Honestly, New Zealand DOES Have History

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“New Zealand doesn’t have any history.”

Do you know how many times I’ve heard that since moving here?

“New Zealand was the last major landmass to be settled; it’s too young for anything interesting to have happened.”

It’s not just immigrants that say it. It’s a sentiment shared by many born-and-bred New Zealanders. It’s repeated so often that people simply believe it.

I did.

1024px-bayeux_tapestry_scene57_harold_deathWhen I moved here, I bemoaned the lack of interesting history and – perhaps as an act of homesickness – began to obsess over British history.

I watched every documentary and read every book I could get my hands on. The Britons, the Romans, the Anglo-Saxons, the Vikings, the Normans, the Plantagenets, the Tudors, the Stuarts, the Georgians, the Victorians… and then, at the twentieth century, I lost interest.

I scoffed at New Zealand’s comparatively pathetic past.

School didn’t help.

Maori Chief with Facial Tattoo from the 18th CenturyThe way New Zealand history is…

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Six Books, a Bach and a Wizard’s Robe

waipucove4

Getting away to “the bach” is a Great Kiwi Tradition. A bach is a holiday home, and it’s pronounced like a batch of cookies, not like the Baroque composer.

bach

Baches range from old shacks to modern mansions, although anything too “flash” isn’t really seen as being in the spirit. It’s supposed to be about getting back to basics; enjoying the beach with your family, free from technological distractions. As such, the traditional Kiwi bach is usually quite rundown. Worn-out couches, rusty kettles and board games with missing pieces are commonly found accessories.

Ruakaka Beach

Once you’ve arrived at your bach, there’s nothing to do except go to the beach. When I was younger, I despised it. I thought: I know we’re supposed to be grateful for the little things, but if you’re grateful for this, you’re an idiot. I mean this is the pinnacle of the Kiwi dream? This? But I think I get it now. “Getting it” could be to do with, you know, growing up, but I’ve also had some more positive bach experiences in the last few years.

Ruakaka Beach

I’ve had some “How’s the serenity?” moments:

Yes, that’s an Australian film, but you know… certain attitudes are similar.

Ruakaka Beach

Sometimes, having nothing to do except go to the beach is a good thing. You get there and suddenly nothing matters except the people you’re with. Earlier this year, my partner and I went to a bach with a large group of friends – a New Year getaway. The bach was in Ruakaka, in scorching Northland. When we arrived, Tim nearly passed out from the heat. Wading into the Pacific Ocean was absolute bliss.

Waipu Cove

As nice as Ruakaka Beach is, a short drive up the road lies an even nicer beach: Waipu Cove. After a couple of days lounging around in Ruakaka, Tim and I decided to visit Waipu. We returned with six books and a wizard’s robe.

waipucove5

Our friends joked that only Tim and Abby could go to the beach and come back with books and a LARPing costume. (And if you’re thinking but there are only five books in the photograph – I got another book after it was taken.) There was a mobile library at the beach, you see, and they had a table full of old books they were giving away.

Waipu Cove

“If every beach was like this,” Tim said to me, “we’d get you outside more.” True as that may be, even I’ll admit that Waipu Cove is worth visiting irrespective of the presence of a mobile library. Even the toilet block has a lovely mural painted on it, chronicling the history of the Waipu settlement.

Waipu Cove Mural

As for the wizard’s robe, that came from a junk shop on Waipu’s main street. (Waipu has a few junk – one might hesitate to call them antique – shops.) The town was settled in the nineteenth century by a group of Scottish immigrants who’d had quite a time of it. They were led by a very dour-looking religious chap who fell out with the Presbyterians in Scotland because they weren’t dour enough. He took some members of his clan off to Canada, but the whole thing was a bloody disaster, so they built themselves a ship and sailed to Australia, but Australia was too full of prozzies and booze, so they got another ship and sailed to New Zealand. There they settled, and when the dour guy finally died they let their hair down and started having all the fun they’d been forbidden from having because, apparently, God hates fun. This particular brand fun included nostalgic celebrations of Celtic culture, and Waipu holds annual highland games to this day.

Waipu Museum

That’s what I gathered from Waipu’s rather excellent museum, anyway. It’s worth a visit if you’re up that way. Here’s the website. Apparently, the highland games are worth a visit too. Here’s that website.

For more of my adventures up north, read What to Do in Kerikeri.

A Vintage Train Ride and a Satisfying Walk

Karangahake Gorge, Waikino Station

Every time I go through Karangahake Gorge, I’m mesmerised. I love the way the sunlight peeks over the towering walls of rock. I love the way the water rushes around the boulders. I love the way the trees undulate up the slopes. I also love the old train station at Waikino, as you emerge from the gorge.

Waikino Vintage Railway StationIt’s a proper old train station, is Waikino. It’s got the proper old-fashioned, colonial feel. A vintage train runs between Waikino and the gold rush town of Waihi. Until a couple of weeks ago, I’d never been on it. I’d been to the station café, though, which is very nice. I’m not even a train nerd, (unlike my dad,) and I enjoy the atmosphere. If you’re driving between Auckland and the Bay of Plenty, it’s well worth a stop.

The railway through the Karangahake Gorge to Waihi was completed in 1905. Back then, the area was home to a thriving mining community. Now, the six kilometres of track between Waikino and Waihi are all that’s left. I went there with my family just after Christmas. We parked at the Waikino Station, got the train to Waihi, and then walked back along the river to our car.

Goldfields Historic Railway, Waikino Station

The walk was very easy, flat the whole way and on a well-maintained track. (I suppose it would be, being part of the Hauraki Rail Trail, an eighty-two kilometre bicycle track.) It was also, to my mind, the perfect length. I finished it feeling satisfied that I’d done a decent amount of exercise, exactly as my energy was running out.

It took about two hours, perhaps a little longer. I don’t really know, as my dad kept stopping to “geocache” along the way. I know we walked about ten kilometres, because I had Pokémon Go running the whole time. (There were no Pokémon on the trail, only at either end. I did, however, hatch quite a few eggs during the walk.)

Ohinemuri River, Hauraki Rail Trail

Although the walk was mostly along the river, the views were never outstanding. If you want outstanding views, go for a walk in Karangahake Gorge itself. It was pleasant enough, however. We deliberately went on an overcast day, knowing the walk would have little shade to offer. Though the wind when we got off the train at Waihi was bitterly cold, the walk soon warmed us up.

Karangahake Gorge Train Cogs

At the end of our walk – just past the bridge over the river and the tunnel under the road that would take us back to the Waikino Station – we found a few enormous, old cogs. They marked the beginning of another walk, one that, by now, we were far too tired to embark upon. We needed a good feed. Happily, we had Christmas leftovers waiting for us at home!

The Goldfields Historic Railway between Waikino and Waihi has a carriage for bikes, and you can hire bikes at the Waikino Station. If you’re on a New Zealand campervan hire tour, you can stay the night at the Waihi Station for just $10. I wouldn’t say this vintage train ride and walk is a must-do, but something that takes you through the Karangahake Gorge certainly is!

Honestly, New Zealand DOES Have History

A drawing one of Tasman's crew did of "Murderers' Bay"

“New Zealand doesn’t have any history.”

Do you know how many times I’ve heard that since moving here?

“New Zealand was the last major landmass to be settled; it’s too young for anything interesting to have happened.”

It’s not just immigrants that say it. It’s a sentiment shared by many born-and-bred New Zealanders. It’s repeated so often that people simply believe it.

I did.

1024px-bayeux_tapestry_scene57_harold_deathWhen I moved here, I bemoaned the lack of interesting history and – perhaps as an act of homesickness – began to obsess over British history.

I watched every documentary and read every book I could get my hands on. The Britons, the Romans, the Anglo-Saxons, the Vikings, the Normans, the Plantagenets, the Tudors, the Stuarts, the Georgians, the Victorians… and then, at the twentieth century, I lost interest.

I scoffed at New Zealand’s comparatively pathetic past.

School didn’t help.

Maori Chief with Facial Tattoo from the 18th CenturyThe way New Zealand history is taught in schools seriously needs overhauling. Every year, we got the same old sanitised version of how the Treaty of Waitangi went down, the mythologised version of what happened with the ANZACs at Gallipoli, and… well… not much else. (I remember doing something about Victorian colonists’ journeys to New Zealand at primary school, and something about the Maori migration route through the Pacific in Year Nine Social Studies.) We were practically taught to believe that New Zealand history was boring. Even when I got to Seventh Form, my History teacher said, “Well, we can either do the New Zealand module or the Tudors and Stuarts module, and the New Zealand module is boring as f**k.” (He may not have used those exact words.)

One of the reasons I didn’t do History at university was I didn’t want to have to slog through all the New Zealand stuff before I could get to the interesting stuff. I kind of regret that now. (Except not really, because I did Classical Studies instead, which I absolutely adored.)

Then I started writing this blog.

I was no longer just living in New Zealand – I was analysing it. Really thinking about it. Whenever I visited somewhere, I wasn’t just looking at it and going, “Oh, that’s nice,” I was actually making an effort to learn about it.

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Rotorua Museum

I remember – it was nearly three years ago, before Tim and I went to Europe – I visited Rotorua with my parents. We’d been to Rotorua many times before. We’d even been to Rotorua Museum many times before. But never before I had engaged with Rotorua’s history quite so dramatically. I was fascinated.

It was honestly a turning point in my life. I came back from Rotorua renewed, with a newfound appreciation for New Zealand history. I wanted to find out more.

The Stone Store, Kerikeri

If you’re one of my regular readers, you might have noticed a certain obsession with New Zealand history of late. Now, whenever I hear someone parroting the view that New Zealand doesn’t have any history, I excitedly reel off a list of places they can visit. I even wrote an article about it on my new website, trippla.nz, where I provide holiday inspiration in the form of New Zealand travel itineraries. The article is called A Magical History Tour of the North Island, and you should definitely check out at least some of the places I mention.

Of course New Zealand has history! Maori people have been living here for a thousand years, give or take three hundred. Yes, it’s all oral history (and a bit of archaeology) until the Europeans arrive, but that doesn’t mean it’s non-existent. And the Europeans arriving unleashes a whole host of “interesting” historical events! Perhaps one of the reasons New Zealand history isn’t taught in detail is quite simply white guilt.

Over the years I’ve heard a few people, mostly older white New Zealanders, say things like, “Leave the past where it is. We don’t want to be stirring up old grievances,” and, “We should be promoting unity, not pointing the finger.”

Richmond Cottage, New Plymouth

Richmond Cottage, New Plymouth

Don’t you just hate it when people can’t separate history and politics? What’s wrong with looking at the simple facts, saying, “This is what happened,” and learning from it, instead of getting angry and trying to deny it when, really, it had nothing to do with anyone alive today? I mean come on! Everyone was a dick to each other in the past. Oh, hell, not just in the past – everyone’s a dick to each other today – just look at the world!

And, yes, people use history to suit their own purposes all the time. That’s why you have to look at multiple histories of the same events, told by different people, to get a balanced idea of what really happened.

Temple Cottage, Kihikihi

Temple Cottage. Kihikihi

New Zealand may not have any medieval castles, but it’s got hill forts. Its history includes war, discovery, hardship, bravery, natural disasters, social triumphs, cannibalism, frontier towns, true love, miracles… (Well, okay, the last two are from The Princess Bride, but you get the point.) Plenty of interesting historical events have happened in New Zealand, despite its relative youth as a country. Obviously nowhere near as many as somewhere like England or China, but enough that New Zealand’s history shouldn’t be scoffed at.

Although I may still scoff at it as a joke sometimes. I am English, after all.

Lion vs. Kiwi, the National Animals of England and New Zealand

Corsets, Clockwork and a Cicada

kihikihi-historic-house-exterior

Steampunk Market in Kihikihi, you say? I’m there!

Kihikihi is a small town half an hour south of Hamilton. I’d never been there before, but I’m very glad I went. The Steampunk Market took place in the old Town Hall, but there were other historic buildings to explore as well. These included one of the loveliest wooden churches I’ve seen in New Zealand!

kihikihi-church

The name Kihikihi means ‘cicada’ – it’s onomatopoeic, you see. There’s a sculpture of a cicada outside the church, observing every car driving in and out of the town. I must admit, I wasn’t expecting to enjoy walking around the town quite as much as I did.

kihikihi-cicada

The market wasn’t very large, but there were lots of people there and lots of pretty costumes! Of course, there were corsets for sale. And an abundance of jewellery made out of watch cogs. And top hats and goggles and old bits of junk that looked vaguely cool. That’s what steampunk’s all about!

kihikihi-town-hall

Further along the street from the Town Hall, there was a colonial jail and house, which were open for viewing. It was a beautiful day. The white, wooden exteriors gleamed in the sunlight. On the veranda of the house, as there so often is, was an old woman spinning wool.

kihikihi-historic-house

Naturally I dressed up.

kihikihi-church-portrait

I seriously can’t wait until we do another South Island campervan trip, because I want to visit the steampunk capital of New Zealand, Oamaru. Oamaru has a really cool Victorian Precinct selling books, antiques, jewellery and art. In the meantime, I’ll have to settle for historic villages closer to home, such as Howick.

kihikihi-historic-house-exterior

With its heritage trail and collection of second-hand shops, including a 1920s shop was unfortunately closed when we were there, Kihikihi might just be worth visiting – on your way down to Waitomo, perhaps?

The Otuataua Stonefields

Otuataua Stonefields

When you’re an immigrant, you spend a lot of time at the airport, picking up visiting relatives. I’ve been to Auckland Airport many times, but I never knew about the important archaeological site right next to it! The Otuataua Stonefields are a potential World Heritage Site and they’re woefully underappreciated. I only learned of their existence because I stumbled upon this webpage whilst researching another article. Of course, I had to go.

Otuataua Stonefields

As a Brit living in New Zealand, I miss seeing stone ruins and walls. Even though I left England at the age of ten, the sight of them still makes me sentimental. I went to a fellow British expat’s house a while back, and I found myself almost tearing up at the dry stone wall he’d built in his garden. Silly, I know. The Otuataua Stonefields feature dry stone walls built by nineteenth-century English settlers, but the site goes back much further than that.

Otuataua Stonefields

It’s a little tricky to find, being kind of out of the way. You’d think a site of such significance would have large signs pointing to it. As we drove through Mangere towards Ihumatao Quarry Road, we began to see lots of signs of different sort: handmade signs protesting a new housing development – practically on top of the Otuataua Stonefields. Seriously? I know Auckland’s going through a housing crisis, but to build five hundred new properties in that particular place shows a serious lack of respect.

Otuataua Stonefields

Ihumatao Village is the oldest settlement in Auckland. A twelfth-century shell midden was found on the nearby Puketutu Island, which is amongst the earliest evidence of human occupation New Zealand has. The descendants of those Polynesian pioneers still live in the area. To them, the land is sacred. The area upon which the houses will be built includes lava caves that were used as burial chambers, but those will apparently be protected, along with “many” of the historical stone walls – see this New Zealand Listener article.

Otuataua Stonefields

As well as European dry stone walls, the Otuataua Stonefields Historic Reserve contains, among other features, the remains of kumara pits, sheltered gardens and ancient Maori buildings. It’s very beautiful to walk around, especially with the Manukau Harbour as a backdrop. I’d recommend wearing hiking boots, though. The paths are nothing more than narrow trails in the long grass, and the signposts are old and unclear. There’s a lot of up and down and stumbling.

Otuataua Stonefields

The place could do with a bit of TLC. There was a bag of dog mess at the entrance, underneath an information board that looked a little worse for wear. It seems such a shame, because I really enjoyed walking around the Otuataua Stonefields. There’s even an avocado orchard that you’re allowed take avocadoes from! The reserve could be a wonderful tourist attraction, especially being so close to the airport, and it seems there were once plans to make it so.

Otuataua Stonefields

To find out more about Ihumatao, the Otuataua Stonefields and the opposition to the housing development, see this website. I hope the peninsula isn’t ruined, and that the site eventually gets the respect it deserves. In the mean time, it’s still good to visit. If you’re into history, or just want to take a walk somewhere interesting with beautiful views, it’s a great place to kill an hour or two. It certainly satisfied my craving for dry stone walls!

Otuataua Stonefields

A Stroll through History

Howick Historical Village

I learnt a lot about the history of Auckland last weekend, both Maori and European. I walked across the Otuataua Stonefields, an archaeological site encompassing one of New Zealand’s earliest settlements, and I visited the Howick Historical Village. I greatly enjoyed my time at each of these places and definitely recommend including them on your New Zealand travels. I’ll talk about the historical village this week; the stonefields next week. So come on, grab your pretty, floral bonnets and step with me back in time to the Fencible Period.

Howick Historical Village

You’re probably wondering, as you search for your pretty, floral bonnet, what on earth the Fencible Period is. Well I was just as confused as you are now, but one of the first things you see upon entering Howick Historical Village is a sign providing a helpful explanation. ‘Fencible’ comes from the word ‘defencible’. There were a few ‘Fencible’ settlements around Auckland, made up of retired British Empire soldiers and their families. The soldiers were offered free passage to New Zealand, land and a cottage in return for seven years of military service. If anyone were to attack Auckland, they’d have to come through the ‘Fencibles’ first.

Howick Historical Village

Howick Historical Village comprises over thirty restored buildings from the mid-nineteenth century. The range of buildings is quite impressive, but the first place we headed for was the café at the entrance. (We’d just driven up from Hamilton and we were famished.) It’s a really good café, actually, with a nice verandah. I was with my partner, Tim. He’d already been to the village – on a school trip when he was a kid – and he wasn’t all that keen on going again. In the end, though, he was glad he did. He found it a lot better than he remembered, possibly because he’s able to appreciate the history more now.

Howick Historical Village

There was hardly anyone in the village, as we arrived later in the day, so walking around it was lovely and peaceful. (Despite the rugby match going on next-door!) It cost us $15 each to get in, but it was worth every penny. It’s better, I think, than the Taranaki Pioneer Village, which is very similar. The map we were given at the beginning was clear and contained good information about each of the buildings. We spent about two hours going round, but we did read all the information boards quite thoroughly. Tales about people immigrating to New Zealand always resonate with me – I’m so glad we live in the 21st century!

Howick Historical Village

The village was filled with lots of nice, little touches. In the schoolroom, for example, a somewhat creepy recording of children singing was playing. I didn’t know they used to have to sing their ABCs to the tune of God Save the Queen! While I liked having each building to ourselves, I wish we’d gone on a Live Day. On the third Sunday of every month, excluding December, the village comes to life, populated by costumed villagers. Tim knows a guy that does blacksmithing there. Oh, and you can have photos dressed up as well – how did I miss that? Dressing up in historical costumes is one of my favourite things to do!

Howick Historical Village

Howick Historical Village taught me a few things I wouldn’t otherwise have known. The history there is fantastically presented. It’s a brilliant place to go for locals and tourists alike. Be sure to check out more Places to go around Auckland that are fun and educational and I’ll see you next week.