A Look Inside the Oldest Library in New Zealand

The Oldest Library in New Zealand

You wouldn’t expect to find New Zealand’s first library down an unassuming street in Tauranga. Nor would you expect it to contain a secret trapdoor, under which treasures (and people) could be hidden in the event of attack. Imagine yourself crammed into the 1.8-metre-deep oubliette, trying not to make a sound as invading enemies stomp across the floorboards inches above your head, tearing your precious books from their shelves.

A Beautiful Book at the Elms Mission Station

Thankfully, the library was never actually attacked. It’s a tiny, wooden building on the edge of the Elms Mission Station, completed in 1839. The Elms, then known as Te Papa Mission Station, was established by the Reverend Alfred Brown, who was sent from England to educate the children of other New Zealand missionaries. Living at Te Papa was risky: the spot chosen for the mission station was prone to bouts of intertribal warfare.

Reverend Brown was keen to spread Christianity to the native tribesmen. He taught as many Māori as he could how to read and write, and about Western agriculture. (Or, as the European immigrants of the time no doubt saw it, how to be civilised and farm properly.) Our tour guide at the Elms was, however, proud to point out that Reverend Brown supposedly treated his Māori pupils as friends and fellow human beings, rather than as savages to be tamed.

The First Library in New ZealandIt was Reverend Brown who built the library. He needed to keep his extensive book collection safe and dry. William Gisborne, a nineteenth century New Zealand politician and fellow English immigrant, described it in the following words:

“The room was surrounded with shelves, on which large volumes, heavy to carry, and I daresay, heavy to read, gloomily reposed, while, from among, above and below them long rows of tempting, rosy-cheeked apples, brightly reflecting the ruddy fire, shone in delightful contrast with their more sedate brethren.”

Chapel Bell, The Elms, Tauranga(This quote comes from the Elms Mission Station’s website.) As for the rest of the mission station, you can explore the garden by yourself for free, but if you want to enter any of the buildings, including the library, you’ll need to pay $5 for a tour. I found the tour a little awkward, as it was just me and my parents being talked at by an old lady who was obviously used to addressing tourists and children who have no knowledge of either English or New Zealand history.

The other buildings include an almost puritanically bare chapel, an old workshop, a fencible cottage – if you want to know what the hell fencible means, read my blog about Howick Historical Village – and, of course, the main house. I was delighted to discover that it had a games table, though it’s nowhere near as big as mine and Tim’s monstrosity. (Risk is one of our smallest, least complicated board games. We need a big table.)

The Elms Mission House Games Table

Is it worth visiting? Yes, if you’re interested in the history of Tauranga. There aren’t any proper museums in Tauranga, (except Classic Flyers,) which is surprising. I mean my family moved to Tauranga when I was fifteen and it’s only just occurred to me that it doesn’t have a museum like most places… How odd. So, for now, the Elms Mission Station is the best we’ve got. Apparently, they’re planning to build a proper museum, to go with the city centre and harbourfront upgrade, so hopefully, in a few years…

The Elms Mission House, Tauranga

Of course, if you’re a bibliophile you’ll no doubt already be planning a trip to the Elms Mission Station. While you’re there, check out my list of free things to do in Tauranga.

The Elms Mission House, Tauranga, New Zealand

Te Awamutu, or That Time a Chicken Burst Out of Our Laundry Basket

It’s one of those small towns you drive through on the way to somewhere else. It’s a pleasant, forgettable settlement whose only claim to fame is that Tim and Neil Finn (of Crowded House) come from there. I’m talking, of course, of Te Awamutu. (You may have driven through it.)

Te Awamutu War Memorial Park

Te Awamutu lies half an hour south of Hamilton, on State Highway 3. If you find yourself on a New Zealand self-drive holiday, you’ll probably pass through it on your way to Waitomo. When you do, stop. Make your way to Te Awamutu War Memorial Park off Mutu Street. It’s well worth a look.

Te Awamutu War Memorial Park

Te Awamutu War Memorial Park is an unexpectedly lovely place to stretch your legs. It has a beautiful colonnaded walkway entwined with roses, a tranquil pond with a fairy tale-esque stone bridge, the most interesting war memorial I’ve seen and, most importantly for me, an amphitheatre.

Te Awamutu War Memorial Park

It’s only a small amphitheatre, but it’s rather pretty, being decorated with stone relief carvings and surrounded by roses. Plays are often performed there, a couple of which I’ve been in. If you were wondering about the chicken from the title of this blog, here’s where it enters.

We were staging an afternoon performance of Shakespeare’s Merry Wives of Windsor, the most important prop of which is a laundry basket. (The play’s antagonist, Falstaff, is tricked into hiding inside it with hilarious consequences.)

Te Awamutu War Memorial Park

I should mention at this point that Te Awamutu War Memorial Park is absolutely teeming with ducks and chickens, both of which are very friendly. One particular chicken had come to see the play. It spent some time watching in fascination from the wings. Then, just before we were due to carry the laundry basket on stage, it jumped in.

Well, if it wanted to be part of the show, who were we to turf it out? We carried the laundry basket onto the stage, placing it in the centre as we were meant to… whereupon the chicken burst out, flapping and squawking, and ran away through the middle of the audience. There followed a little improvisation involving telling off the servants for letting a chicken in the house, which the audience found utterly delightful.

A Duck with Its Head in a Bucket

The abundance of amiable fowl seems to attract many locals to the park. Last time I was there, for an evening picnic with my partner, there was an old woman standing in the midst of hundreds of ducks, feeding them from a bucket. The quacking din was incredible!

We noticed one duck had outsmarted the others and was plunging its head into the old woman’s bucket whenever her back was turned. Of course, the presence of such scavengers can make for a less than relaxing picnic. It was a charming sunset, though.

Te Awamutu War Memorial

So don’t just drive through Te Awamutu – take a little time to appreciate the War Memorial Park. There’s even a free camping spot ten minutes up the road from it at Lake Ngaroto. It’s quiet with nice views and clean, flushing toilets – perfect if you hire a campervan for your New Zealand trip.

Te Awamutu Memorial Park

Hamurana Springs

Hamurana Springs, Rotorua, New Zealand

You know what’s great about my parents living in Tauranga? It’s less than an hour’s drive from Rotorua. Now I’m not saying there’s nothing to do in Tauranga – far from it, but Rotorua is a tourist mecca.

There are so many fantastic things to do in Rotorua that I’m not even going to bother listing them here. (See my Top 10 Things to Do in Rotorua and my How to Do Rotorua on the Cheap if you’re interested.)

Last weekend, I visited my parents for Mother’s Day. (For some reason, Mother’s Day in New Zealand coincides with Mother’s Day in the US; not the UK.) Given the year my mum’s had, I thought I’d better turn up in person.

I wanted to take her somewhere a bit different, so Rotorua was the obvious choice. But where in Rotorua? We couldn’t go to any hot pools, as she’s just had surgery on her leg. This also ruled out doing anything adventurous, or anything that would involve a lot of walking or standing around.

If you have any familiarity with Rotorua, you’ll know that doesn’t leave a lot of options.

Hamurana Springs, Rotorua

Hamurana Springs to the rescue.

The walk around Hamurana Springs is short, easy and surprisingly beautiful. Before we’d even got to the springs, I was marvelling at the giant redwood trees bordering the path. It was perfect for my mum, who’s being given another dose of radiation even as I write this.

Redwoods at Hamurana Springs, Rotorua

When you get to the first spring, there are two viewing platforms, one high up and one at the water. You don’t expect it to be quite so clear, but it’s magical. It’s the deepest spring in the North Island – about fifteen metres, though it doesn’t look it.

You’re not allowed to swim in the springs anymore, but many people bring their drink bottles to fill up. I realised that this is the vision many foreigners have of New Zealand, of pure, sparkling streams we can drink from at will. Yeah. Sure.

You may notice something in the water that seems to glow: it’s a painted stone. There are a few such stones placed in various spots around the springs. Trying to find them all is a lovely little addition to an already lovely walk.

Hamurana Springs

I couldn’t get over the way the water rippled, and the way the light reflected upon it. When the sun came out, the water turned the most gorgeous shade of blue. I hadn’t seen anything like it since the glacial streams of the South Island. I couldn’t resist dipping my hand in.

Ripples at Hamurana

The second spring is called Dancing Sands. In order to see why, you have to spend a few moments getting your eye in. As the water rushes up through the sand, it creates a myriad of miniature cyclones that dance upon the streambed. They look like swirls of fairy dust.

Of course, the truly magical part of Hamurana Springs is the colour of the water. It’s not just blue. Beneath the surface lies luscious, emerald foliage. In places, it looks almost deliberate, like the hedges of an underwater maze. Ephemeral sapphires await the daring adventurer.

Foliage at Hamurana

This wonderful walk is completely free, and only fifteen minutes from the centre of Rotorua. You have no excuse not to go!

Six Books, a Bach and a Wizard’s Robe

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.

Not Just Cows and Chlamydia: My First Impressions of Hamilton

I have now lived in Hamilton for two years. It must be doing something right.

POMS AWAY!

Well, I live in Hamilton now. Never thought I’d say that.

For those of you who don’t live in New Zealand, Hamilton is… well, it’s just one of those places. It’s mercilessly mocked by the rest of the country, perhaps a little unfairly.

Cows and chlamydia – that’s what you think of when someone mentions Hamilton. A boring, low-class place, full of upstart dairy farmers, criminals, druggies and teenage parents.

Of course, it’s not just that. Admittedly, I have witnessed more poverty in Hamilton than in either Auckland Central or Tauranga, and the other day I had to walk past a father bellowing, “I’m gonna f**kin’ smash you, c**t!” at his son. However, despite those two negative experiences, I have to say that, so far, I like Hamilton.

waikatoriver

It’s a nice-looking city. I mean, there’s a big river running through it that has some lovely walkways and parks along its…

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A Trip to the Coromandel

A ferry operator with a sense of humour, a tiny community library, and a view to renew the soul…

Last weekend, Tim and I embarked upon a road trip familiar to many Kiwis. Countless tourists – New Zealanders and foreign holidaymakers alike – have endured the narrow, winding coastal roads of the Coromandel. They’ve endured the heat and the travel sickness. They’ve endured the frustration of being stuck behind someone towing a boat. They’ve endured the children in the backseat crying out for a toilet – and they keep going back again and again.

There must be something pretty special about the Coromandel Peninsula, right? Well, for starters, it’s got what I believe to be the best beach in New Zealand – not that we went there this time. This time, we were headed for a little place called Ferry Landing. We joined the steady procession of rental campervans, pulling over every now and then to admire the view. Usually, driving up the Coromandel makes me feel sick, but I was okay this time.

Ferry Landing, Whitianga, Coromandel, New Zealand

The sea sparkled in the sunlight. The weather forecast for the weekend had been miserable, but you can’t rely on weather forecasts, especially in New Zealand. The place we were staying was right by the sea. There was only a thin strip of grass between us and the sand. When we got there, I looked out over the beach and, for a while, simply breathed. It was like inhaling pure peacefulness, listening to the waves rolling in.

One of the best things about the trip was being lulled to sleep by the sound of the waves. I almost missed that when we got back to Hamilton. Other highlights came when we went to Whitianga, a short ferry crossing from Ferry Landing. On the way, we passed a tiny box-of-a-building that turned out to be the local library! The entire building was one small room full of books. I wish it had been open, but then I’d never have made it to Whitianga.

Ferry Landing Library, Whitianga, Coromandel, New Zealand

The ferry from Ferry Landing to Whitianga leaves every ten minutes. When we got on the ferry, we were confronted with a lovely example of Kiwi humour:

Whitianga Ferry Landing Ferry Prices

(In case you can’t see the above picture, it’s a sign listing the ticket prices for various passengers. According to this, adults pay $4, children pay $2, sheep pay $1, and Trump supporters pay $5000!)

I noticed a few of the other passengers chuckling.

We didn’t actually do much in Whitianga. The weekend was more about spending time with family and friends than doing things. We walked along the shore and through the town, and sat for a while in a pub. It started chucking it down with rain, but it didn’t matter. There were a few interesting shops and a museum, which we didn’t go in. Some of the others went to a hot pool complex called The Lost Spring and, by all accounts, loved it.

Ferry Landing, Whitianga, Coromandel, New Zealand

I’d definitely like to visit Whitianga again and explore more of it, and the surrounding area. There are plenty of free overnight parking spots for self-contained campervans around – and in truly beautiful locations too. If you hire a campervan in New Zealand, the Coromandel is a great place to take it. Just watch out on the narrow, winding roads!

The Best Place to Live in New Zealand

Mount Maunganui

POMS AWAY!

Since moving to New Zealand, I’ve lived in four very different places:

1)Waiuku, a sleepy town south of Auckland,

Waiuku

2)Tauranga, a peaceful city in the Bay of Plenty,

Mount Beach

3)Auckland Central, the busiest part of New Zealand’s busiest city, and

Auckland Rangitoto

4)Hamilton, a city that’s mocked by the rest of the country, but actually has a lot going for it.

HamiltonChristmasTree

I’ve also experienced life out at Bethells Beach, as that’s where my partner’s from. He’d tell you it’s the best place to live in the country hands down, but I’m not so sure. Yes, it’s close to a very beautiful beach and boasts magnificent valley views, but it has its disadvantages too.

The mysterious West Coast (Bethells Beach)

So what is the best place to live in New Zealand? Obviously, I can only speak from my own experience, but someone somewhere might find this useful. I’m going to attempt…

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