I join a delegation to visit Xiamen, China

The island city Xiamen
The island city Xiamen

Tomorrow I leave New Zealand with a delegation of Wellington, New Zealand citizens – and we’re heading to our sister city, Xiamen, South China.

Once known as Amoy, this island of 4 million has been an important port for centuries, and is a vibrant, modern, and affluent city – rather like Wellington, all except being an important port for centuries, and NZ as a country only has only about 4.5 million.

xiamen 2The Wellington Xiamen Association is a volunteer group of locals who, with the support of the Wellington City Council, form long-term relationships between the two cities by exploring each other’s culture through information, events and various projects in education, art and culture.

 

 

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On this trip, in a gesture of goodwill, a large choice of quality, award-winning books from Te Papa Press will be presented to the Xiamen city’s chief librarian.

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In essence, sister city organisations promote peace through people-to-people relationships, including programmes varying from basic cultural exchange programmes to shared research and development projects between linked cities.

Founded by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1956, Sister Cities International is non-partisan, non-profit organisation and around the world has tens of thousands of citizen-diplomats and volunteers in 570 member communities with over 2,300 partnerships in 150 countries on six continents.

The 'best little capital in the world' according to Lonely Planet
The ‘best little capital in the world’ according to Lonely Planet

This Wellington delegation includes, artists, translators, photographers and me, as a travel writer of course.

20160520_184152We have met twice, over Chinese food of course, and all told me they look forward to being good ambassadors from New Zealand’s capital city, as well as bringing information back about the culture of Xiamen to share with other Wellingtonians.

dessert
dessert

For more information: See www.wellingtonxiamen.com and, of course, watch this blog for stories and photos from our week there and what appears to be a full, and diverse, itinerary.

 

Christchurch’s Arts Centre reopening soon – hurrah

Over the past five years, returning to the city of my birth, Christchurch, New Zealand, was often like returning to school – but the old three R’s rule of reading, writing and ’rithmetic had been replaced with different R’s – I often had to ask if it has been reopened, renovated, relocated or reduced-to-rubble. Unfortunately, with something like 80% of the inner-city, my old stomping ground, demolished because of quake damage, many were reduced to rubble or relocated.

Of course many of my favourites have another R as they remained-open or have reopened after minor damage was repaired, while a few had to close temporarily while neighbouring buildings were ‘de-constructed’.

A few of my special city-centre places in the remained open (or just closed briefly) category are, The Classic Villa; Canterbury Museum; Botanic Gardens; and The Antigua Boat Sheds.

Two months before the September 2010 quakes, a mayoral candidate said if he became mayor he would apply for World Heritage Status for the city’s unique Gothic Revival buildings. It seemed no city in the world had such a collection of Gothic revival buildings ‘of such high quality and so well preserved’ and I went to the Great Hall in the Gothic style Christchurch Arts Centre, another of my favourite places in the city, to hear about the proposal. He said, “these Victorian buildings date back to the 1850s and as a group are of enormous international significance. They represent the outcome of the furthest migration of any group of people in human history.” He continued, “They are more than bricks and mortar, they are at the heart of our city”.

See more I’ve written about our Gothic buildings post-quake.

A bad selfie of me with Andre Lovat
A bad selfie of me with Andre Lovatt

I’m now back at the Arts Centre, very fortunate to get an escorted, behind-the-scenes, peek at the work being done in this part of the ‘heart of our city.’ Andre Lovatt the Arts Centre CEO, who values the heritage buildings in our city, is showing me around. He knows that ‘with enough time and money, you can do anything’ and time and, money has been and is continuing to be used on this collection of buildings. (Donations welcome to help this work – see their website)

Although the Gothic style is usually associated with churches the mid-Victorian architects used it in other buildings such as Canterbury College in 1873. Other buildings were added and eventually the college became Canterbury University. Over a century later the University moved to a new campus in the suburbs.

With plans to demolish the buildings locals demanded they be kept and eventually the empty buildings became the Arts Centre, which incidentally, my father had said would be a waste of money for the city and ‘should not be saved.’

A number of architects designed the individual buildings, the most well-known being Benjamin Mountford: it’s been said that the Great Hall was a good example of ‘his ability to adapt the Gothic style to colonial circumstance and to produce magnificent buildings within the constraints of limited resources.’

Much of the Arts Centre is reopening this year (2016) and there is anticipation and excitement by retailers who hope to return to the centre and by Cantabrians in general who look forward to being able to enjoy the area again. Check their website to find out the dates various buildings will be opened – and I’m hoping a New Zealand craft market will eventually open there too.

use hh IMG_5974webThe Fool by Sam Mahon  is one of my favourite pieces of public art … I wonder where it will move to within the Arts Centre grounds.

The Fool in its original spot outside the Court Theatre
The Fool in its original spot outside the Court Theatre

A new sculpture to be installed within the Arts Centre is the twin to this one by Antony Gormley  – which is in the Avon (between Worcester and Armagh Street bridges.

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I believe one of the first places to open this year will be Rutherford’s Den. This Kiwi, Ernest Rutherford, is one of the greatest scientists of the modern age, and he studied at this college from 1890 to 1894: this den is where he conducted some of his earliest experiments and is now a  museum and information area. The Den was extremely popular before the quake and now that it has been  totally updated I can see even more locals and tourists visiting it.

For more information about the wonderful Arts Centre, check their website

Here are some photos taken during my visit in February 2016 – as you can see there were workman everywhere.use arts centre 2016 (67)web

Including skilled stone masons

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Walking tour: Wellington’s hidden Maori treasures

20160519_102430These tours leave daily from Te Raukura where the waka are housed within Te Wharewaka o Poneke: a place I know quite well as I not only attended the dawn opening of this building (2011) but also where my weekly social walking group meets, at Karaka (cafe), for breakfast or coffee before we head off on a city walk.

People gather in the dawn
People gather in the dawn

Tuparahuia, our guide for the morning walk introduced himself while standing beside the four waka – including the largest, a single hull carved waka taua, Te Rerenga Kotare, which is used for ceremonial events and which, in the past, would have been a war canoe. Another way to experience the rich culture and history of Te Whanganui-a-Tara and the Te Atiawa people is to join a waka tour of the harbour on one of these traditional boats. (Bookings essential)

the bronze statue is impressive
the bronze statue is impressive

Alongside the water of Te Whanganui a Tara (Wellington Harbour) we hear the story of Maui and his brothers fishing up the North Island, otherwise known as Te Ika A Maui -the fish of Maui. Turning back towards the building we stand under the fabulous statue -made in the late 1930s by Christchurch sculptor William Trethewy – which depicts the legendary Polynesian explorer Kupe, his wife, and tohunga. Originally built in plaster, and for decades sitting in the Wellington railway station, in 1999 it was cast in bronze and placed on the waterfront to celebrate the millennium and as a tribute to all who have come to these shores. Under the gaze of these majestic, heroic looking, figures our walking tour continues and we hear the stories of Kupe and his discovery of Aotearoa New Zealand.

In front of the meeting house, on the atea (usually considered a sacred area of ground) is a stylised compass of the stars and constellations used by those early Pacific navigators: it was interesting to hear how those early waka had the 360° horizon marked around the canoe railings for easy navigation when they added their knowledge about the time of the year – something I’d not heard before.

Te Aro Pa (pa = community or village) was once one of the largest Māori communities in Wellington until the 1880s. It is often acknowledged that those early settlers would never have survived without the support of local Māori.

I recommend you take the tour yourself and hear all these stories, myths, and legends. We also examined the uncovered remains of two whare (buildings) which were uncovered during the demolition, then construction of an apartment block, in 2005. This tour, and others Te Atiawa provide, are a great way to understand the city’s history as you discover Wellington’s hidden Māori treasures.

Note: in Māori, as in many other languages, you do not add an ‘s’ to a word to describe more than on as there is no letter s in the language. Just as we say one sheep or 1000 sheep the same is for waka, kiwi, and Māori (etc) when being used as New Zealand English. In te reo Māori it would be te waka (the waka, ie one) or nga waka to show more that one. For more information about the language please see other blogs I’ve written, including this one I wrote for NileGuide Maori is one of three official languages in New Zealand – check it out here

Some photos for you . . .

 

 

Punting from historic boatsheds

Historic boatsheds
Historic boat sheds

In 1850 swamp covered the beginnings of Christchurch and settlers had to walk through bog to get home after the market. Those early British settlers must have been sorely disillusioned when they first saw the soggy land which was to be their home on the other side of the world.

Between 1000 and 1500, Maori (who had arrived here from the Pacific) had a settlement in this area, called Puari. It stretched east from the Otakaro River and was home to around 800 Waitaha people who gathered eels, whitebait, native trout, ducks, and flounder.

The Deans family renamed the river to Avvon – after a small Scottish river near their old home – later the spelling was changed to Avon by the new settlers who had followed the Scottish brothers. Now, the bog long drained, every weekend Cantabrians (we who live in Canterbury, New Zealand) and tourists go boating on the same river.

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The centre of this fun is of course the historic Antigua Boat Sheds. One of many boat sheds which were established along the river in the 1870s/80s. Many generations of locals have spent time messing around in boats hired from them and, I too learnt to row in the gentle waters of this spring fed river.

The Antigua boat-sheds were built by a couple of boat builders and it is one of Christchurch’s oldest buildings. Open all year, and with a cafe full of home-cooked food attached, it makes a great setting for all sorts of events – from weddings and cocktail parties to children’s parties- as well as a family fun day in the park.

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As well as canoes and paddle boats for hire and you can also have  Welcome Aboard punt you upstream, through the beauty of the botanic gardens, – perhaps even sipping champagne or tucking into a hamper of food which is optional. I once again enjoyed relaxing on a punt during my time in Christchurch earlier this year – it was as delightful as ever.

use welcome aboardwebThanks to Welcome Aboard for your hospitality on the punts, gondola,caterpillar, and trams.

 

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Riding a caterpillar in Christchurch!

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use botanic chch2As well as riding the rails recently, in Christchurch New Zealand, I also rode a caterpillar: no, not the turn-into-a-butterfly type caterpillar but an electric one in the city’s Botanic Gardens – this is Caterpillar Garden Tour is one of the attractions operated by Welcome Aboard

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Known to Māori for hundreds of years, Christchurch was officially settled by the British in 1850. Plans for the Botanic Gardens began 13 years later in the area that at that stage were largely made up of wetlands and sand dunes, and in 1863 an English oak was planted to commemorate the marriage of Queen Victoria’s eldest son Prince Albert – this is the same year that my maternal family arrived from Cornwall, followed in 1872 by my paternal Scottish ancestors. Like those early trees, our roots are deep in the plains and peninsula.

the Avon provides a great setting
the Avon provides a great setting

Nestled in a loop of the Avon River the gardens are a popular place for locals and visitors value that the area was ‘reserved for ever as a public park and to be open with the recreation and enjoyment of the public’ when Christchurch was in its infancy.

Scott and Shackleton worked from this spot
Scott and Shackleton worked from this spot

A magnetic observatory  has stood here in the gardens since the beginning of the 20th century. This is not the original building but is on the very spot where explorers such as Scott and Shackleton calibrated their instruments before heading to the South Pole.

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Birds bathing in spring waters

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It’s fun to sit and watch some common birds bathing in a natural spring beside the Avon River in the Christchurch Botanic Gardens (New Zealand)

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And if you prefer to slowdown your viewing . . .