clocks and the ticking machinery of clock towers. There were hour glasses and slick digital clocks circa 1980, and everything in between. It was more impressive than I would have thought a room full of clocks could be.

The day was winding down and it was time to hit the grocery store to restock our supplies and hit the road. We were headed back south so we could hit Auckland by Sunday evening to pick up Loren. We ended up in a holiday park that sat cozily adjacent to a tourist attraction called Sheep World. There was a paddock of bright pink sheep out by the entrance. It was raining in earnest by the time we pulled up to the reception area. Dad and I got out and knocked, rang the door bell, and attempted to use the courtesy phone all to no avail (some of the buttons seemed to have stopped working). We were starting to wonder if the place was even open when a guy about my dad's age came trundling across the park in the rain, wearing shorts and gumboots and carrying a battered umbrella, his dog in toe. He greeted us kindly and explained he had been off tending to his sheep. He got us sorted out for the night, all the while he and dad grumbling congenially to each other about politics, the weather, and the evils of modern technology.

The place was nice if a bit rustic; you could see how the open-air kitchen looking out onto a little pond complete with tiny waterfall would be lovely on a warm summer day. The caretaker mentioned glow worms down by the waterfall, but the rain was really getting going and night was falling. After settling into what turned out to be our best camping site yet (we got our own personal bathroom literally a couple steps from the sliding door of our campervan) we holed up in our camper, cooked our backup stash of pasta-and-sauce for dinner with salad on the side, took luxurious unhurried hot showers, and pretty much called it a night.

Sheep World camp spot

Our camp site at Sheepworld Campervan Park

Shee World open air kitchen

Dad and I investigate the kitchen

Sheep World  pond

The aforementioned pond and tiny waterfall

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

The Adventure

This was written October 18th, and I'm just now getting around to editing and posting it. It is a partial account of an adventure I had with a friend who was visiting from the States. This happened the very day she got off the airplane in Wellington.


First day, and already we've had an adventure. Wandered right back to that place where we were before, when we were looking for her sister's wedding tree. We walked past the same eviscerated piano, and emerged from the bush to see a lady and child walking down the dirt road. Behind her we could see the marae; it was more impressive than I remembered.

She asked us where we were from and where we were headed, and I thought for sure she we had stepped onto her land and she was there to send us on our way. Then she invited us onto her marae. "Have a wander around, I've got to go feed the chooks, but I'll catch up with you later. Just remember to take off your shoes before going inside."

Despite the explicit invitation, I was hesitant to even walk through the gate, with its ragged white flags fluttering in the wind. Carvings everywhere, in stone or in wood. And the place all simple timbers, but built so grand as to look somehow palatial. It looked all of one style, yet it had wings sprouting from it of all shapes and sizes like it had been added to over generations. We very timidly inspected those rooms which were left open (most rooms had their own entrance to the outside). And the grounds, the fountains, the gardens sprouting chard and collards, tucked into every corner. Murals of all styles on the walls, and old black and white photos, and a single poi left on a large rustic table.

We had decided we'd explored all the areas that felt public (some buildings clearly looked lived in) and were just turning to head out when we caught up with the caretaker who had invited us. We expressed our delight in the place, and she invited us to meet the builder. She ushered us into a part of the area we had skipped over because it looked lived in. We had been correct. A large man with white hair and beard sat in a wheelchair in front of a computer. The wall he sat facing was covered in crowded bookshelves.

We were invited to sit at a bench by the window, and he talked to us for some time. I do not remember all of it. The land was his. He bought it from the Sisters of Compassion - a Christian charitable organisation whose grounds adjoined his. He bought it, and then he gave it away, to be the marae, to belong to his people. He got unemployed youth to build the it "But the buildings built them" he told us. The place is actually constantly under construction, still mostly by unemployed youth. Now he is making it into a village, he is building houses. Actually he is overseeing things now that he's in the wheelchair. He said his tireless efforts at creating the marae left him disabled. He told us all they have undertaken on that land, and all he hopes to see accomplished.

A girl of maybe thirteen years came in the front door. "How are the baby chooks? Can they make it up the ramp into the house?" He asked. We just built a new chicken coop today, he said, got to make sure they settle in okay. Then he asked her to show us around some other parts of the marae. She took us outside and we pulled on tennis shoes while she stepped into some slip ons. "You have to wear slip on shoes when you live on a marae." She told us. She took us up a shaded path, onto a pavilion, across a little catwalk and opened a door for us to enter. "This room is celebrating women, the pictures show the steps a woman has to go through to prove she is a leader for her people" she said. We quietly made our way around the room, examining the carvings on each supporting beam. Meanwhile the girl and her little sister waited in the doorway, discussing their newest house cat, who cheekily tried to follow us into the room.

On the way out she pointed to a shady little garden with fountains that sprayed a fine mist over the trees. One for each of us children, she said. That one is the most rare tree in the world. Its for her (the little sister) she's the youngest. We caught up with the caretaker then, and expressed our heartfelt gratitude at being invited onto the marae and bade her farewell.

Back on the street, as we sat on the sun-warmed curb re-tying our shoe laces, I said "why is it we always end up having these sorts of adventures when you're here?"

"Oh, I thought it was just New Zealand, you know, how kind and open the people are here."

"Well, I've certainly never been invited onto a marae before."


When editing this today, I found a website for the marae, so you can get an idea of what it looks like.