Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Farewell to the Land of the Long White Cloud

After all the excitement of the Art Deco weekend - my picture there I may say with pride has been widely admired - my narrative becomes more humdrum. I deliberately write little about my hosts and friends since as I said before not everyone wants details of home and doings published to the world. My readers are I presume all my friends and family but there must be an occasional web browser who finds this blog. Perhaps indeed it may become a cult. The paucity of commnenIs does not suggest this. Comments and particularly corrections by local residents are much to be welcomed.

So to resume. I moved on from my cousin Graham and his wife Marjorie in Napier, Hawkes Bay (there is I believe some dispute as to whether there should or should not be an apostrophe) about 80 miles south to Palmerston North. I took the second of two possible routes for the first part of the journey and passed through vineyards and orchards before rather higher ground carried forests as well as pasture.

Since New Zealand has a mountainous spine like the Pennines only bigger. It has few crossing points and the population is well scattered there is not the network of roads to which we are accustomed and I had the choice of one of two roads for the first part of this journey and then of only one. Off the main roads are numerous small turnings each leading to a few farms, duly signposted and nearly all labelled ‘No Exit’. As with much else of which I write, look at Google Earth or Maps to see what I mean.

As I approached the hills I passed through a district settled by Scandinavians – the town Dannievirke and also Norsewood, a little settlement now by-passed and where I had a not very satisfactory snack. I should have done better at the Hotel a typical pub, Here are some views:

Here is another picture. As with every other little place on New Zealand and Australia there is a War Memorial with an impressively long list of names from the First and Second Wars. In Britain we too often forget what the ANZAC did. But as I say to people here, the names on the memorial in Broadmayne were of men who had never been ten miles from Broadmayne in their lives and to whom Flanders was as far away as it was to the ANZAC.

I pressed on to the south towards the hills now following the railway (3foot 6 in gauge and very winding – unfenced too) and the Manawatu (Manna- wat – tu) river as it was funnelled into a gorge. Before that I turned down a side road over the bridge pictured below to a cafĂ© tucked away in the woods. The one lane bridge is again typical of country areas.

On either side of the gorge there are extensive wind farms on the hills. Some towers may be seen in the picture. They are a feature of the landscape visible for many miles and not out of place on the hills which are otherwise sheep pasture. I should not like such installations any closer to habitation than are these.

The road wound down the left side of the gorge which meant all the places to park where on the riverside so no pictures. The gorge is striking but the cliffs each side are only two hundred feet or so high. The railway is the other side of the river.

Then the road dropped into the plain and Palmerston North. The town of some 20,00 inhabitants at a guess and laid out on a grid pattern with wide streets is an agricultural marketing centre and the home of Massey University where I was able to call and talk usefully with colleagues. It is also the home of my young cousin and his wife with whom I stayed.

The principal centre of the district used to be Foxton on the west coast and now a yachting harbour and rather featureless holiday home centre. Coastal shipping was the principal and indeed the only means of communication in New Zealand before the railway came in the second half of the 19C and later the motor car. The car must have been a major improvement for the farmers. Instead of an all-day drive with a wagon into town and perhaps having to stay the night, they had easy contact and of course their children could get to school.

Before that road transport was by ox cart through the Bush. The area of Dannivirke and Norsewood was in the 40-mile Bush and the first settlers hauled their supplies over unmade tracks by the 2 mph oxcart. Only the fertile coastal areas offered accessibility and transport for their produce to the farmers. The same was true in England to a lesser extent. Towns by-passed by the railway in the 19C withered and ugly new centres prospered. In Dorset I think of hill-top Shaftesbury which decayed while Gillingham nearby on the flat and on the rail prospered.

I had an enjoyable few days in Palmerston in the 1910 wooden single-story house which is being patiently restored with period features. I was take to a party at a farmhouse in the country where I had great hospitality and the best cold beef I can remember. The beef of course came from the farm.

I visited a steam engine Museum, started by the retired proprietor of an engineering company and still run entirely by him and his wife. They have some massive machines which are in steam on specified days which alas I missed. Here is one engine, a patent slip engine designed to haul vessels up onto a slipway:

The interesting thing to me about it that it was built by Day Summers in Southampton. That is a name I recall. My father had his first job there in the office. Here is the name plate on the engine:

Then it was another 80 miles south alog the west country lined with little holiday resorts and second homes until I reached the suburban rail terminus where suburban Wellington began in earnest concentrated down the Hutt Valley to the sea.

Wellington has a fine harbour almost surrounded by steep hills and cliffs. The city occupies a narrow coastal shelf leaving the suburbs to climb up the hills. Alternatively commuters and business travel a few miles along the coast to the Hutt Valley extending north with more space. From Wellington it is about 15 miles across the strait to Picton the ferry terminus in the the South Island. One must remember that it is always the North Island and the South Island, never just North Island and South Island.

I found the car rental depot tucked away in a little street balance on a small bluff and had a lift back to the airport which occupies a flat isthmus and so has sea at both ends of the happily adequately long runway. So through the sirport where $NZ 25 were collected from me, cash only, at the last moment and the currency exchange had no Australian dollars in stock - evidently a surprise that anyone was going there.

In NZ the two dollar coins are bigger than the one dollar coins. In Australia the one dollar coins are bigger than the two dollar. Justy one of the confusing things of the world like the American dollar notes which are all of the same size, colour and basic design for all denominations. This explains the traditional American bill-fold but is not helpful in handing out the right money.

There was of course nothing like the old Bank of England high denomination notes. I never handled more than a five-pound note, large, black printed on white paper with a handsome if meaningless promise in script on its face. One always had to write one's name and address on the back when using one photo identity in those happy times was not needed. When they were returned to the Bank they were always cancelled never to be issued again.

I left New Zealand with regret. The weather had been pleasant, though rain in Palmerston and all the people kind. I had my hair cut (no tips!) in Trardale the suburb of Napier in which my cousin Graham lives. The barber said to me, "You're a new face in the Bay."

I replied, "You said that the last time I was here - two years ago."

I did though have some problems with Camembert Cheese. New Zealand is a big dairy country and has some very good cheese as well of course as the usual processed kind. The splendid state of the art new supermarket in Taradale has an extensive cheese counter and I bought some camembert which was solid creamy-brown. I took it back and the manager explained that it was NZ Camembert - all his stock of various brands was the same. No soft whie inside gradually ripening to a ore solid consistency. Australian Camembert is normal but sold definitely on the ripe side I find. Mature Cheddar on the other hand though not cheap was excellent. The supermarket presented me some in addtion togving me my money back so I had no complaint.

A three hour flight saw me at Sydney, a tedious change via bus from the International to the Domestic Terminal and on to Adelaide. More in my next.

Your peripatetic correspondent.


  1. Jonathan Marshall13 March 2009 at 04:28

    Great post, John.

    Note that Palmerston North, though certainly provincial, actually has around 80,000 people (75543 according to the 2006 census).

    I'm off to the supermarket to get something for dinner - will keep an eye out for some white camembert!

  2. Dear Broadmeadblogger,
    Thanks for your latest most interesting and informaive post. Your comment about Bank of England notes reminds me that my first proper paypacket came in crisp 'white' virgin fivers (not many a time I hasten to add).In your absence the B of E has announced that it is issuing 75,000,000,000 pounds Stirling followed by another 75,000,000,000 and still more if the banks cannot overcome their constipation. Of course they are not actually printing the stuff (not enough paper?). They call it 'quantitative easing' or, as someone wrily remarked, 'queasing' which seems better to capture the uneasy feeling it engenders. Anyway you will be safely back in dear old blighty before the inevitable galloping inflation takes off. Broadmayne is looking more springlike with daffs and forsythia in bloom. Temperatures in double figures (just).
    Take care.
    John F.

  3. It's good to hear from you. I shall take it under advisement and avoid NZ camembert - I like mine runny. Enjoy Australia.