Monday, 17 October 2011

New Zealand Week 6: Auckland, Waipu, Bay of Islands, Auckland, Coromandel

Week Six: Auckland, Waipu, Bay of Islands, Auckland, Coromandel

Tuesday 11th October “The night ahead is almost certainly going to be stormy.” That is how I signed off last week’s post. I was parked, just one of three campers, at an exposed site, beside the dunes at Waipu Cove, with wet weather and strong winds. During the night the rain paused, and the winds did die down a little, but that simply meant I could hear the roar of the waves. It’s an odd experience, half-awake, half-asleep, listening to waves crashing, forgetting whether they are right outside the door of the van or several hundred metres away. If I look out of the window, and see them lapping at my wheels, do I have any chance of driving away? Will I make a fast move, or will I wake my two neighbours first? Once you start having that conversation with yourself, all possibility of sleep is gone – and it was. In the morning I found tht the sea was hundreds of metres away, where it had always been, and had been no more turbulent than any other night.

Waipu has a strong Scottish heritage and on the road approaching is the sign ‘Ceud Mile Failte’ (a hundred thousand welcomes, in the Scottish splling). In the 1850’s almost 1,000 Scots settled here; the population now is just under 1,500.

I drove a couple of miles north to Uretiti Beach, which I’d read was a very popular place in summertime. Again, I saw that man and his dog, and nobody else; just miles of clean sand facing out to Hen and Chicken Islands, looming out of the mist across the water. The sky is very grey, and more storms are due, but apparently they’ll come from the north so at least it will be warm – that’s reassuring. The dunes are covered in fabulously coloured wild flowers, which are a great contrast with the gorse.

Highway 1 took me into the town of Whangarei (Wh is pronounced F), where I pottered with a coffee around the small marina. Adjacent to it is Clapham’s Clock Museum, but I didn’t go in – I didn’t have the time. I was interested in the big sundial outside, and the explanation as to why Whangarei’s time differs from New Zealand Standard Time by 23 minutes (see photo). There is also a clever way of compensating for the difference caused by Daylight Saving Time.

My objective this week is to take a quick look at the Bay of Islands, which is on the north east coast of NZ’s North Island, so I press on a further 120 kms to the collection of small towns of Opua, Paihia and Waitangi. This is as far north as I shall go on this trip to NZ, and I’m about 2,000 kms north of Bluff (see Tuesday 13th September).

Captain Cook visited the area in 1769, and gave it the enticing name of The Bay of Islands. The village of Opua is where one can get a car ferry for the short distance across to the town and island (peninsula actually) of Russell. Paihia is the central one of the group, and the largest, but still with a population of fewer than 2,000 – these places are small; hardly town in European terms. Close by are the Haruru Falls, a tourist sight in these parts. I don’t find it particularly impressive in that it isn’t a long drop, nor very wide. What is interesting though is the colour of the water (photo), where the river Waitangi passes over the edge. I don’t know if this is mud or minerals, but it is odd that it is ‘streaked’ with colour, and not just the same colour all over.

When I return to the car park, the rooster that I saw scratching around earlier has attracted the attention of some French rugby fans for whom the Gallic rooster is an unofficial national symbol, adopted by their rugby team. For many years it was tradition to release a cockerel on the touchline, shortly before kick-off. The Twickenham authorities banned the practice some years ago, but that doesn’t stop people trying to keep the tradition alive. The NZ Herald reported on 19th September “French rooster smuggler falls fowl of stadium”
A French rugby supporter has fallen fowl of stadium security at Napier's McLean Park after trying to take a rooster into the match between France and Canada last night. Police said they were generally pleased with the crowd's behaviour at the sold-out match, which saw France win over Canada by 46-19. But while most fans were well-behaved, some 14 people were removed from the grounds for drunkenness and smoking cannabis. Operations commander Inspector Mike O'Leary said the supporters who came to police attention were all international tourists - including a French supporter who tried to take a rooster into the grounds. Roosters are a national symbol for France and releasing a cockerel into stadium grounds has become a fan ritual at matches.
This story was doing the rounds in the bars in Dunedin and the way I heard it, the rooster was got taken through the bag-search without being spotted, but was only caught when asked at the following security check for its match ticket!

Were they going to eat it?

I hadn’t booked a site in advance but turned up at the attractive Bay of Islands Holiday Park and booked for two nights. It is spacious, quiet, very well equipped, and sits beside the fast flowing river Waitangi, a mile upstream of the Falls.

There is quite a crowd of French fans already parked up, some having line-out practice on a pair of adjacent trampolines – quite a challenge for them, and quite a sight.

Wednesday 12th. Paihia. I’m spending the day and tonight here, exploring the area. I found a large carpark just behind the main street and left the van for the day – forgetting to buy a parking ticket. Across the street I see two of the distinctive RWC coaches in their ‘World in Union’ livery. This must mean one of the teams is here, presumably having a couple of days R&R before the semi-finals. The tourist office confirm that it is the French team, staying at the Copthorne. The passenger ferry over to Russell takes about 15 minutes, and is a funny little thing, like something out of a child’s story book – Captain Pugwash perhaps.

Russell used to be the major town in this area, with Paihia simply the ‘mainland’ ferry dock. Now it seems reversed, with Russell a well-preserved, tiny, heritage place, where the locals wander the streets, even at 11am, in period clothes, staging mini-recreations. There isn’t much here for me, but I want to walk/climb up Flagstaff Hill – for the view and also for the exercise. It is the usual single track road, lined with wonderfully rich vegetation, flowers and bird life. There are one or two houses, all with fine views over the bay.  At the top is the usual 360-degree view (yes, I know, another one – how blasé I’ve become) and a rather interesting feature: a signal flagstaff which is the fifth one to stand at this spot, the others having been cut down by way of protest, or accident. The current one seems to be sheathed in steel for most of its height! I was so taken with the story, and discussions with some other English tourists that I forgot to photograph it. Wikipedia has an entry here:,_New_Zealand

The ferry back to Pahia was a modern boat but we passed my morning vessel and I got this photo of the little toy ferry boat
I spent the afternoon just two miles away at the Waitangi Treaty Grounds, a historic site in New Zealand.

For many centuries the Bay of islands had attracted Polynesian settlers, and was occupied by several Maori tribes. In the late 18th century Europeans set up bases for whaling and sealing and the main town of Russell was known as the “hell-hole of the Pacific” given its reputation for drunkenness and debauchery. The British government appointed James Busby as British Resident (a formal role) in 1833, to bring some calm and order to the warring Maori tribes and he succeeded in mediating sufficient peace to have the chiefs sign the Declaration of Independence of New Zealand. In 1840 Capt. William Hobson arrived here to write and negotiate a treaty on behalf of the British Government with the Maori chiefs. On 6th February 43 chiefs signed the Treaty of Waitangi, in front of the Residency (in fact a tiny two-bedroom house). The site of the signing is marked by the flagstaff (I did photograph this one), on the lawn looking out over the Bay. Copies of the Treaty were then sent all over the country and by the autumn of that year over 500 chiefs had signed it. In May 1840 William Hobson proclaimed British sovereignty over the whole country.

The Treaty is considered an agreement between two peoples to live and work together in one nation and is as relevant today as in 1840. It guarantees the rights of both Maori and non-Maori citizens in New Zealand.

One could spend several hours at the Treaty Grounds, and there are several things to enjoy. There is the Treaty House, the original small British Residency, carefully restored. The Waka House (a waka is a canoe) provides shelter to the amazing 35 metre long craft which needs 76 paddlers to power it on the water. The Meeting House (Te Whare Runanga) symbolizes Maori involvement in the signing of the Treaty, and in the life of the nation. The Visitor Centre provides the arrival point to the grounds, and a good short film putting the Treaty Grounds in context. All the above is set in acres of beautiful grounds, gardens and tropical forest, gifted to the people of New Zealand by Lord Bledisloe, the Governor of NZ in 1930. It was the same man who donated a cup to be contested between the national rugby teams of Australia and New Zealand, still passionately fought for to this day.

Maori waka or canoe

On the 6th February every year New Zealand commemorates the signing of the Treaty, the founding document of the country. It is important to note that the day, and the location, continue to be marked by protests.
“They made a treaty that made a nation”
It has been a really interesting day, and I realize I haven’t made enough effort, in my travels and on this blog, to understand New Zealand’s history.

Thursday 13th. Pahia. Some confusion on the campsite this morning. The Brit contingent parked close by had assumed I was ‘one of the enemy’ (their words). It’s because I’m wearing a France 2007 t-shirt, one of my collection from the four RWC’s I’ve been to. I had to explain that France 2007 was the tournament host, not necessarily the country I support.

I turn south from Paihia, and make my way slowly back down Highway 1. At Warkworth I go east to look at Matakana village, and along the coast. At Omaha beach, I see what is my first housing development in NZ, a complete ‘estate’ of new houses. Nowhere else in six weeks have I seen what is common in the UK, a spread of a hundred or so houses, all by the same developer and all looking alike. This one has the benefit of a spacious layout, and almost every house differs from its neighbours. It appears to exist largely as a summer-time resort area, presumably built up around the adjacent surfing centre. Point Wells is nicer, with plenty of older houses, in more established surroundings. This small wedge of coast is about an hour’s drive north of Auckland so I imagine some residents will commute into the city. There also appears to be some wealth in evidence: swanky entrance gates and smart hedging at the foot of long driveways, several vineyards, landscaping businesses, and firms selling giant palms, yuccas, and exotic grasses.
By 5pm I’m back in Auckland and parked up again at Remeura Motor Lodge.

Friday 14th. Auckland. At the top of the road I can catch a bus to Britomart, the major transport interchange which is conveniently in the centre of the city, right on the waterfront. I walk to the quay, check out ferries for a trip I want to make this weekend, and find two great cruise liners have docked; it’s a most strange sight, as the bow of one of them is within metres of the main quayside street and the passing traffic.

Right across is a coffee shop, which is inside the reception space of a corporate office block. I’ve seen this in Sydney, where it’s quite common, but never in the UK. Almost all our major offices have over-large reception foyer spaces, always dressed with a couple of plants, some classic designer sofas, and a statement artwork. Security concerns, real or imagined, mean that this expensive space always sits empty, which in the cities like London is expensive folly. I like the use of the space for public coffee shops, which of course the building’s occupiers can use too. I particularly like the view out of the window: straight at the bows of the two liners.

Alternating between sun and quick showers, I take a long walk around Auckland’s harbour, spotting in the crowds several former rugby stars, now working for the media here, including Nick Farr-Jones, Bob Dwyer, and a couple I can’t put a name to. Nobody English though: our stock has fallen.

Then a slow walk up to Aotea Square, perhaps the central square of Auckland, surrounded by the City Council hq buildings, the town hall, a major arts complex, and some decent open air spaces and landscaping.

Right beside it is a small alternative theatre, the Basement, what I imagine to be a fringe theatre,
and beside that is the new theatre Q (for Queen St I assume) which I’m going to tonight.
In the Town Hall is a photographic exhibition of rugby photos “Union: The Heart of Rugby” which has been mounted by the publisher of the coffee-table book of the same name, to coincide with the RWC. The project set out to select the 150 best rugby photos from around the world, an uncertain task, given that all the photos capture moments from international matches, with no club or amateur games. However, it’s enjoyable, and makes me realize that trying to capture a decent shot of top level rugby from a seat in the stands, using just a point-and-shoot camera, is a futile exercise.

I crossed over the street to the Auckland Library where the provision of free wi-fi means the place is buzzing with youngsters, some making use of the research facilities, music library, newspaper room, and good old-fashioned books. Dozens of others were tapping away at laptops and notebooks, some clearly using Skype – tricky in a place where you are expected to keep noise levels down.

And so to the Q theatre, a new building, open for just a matter of weeks, with two auditoria, one a brand-new space, the other a conversion from some old offices. My understanding is that it has all been funded by private money, with fundraising taking over a decade, but an assumption that the City will now subsidise the annual running costs. It is a classy set-up, with spacious foyers, a café, lots of staff, and a great tapas bar with some super NZ wines by the glass.

The play is Finding Murdoch about a true incident in the 1972 All Black’s tour of Wales. After scoring the winning try against Wales, AB prop Keith Murdoch is involved in a post-match fracas in the hotel and punches a Welsh security guard. He is expelled from the team, sent back to NZ, but never makes it home. On his way he detours to Australia and disappears into the outback, shunning his friends, family and teammates. And so begins a media frenzy to track him down and get his side of the story. The script is by Margot McRae, based on her work as a researcher in the 1990’s when she managed to find and interview Murdoch.
It’s an interesting and timely story, with some good performances, but a disappointing production. In the audience of about 300 was a crowd of UK sports journalists, here to cover the RWC, and having a night off: a sort of busman’s night off.
Saturday 15th Auckland. A slow start today, with a leisurely breakfast and then an hour editing and downloading photos, and writing up this blog. Tonight will be a late night. With kick-off pushed back to 9pm to suit northern hemisphere broadcasters, we won’t get away from the ground until about 11, so I don’t expect to be back ‘home’ until after midnight – with some celebratory noise later on from supporters of whichever team wins. The Herald’s front page headline is “Yes We Can” over a large photo of the All Blacks. Erm tonight’s match is actually France v Wales, but like many Kiwi’s it’s really tomorrow’s game that matters. Not only must they get though to the Final, they must must, beat the Aussies.
The two semi-final games will be covered live on 5 tv channels in New Zealand – that’s in a country of just 4.4 million. The total viewing figures-per-channel must be quite small.

I was tipped-off about The New Zealand Maritime Museum by Ross Hunter. It’s a gem. Down on the waterfront, just metres from the throngs of Saturday crowds and RWC supporters milling in the sun, it rather suffers from low visibility, the entrance hidden by a crowded restaurant.

New Zealand’s geographic isolation has served to forge our identity as a country, and as New Zealanders. We are a nation of innovators, of dreamers, and of pioneers. People who are driven to find their own course, to seek out new possibilities with imagination and conviction.
Nowhere stronger is this expression of our New Zealand identity than through our bond with the ocean. From the first discovery by Kupe, to one of the most courageous migrations by the Polynesian peoples, to Abel Tasman and then Cook. Our spirit of exploration has been forged and the boundaries of possibility are broken. From this spirit has emerged many of the world’s greatest maritime pioneers. Voyager New Zealand Maritime Museum honours those people who sailed to the limits of their imagination.

That’s what the website says. I found fascinating sections on the current efforts to protect wildlife, including Greenpeace’s brave campaign to disrupt Japanese whaling; an excellent history of the discovery of New Zealand by successions of explorers from Spain and Portugal, the French, the Dutch, and the British; there is a whole gallery given over to a collection of tribal canoes; the stories of immigrants from Europe, come to make a life in NZ, some as recently as the 1960’s; the craft and industry of boatbuilding, from tiny one-person tubs to harbour tugs; an exhibition of maritime art, and much, much more.

The whole thing is housed in a series of old dock buildings and sheds. Right at the end, a new building is given over to New Zealand’s campaigns in the America’s Cup, with pride of place given to NZL32, the 1995 America’s Cup-winning boat. This is the Formula 1 part of the yachting world, with the same levels of commitment and expenditure, and the gallery truthfully records the failures as well as the successes.

The final gallery is given over to an exhibition of the end of a ship’s life, by photographer Claudio Cambon. He sailed on the last voyage of the US tanker SS Minole, capturing the crew, the ship, and its subsequent beaching in Bangladesh. Here, a whole industry has grown up as ships at the end of their life are run onto a long sloping beach and then dangerously broken up by hand.

As you walk from one gallery to another, and even within them, windows open out onto the ‘real world’ of Auckland harbour, jammed with boats of all sizes, reminding you that this museum is as much about here and now, as about history. If you are in Auckland make time for this place. I really enjoyed it, and many thanks for the tip Ross. Oh, and this is another museum where you are allowed, encouraged even, to take photographs: how refreshing.

Auckland, Maritime Museum to the left

So now it is nearing 6pm – and still three hours to kick-off. The 9pm start is to suit the northern hemisphere broadcasters, with their huge audiences, but it is terribly late to be starting a game. Still the bars and restaurants will be doing very nicely. I’ve seen many more Welsh shirts today, but it is tomorrows game which dominates the press and television.
French sports paper L’Equipe, writing of tonight’s game, calls it ‘Une Bataille Colossale’ ……

“Having rebelled against England, Les Blues intend to cultivate a form of anger to go into battle.
Outside the main station a band is playing, a band of irregulars you might call them, percussion, trumpets, a tubu, some clarinets, probably a dozen people, all dressed in the same uniform, all clearly French. My spirits lift (they weren’t down, but I’ve been missing this kind of accomplished street performance, of which there was lots in France at RWC 2007). I then discover that they are indeed ‘Los Escapateros’, one of the bands I saw in Toulouse, where they were allowed to play inside the stadium, which they did, all the way through the matches. They are leading a casual procession of fans of many nations towards the station entrance. This will be interesting: will they be allowed in, or will officialdom prevail. Well I should know by now, after six weeks in Ne Zealand – it’s much more relaxed than back home, and seems to have fewer jobsworths, whose role is to stop – whatever it was you were about to do. These players play their way onto the main concourse where they give us a rousing “Marseillaise” and then head along the platform and onto the train. The station and train staff seem quite happy (the rail service is outsourced to Veolia, a French-owned company) and the music continues all the way to Eden Park. Sadly, they are not allowed to take their instruments into the ground, a foolish rullng by th RWC organisers. (The president of the International Rugby Board is a Frenchman – we might have expected better).

I find my seat, right in front of the Press pen, where there are well over 100 journos and broadcasters, amongst whom I spot Eddie Butler (Observer) and Richard Williams (Guardian). Actor James(‘Cold Feet’) Nesbitt is sitting a few rows in front of me.

The game is disappointing and although I did want France to win, I thought it was a poor win. The result is Wales 8 – France 9, but the red card to Sam Warburton after 18 minutes, means Wales had to play the rest of the game with one man down, that man being both captain, and a real stand-out player in this whole tournament. I’m in no doubt that the ref’s decision is correct (he has little choice under the rules, which apply to all teams) but it does affect the game, and becomes a major talking point.

Lonely figure of Sam Warburton, sitting out his red card

My view at the end is that whichever team wins tomorrow (Australia v New Zealand) will go on to win the Final; I just can't see France improving on tonight's lacklustre showing. A pity, because when they play at their best, they are wonderful to watch.

Sunday 16th, Auckland. A late start to the game last night, a late journey home, so a slow get-up this morning. There were some mild celebratory disturbances at 6am as (presumably) French supporters came home, but that’s reasonable.

There is something about me and these New Zealand towns and cities. Each seems to have the remains of a volcanic plug, and I have an urge to walk up it – usually on a very hot day. Today I walked about two miles across Auckland, quiet suburban streets and mini-shopping centres, through the Auckland Domain (see last Sunday) to Mount Eden Domain. This is a small park, with a volcano crater at its centre. It’s a stiff walk, on a tarmac road, up which the occasional family car speeds past me. At the top – as always – is a perfect 360 view of the whole of Auckland. Due north, across the water, is Devonport, where I walked up Mt Victoria; a little closer is the Domain and Museum, where I was a couple of hours ago; southwest, and quite close, is the Eden Park stadium; due south are miles of low lying suburbs, full of houses but looking quite green, a benefit of most properties having much more land around them than we’d see back home.

The crater. The tiny shape to the right of the tree shadow is my shadow

As Auckland doesn’t have anything like the traffic levels of London, the ambient noise level outdoors much lower. On Mt Victoria I could hear the cricketers a couple of hundred feet below me. Today I can hear the sound of rehearsals from Eden Park Stadium. At first it’s just loudspeaker announcements and fanfares, but then drifting up on the warm air is the stirring sound of the Australian and then the New Zealand anthem. It is very moving.

The crater, and I’ve never seen one before, is almost perfectly shaped. There is a notice reminding people that this fragile and sacred area is easily damaged: ie. No fun and games down this slope please.  By the time I get to the bottom of the Mount, I’m conscious that it’s just three hours to match-time. Into the city centre, a small café in a side street selling only French wines and beer, and it’s duck confit and a glass of Rhone for Monsieur, sil vous plait. The owner comes over to light the candle on my table. “I bring you a leetle ‘appiness. I know you are an English fan”. Charming.

A vast fleet of free buses are available to speed us out to the stadium (the trains are slow), and the chat onboard mine is about That Red Card. There seems a concensus that Wales could and should have won, even with only 14 men. Three missed kicks should have been certs.

Almost 100% All Black fans

Well, we all know now that the Wallabies are out and that the All Blacks are into the Final – an unfamiliar place for them to be. Final score 20 – 6, and the world can now start to see just now good a coach Graham Henry has been. Dogged by injuries to star players, he has developed such strength in depth, that late replacements can step into the squad and look entirely at home with the style of play, entirely at ease with each other. I’;ve been a fan of their style for some years now, regularly watching the tri-Nations on Sky tv. I’m pretty sure they will easily defeat France next Sunday, and yet….on too many occasions France have surprised us all, pulling a great game from seemingly nowhere. The All Blacks know this better than most. It really is something to look forward to. However, I won’t be watching it live, nor even in New Zealand. I decided about 18 months ago that England would have no chance of progressing in this competition, and therefore I would not spend over $800 NZ on a final ticket. On Thursday I’ll fly to Sydney, for a long weekend catching up with old friends, with whom I’ll watch the Final on tv. More in due course.

Monday 17th October, Auckland.
You’ll find the Coromandel Peninsula on a map, just to the right of Auckland, although you have to drive south east to get onto it. It’s a 90 minute run to Thames, and then another 90 minutes of slow road to get to Whitiangi. I’m having two days away from the city, back in the ‘real’ New Zealand, before I return for my flight out on Thursday. But even out here, long after our respective teams fell out of the competition, there are plenty of campervans with Irish, English and Welsh flags, with a rare Saltire too.

I stopped at noon for a coffee at The Pipiroa Kitchen (it’s just a roadside café, but a good one) and was aware as I reversed into a parking space that a young man in a 4x4, about to depart, had paused to watch and wait to speak to me. He had seen the flags on my van and wanted to talk about…rugby, how my trip had been, what I thought of NZ, where I came from, why England had underperformed. We chatted for about 25 minutes, just leaning on his car. The remarkable thing about this is that it happens to me everyday, on buses, in cafes, at campsites, everywhere. I know this happens in rural Britain but for someone living in London this is a shock until you get used to it. It’s just the way people are here, they are so genuine and friendly, in a quiet way.
And that's it, another week gone. My next posting will come from Australia for I am heading to Sydney later this week.

Many more photographs illustrating this week are here:

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