Tuesday, September 26, 2006

We left here on Monday morning, drove up to Paihia in the Bay of Islands and checked into an apartment at Allegra House, a B&B high up above the town overlooking the bay. It would be difficult to praise this place too highly; perhaps it’s enough to say that a charming Swiss chap, Heinz, and his equally charming English wife Brita run it, and that everything, but everything, works like clockwork. The town itself is very pleasant, with two or three decent restaurants. The season was just getting under way so the town was still pretty quiet, but will be busier next week when the school holidays start. There were signs of this happening when we left on Thursday.

On Tuesday, we walked from Paihia round the headland to Waitangi. This is a famous place in New Zealand history, it was here that the Treaty of Waitangi was signed that ceded sovereignty of the islands to Her Britannic Majesty, in 1840. The house of the then British resident, now known as the Treaty House still stands, though much altered, overlooking the sea, in pretty parkland and with a flagpole on the lawn. The treaty has pretty much defined the relationship between Maori and Pakeha (that’s what the Maori call us, it’s not a derogatory term) ever since, even though from the legal point of view it never carried much weight (according to the Penguin History of New Zealand). From the Treaty Ground at Waitangi we walked to the Haruru waterfalls, along a path that leads through woodland and across a boardwalk through a tidal mangrove swamp. The mangroves are not to be missed; they grow in mud in the intertidal zone of the estuary.

On Wednesday we took the ferry from Paihia over to Russell, which was the first capital of NZ. It grew out of a settlement used by English and American whalers in the early nineteenth century, at which time it was described, possibly by Darwin, as ‘the hell-hole of the Pacific’. The place still has just a bit of the frontier about it. From the town, we walked up to the flagpole and took some pictures of the town and the bay. Even the flagpole has some history to it, having been chopped down by disaffected Maori on three occasions. Some time later the very people who chopped it down rebuilt it as an act of good faith.

On Thursday we started our drive back to Mission Control, staying overnight at a motel in Dargaville, on the west coast. On the way we took a walk into a Kauri forest of the sort that used to cover much of the land here at one time to look at some notable Kauri trees. These can live for two thousand years and grow to enormous sizes. They are beautiful, which is not a word I use, in general. It’s difficult to know what to say about Dargaville; the people there are nice and they do a superb fry-up for breakfast. On Friday, returning from Dargaville to Mission Control, we stopped at the Kauri museum. Don’t laugh, this is one of the best little museums we’ve ever visited. It is devoted in the main to the Kauri tree and the things made from it, including what was once a most valuable product, gum. Most of the exhibits, old engines and other machinery were given by the descendents of early European settlers, together with lots of family documents and other artefacts. It’s difficult to imagine how hard life must have been for the loggers, gum-tappers, gum-miners (lumps of buried fossil gum were found by probing the ground with gum-spears and then dug up) and farmers in the 1860s.

The pictures at the top are (1) Nick on a boardwalk through a mangrove swamp near to Waitangi; (2) A 30-metre long war canoe at Waitangi; (3) Nick standing in front of a venerable Kauri tree; and (4) Nick, reading a notice on a building on the sea front at Russell. This is terrible, all of these pictures are of me, some of Anne to follow, it's a promise.

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