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 . . .

 

 

Riding a caterpillar in Christchurch!

use botanic chch

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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Driving in New Zealand – tips

Driving in another country is often fraught with issues: driving in New Zealand is no different.

Think about it, you are in another country, in a rental car, possibly driving on the ‘wrong side’ of the road, there are few motorways, the dual carriageway roads are often narrow and winding, you round a corner – and this is what you see!

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Now what!?

Slow down, and if there is a vehicle ahead of you, right in front of the sheep like in this photo, you are lucky, get close in behind it and tailgate slowly through the mob of sheep.

If there is no vehicle for you to follow keep to the left and drive very, very, slowly: the farmer will no doubt get his dogs to move the sheep to the right and out of your way.

However, if the sheep are moving towards you, in other words travelling in the opposite direction to you, once again keep left, and drive very slowly – although I would suggest you just stop on the left, wind down the windows, grab your camera, and enjoy the quiet and smells of the country while being engulfed by a flock of sheep.

Chances are you will never have this happen again so why not just have fun.

For up-to-date and legal information about driving in New Zealand, and to make sure of your safety, please read this  and most of all remember to keep left – especially when turning at intersections.  Many of the trolleys at airports have notices to tell visitors ‘your journey will take longer than you think’ – take heed of this message!

This was the first flock of sheep I had met for years and years so I made the most of it by driving through, then stopping and have the sheep pass me as I stood at the back of my car, with my camera. Enjoy the shots I took.

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Funky inner city hotel in Christchurch

Good coffee/tea station in my room
Good coffee/tea station in my room

Funky, with attitude, BreakFree on Cashel (street) is one of the biggest and newest of Christchurch hotels, it has a modern urban feel and all rooms include a
smart TV and free fibre-optic Wi-Fi.

It certainly epitomises a city reimagined and is handy to many tourist attractions and great cafes restaurants and bars.

Bought ‘as is’ after the quakes (10/11) the company has done lots of work refurbishing, updating, and most importantly, seismic strengthening.

For me, it was a great base to explore the city and after a hearty breakfast, I set out on walking tours, tram rides, New Regent St, Re-Start Mall, the Quake City Museum, punting, and of course, the wonderful Botanic Gardens in the Christchurch Art Gallery.

The local city council has created a great app which you can find on your App Store or Google play (findchch.com) which will help you find your way around.

I'm shown around the hotel
I’m shown around the hotel

The test of any hotel for me is would I stay there again? Absolutely. Although I was their guest on the sixth floor this time I would willingly pay – and you it has a range of rooms for you to choose from. I suggest you check out their website and decide which is best for you. I was shown around the different configurations of rooms – from the smallest to the largest I’d be happy in any of them.

Thanks for hosting me Breakfree. Here are some photos I took of those rooms:

NOTE: This is one of a series of posts about Christchurch. See this recent post about the 2010/11 quakes – an elephant in the room and one about Christchurch as it is.

Riding the rails . . . Christchurch tram tracks

Trams supporting our local rugby team ...The Crusaders
Trams support our rugby team – The Crusaders

 

I used to think my mother was so brave when, holding my hand, she stepped out into the middle of Colombo street to board the tram. I was excited and scared at the same time. A few years ago I took my mother on a tram trip – in the restaurant car: she was delighted with the silver service and delicious meal.

Baby of the fleet - 411 came from a Sydney, Australia, Tram Museum
Baby of the fleet – 411 came from a Sydney, Australia, Tram Museum

Seems my family history with trams goes back even further as I have a tattered photo of my maternal grandfather laying, or repairing, tram tracks in the mid-1930s: a photo that had appeared in the Christchurch Press. It’s only a few years ago that I always had an annual pass for the tram as, living in the inner-city I rode the tracks frequently – especially if it was raining or I was carrying my groceries and vegetables.

The KiwiTravelWriter becomes world-famous in the Tram Clippings newsletter

Trams removed were  from Christchurch’s streets in the mid-1950s, but returned in the mid-90s, mostly as a tourist attraction – back then, and during  my travels on this trip, even as a local I enjoyed hearing the history of places we passed. Unlike many places around the world,  taped commentary are played: here the drivers, or motormen as they are correctly called, speak freely about the city’s history and add their own personal touches. I hope this never changes as it makes these tours unique and personal. A travel writing friend of mine, Roy Sinclair, has been a tram driver here and provided historical context for the other drivers – he also tells me that the training is comprehensive.

It appears trams are simple vehicles, with a control to go, and a brake to stop, however, learning to drive them smoothly is not always easy, nevertheless it seems there are bonuses with the job. I recall one who used to recount his 15 minutes of fame when he co-starred with Kate Winslet in the 1990’s film Heavenly Creatures. As he said, ‘three days of work and I made it onto the film for about three and four seconds!

During an All Blacks game the flags fly
During an All Blacks game the flags fly

These motormen come from a range of backgrounds including; an economics professor, musicians, school principals, bank managers, and of course Roy Sinclair, an author.

On my most recent trip back to Christchurch (February 2016) I was a guest of Welcome Aboard with a combo ticket to travel on the tram, gondola, punting and the delightful, and informative Caterpillar Tour in the Botanic Gardens – all of which will appear in another blog. Now, let these photos tell the story of our trams.

For some history about Christchurch trams see this library website

NOTE: This is one of a series of posts about Christchurch. See this recent post about the 2010/11 quakes – an elephant in the room and one about Christchurch as it is.

 

Thank-you to Breakfree On Cashel for hosting me during part of my stay in the city – I will be writing a small blog about that soon

 

Christchurch: nearly a Gothic Revival UNESCO World Heritage Site

web museumAbout two months before the September 2010 quakes, a Christchurch mayoral candidate, Jim Anderton, said if he became mayor he would push for Christchurch to have World Heritage Status for the city’s unique Gothic Revival buildings. It appeared that no city in the world had a more complete collection of Gothic revival buildings of such high quality and so well-preserved.

I attended a meeting, in the Gothic Arts Centre, to hear about such a 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.” Apparently, Canterbury was the last and most successful of the colonisation schemes of Edward Gibbon Wakefield.

Anderton continued, “They are more than bricks and mortar, they are at the heart of our city and remind us every day of those pioneers searching for a better world on the other side of the globe.” I left the meeting having decided to vote for Jim because of this proposal.

Repairs and strengthening well underway
Repairs and strengthening are well under way

Early European settlers of course bought their values with them and expressed some of that in their architecture and appreciation of open spaces – which was also happening in New York where Central Park was just being established too.  [interestingly, and nothing to do with the meeting or the Gothic buildings, I believe the land which became the Botanic Gardens was given to the city by the Scottish Deans brother’s – they wanted a barrier between them, and Riccarton, and the new English arrivals – I’m sure many of the local tangata whenua would have liked the same.]

Over three decades many Gothic revival buildings – built in local grey stone – and none of which were exact copies of the English versions . This and the scale as well as the use of timber, started a city with its own characteristics, not a replica of what they’d left.

The Canterbury quakes (2010/11) of course put this UNESCO proposal on the back burner, however, many of the proposed sites consist of the most significant 19th century public buildings associated with the founding of the city have not been demolished because of the quakes: these include Christchurch Cathedral, (although still under review) the Canterbury Provincial Council Buildings, (the only complete surviving examples of government buildings from the provincial period of colonial society in New Zealand) and the former Canterbury University, previously Canterbury College and now the Arts Centre, and both are now being restored and quake-proofed.

The Canterbury Museum had received a lot of quake strengthening work and it suffered minimal damage during the quakes.

Council Chambers
Council Chambers

The 1865 Council Chambers is internationally recognized as an outstanding example of High Victorian Gothic architecture, and on a personal level, is where my first book launch was held and is on the list to be restored, as is the old Presbyterian Trinity Church which for many years has been a restaurant.

St Andrew’s Presbyterian Church (now at Rangi Ruru School), built in a simple, and wooden, Gothic style in the late 1800s: my parents, grandparents, and many more of my ancestors  married in this church – a reminder that not all Christchurch settlers were English.

Other inner-city Gothic buildings surviving the quakes include Christ’s College, and sort of surviving, the facades post office in the square and the former A.J. White’s building in High Street.

Not in the city, but Gothic nevertheless, was a prosaic Gothic building, the old Addington Prison which is now backpacker accommodation known of course as the Jailhouse! Naturally, with my ‘colourful’ background, I have history here too – having picked up people there, who were no longer guests of the state, and have stayed in the backpackers.

*See recent posts about the quakes – an elephant in the room and one about Christchurch as it is.

 

Is there an elephant in the room? Christchurch, New Zealand

 

As part of my upcoming series of blogs about Christchurch let’s first talk about the elephant in the room. In other words, the earthquakes that shook my city in 2010 – 2011.

I left Christchurch some eight weeks after the September 2010 quake, not because of the 7.3 quake or its many aftershocks, but a decision that had been made in May that year. Since then, I have returned to Christchurch on dozens of occasions so, although I have not lived through the many but normal aftershocks, I have closely seen the devastation wrought on my city.

My roots are deep in this wonderful city: my Cornish maternal roots arrived here in 1862, while my Scottish paternal roots arrived in 1873 – and there they remained, planted and flourishing on the stony plains and peninsula ever since. During this series of blogs, I will be talking about Christchurch as it is post-quake, as well as linking it to my past.

My frequent trips down from Wellington, and usually staying in the city centre, means I’ve watched the continuing journey as a new city emerges. Let’s not pull any punches, Christchurch will never be the old Christchurch again. While I mourn this loss I also celebrate the new – as it is emerging. Those seismic shocks have and are certainly changing the face of the city.

An air of creativity and innovation flows through the city but unfortunately it seems many locals are not aware of this, and say they don’t come into the city as there is nothing to do. Wrong, wrong, wrong.

Tourists, and those working in the city centre, are well aware of many things to do. Some of it involves quake tourism of course, for others it’s checking out the huge artworks around the CBD, taking their kids to the magnificent Margaret Mahy playground, promenading, dining and shopping along New Regent Street, which I believe, is now Christchurch’s oldest retail area.

One thing I became very aware of during my last visit (February 2016) is how many tourists still find the devastation hard to handle and often only stay a night or two. One of the difficulties for them seems to be they are unsure what is actual ‘quake damage’ and what has been demolished ‘because of’ the quake. (NOTE: I again suggest the council or some other such body create a historic plaque to state “This building is a quake survivor’ for building owners to use).

It also seems that many find the city-wide building sites noisy and annoying, whereas I see them as a sign of vitality of the city and positive growth. Unfortunately, it seems travellers many arrive at the airport grab their campervan or rental car and take off, heading south or west. Many I spoke to said they’d been told by people in other parts of New Zealand ‘there is nothing to see down there.’ Most said they were thrilled they had ignored the ill informed advice.

Nice curves on one of the new buildings
Nice curves on one of the new buildings

To learn about the quake, I can absolutely recommend Quake City, a Canterbury Museum project, on Cashel Mall. Our city centre lost 80% of its buildings, not because they fell down, but because they had to be demolished as being unsafe, this means Christchurch has had much of its history erased.

The sad deaths, from the February 2011 6.3 quake, occurred mostly in two relatively modern buildings which did collapse. The artwork of white chairs as a memorial to them is  on the site of my old church: St Paul’s Trinity Pacific, which growing up as a city kid, was the church I attended, and married in, and in those days was just called St Paul’s: it too was a quake casualty.

So, whether you live in Christchurch, or are visiting for a few days, make sure you see the real city centre and learn our history, not just the oft-repeated, lazy writing about Christchurch, as being conservative, just like England, or other such nonsense, this is a new city, developing new roots, and growing on top of our old foundations.

As well is reading some of the many books, stories, and poems that have sprung up post-quake you can also follow my blogs about Christchurch, so I can introduce you to the new as well is the old. Don’t forget many of our buildings (20% remember) survived, albeit most needing repairs, some major, some minor, but we still have many of our wonderful Gothic buildings in use.

So yes the ‘elephant in the room’, our seismic shakes, have jolted us, have left many traumatised, homes and businesses are gone, but a new, hopefully greener, city is emerging, and despite, or because of, my deep roots in Christchurch I celebrate that new city and feel excited every time something old reopens, or something new opens. Of course I am sad that much of my personal history is gone,  however, looking over my shoulder at something no longer there is wasting time and energy that I prefer to use positively.

Despite now living in Wellington, I’m a Cantabrian through and through, one-eyed, wearing red and black, and cheering on our sports teams, and the rebuild!  However, this does not mean I wear pink coloured glasses when writing about the city. At times I have been and will be critical, especially at locals who voice many opinions about the inner city, despite not having visited the CBD for months, or even years; a heavy-handed government making decisions they have no right to make, or delay; and the Anglican church for the damage their wrecking ball inflicted on the cathedral, and the continuing damage they are allowing by not closing the building to the elements. I believe they caused more damage than the quakes did.

Next week: our gothic buildings.

Thank-you to Breakfree On Cashel for hosting me during part of my stay in the city.

Detail of the Chalice - public art in'the square'
Detail of the Chalice – public art in the square