March 25, 2009

To gaze upon the face of ancients

Posted in Uncategorized at 9:05 pm by Chris

Since returning to New Zealand I’ve noticed a real resurgence in the
regional towns. Otorohanga, Tirau, Kawakawa; I don’t remember these
places being so busy, so vibrant, so interesting ten or even
five years ago. Perhaps I’m just noticing the contrast with the
tumbleweed-style isolation and “we don’t take to strangers round these
parts” reception that you get in a lot of Australian small towns, but
I don’t think so. In Kawakawa today, with its Hunterwasser public
toilet and historic railway down the main street, or in Otorohanga
with its weta cutouts on the walls of the pub, I get a feeling that
these towns are up and running with their own sense of identity and
enthusiasm for life. Maybe this is the result of several years of low
unemployment: everyone who wants a job, has one, and the result is
bustling towns with money flowing. Or perhaps the legendary mobility
of people and ideas in New Zealand has swept away whatever tatters of
parochialism might have stopped Tirau from going to town with the
corrugated iron beasties all along the main street, or Napier from
hosting a yearly art deco extravaganza. I don’t know, but I like it,
and I hope it continues.

Yes, I was in Kawakawa today, and indeed the day before yesterday. These two
transitory incursions bracketed some time spent at Coopers Beach, near
the base of the long peninsula that sweeps up to New Zealand’s
northernmost points at Cape Reinga and North Cape (keep an eye on my
flickr stream for pics to appear: it’s non-simultaneous parallelism,
either get used to it and grow an attention span, or bugger
off). Nearby Mangonui gets another nod for taking to life with a will,
although its too small to really qualify for regional town
status. Incidentally, if you ever are in Mangonui, go to the Thai
restaurant and order the Duck In Love. ‘nuf said.

Northland is, in some ways, the forgotten corner of New
Zealand. Inevitably associated with Auckland, which forms a gateway to
the region by virtue of being plonked on the isthmus that one must
necessarily cross to get north, Northland is nevertheless quite a
unique region that doesn’t deserve to be lumped in with
Auckland. Frost-tender crops grow there that can’t be raised elsewhere
in New Zealand. There are patches of tropical-like red soils, and even
the possums have shorter fur (this apparently being an impediment to
using the fur trade as a means to reduce the burgeoning possum
population). Dozens (probably hundreds, actually) of ocean-travelling
yachtsmen use Whangarei as a southern stopover, to avoid the hurricane
season, make repairs, and generally do all the things that you can’t
do out the back of a coral atoll. Northland is also home to the last
remnants of the great Kauri forests. Kauri trees have a presence like
no other living thing I’ve ever seen. I’m not a stranger to tall
tress, indeed I’ve spend a bit of time around trees that are actually
taller than the tallest kauri… but none of them gave them
impression that they could speak, if they felt like it. To gaze at
Tane Mahuta is appreciate just why he was named for the God of
the forest. To merely skim the surface of that feeling, reflect on the
fact that this tree was standing at the height of the Roman Empire.

Having said which, we didn’t actually make it in to see Tane Mahuta on
this trip. But that is a little pilgrimage we’ll have to undertake
someday soon.

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