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

Kaiate Falls

Kaiate Falls

Hello, everyone – I’m back! Firstly, thank you to all the readers who messaged me over the Christmas break. It means a lot – not only that some people enjoy my writing, but that they actually find it helpful! Yay!

I suppose I should have expected the sudden rush of views, what with people googling where to visit over Christmas. I certainly found myself googling new places to visit, which is how I found the beautiful Kaiate Falls.

My partner and I were staying with my parents in Tauranga, in New Zealand’s Bay of Plenty. Tauranga is a fantastic place for a holiday. My 10 Free Things to Do around Tauranga happens to be one of the articles contributing to the sudden rush of views, and now I think I should make Kaiate Falls number eleven. Just look at the pictures I got!

Kaiate Falls

Kaiate Falls

Kaiate Falls

The walk around Kaiate Falls isn’t terribly long, but it does get quite steep. Despite the heat of the day, I was glad not to be visiting the falls in winter. I had the feeling that the paths would become uncomfortably muddy and slippery in wet weather. There were many people swimming in the falls, despite the sign at the top advising against it. I suppose as long as you don’t have any open wounds, and don’t swallow any of the water… It really is a pity about New Zealand’s waterways.

Kaiate Falls

But they’re lovely to look at. Check out The North Island’s 10 Best Waterfalls – although I’d probably replace Hunua Falls with Kaiate Falls now!

Kaiate Falls

After going to the falls, we went to the nearby Papamoa Beach. There’s nothing particularly special about Papamoa Beach, but the Bluebiyou Restaurant, which overlooks it, has wonderful food. Every mouthful of my mushroom risotto tasted divine, but I wanted to order everything on the menu! I’m looking forward to going back next time I’m in Tauranga.

Although I don’t think Papamoa Beach is particularly special, it’s still a very popular beach. And, I suppose, if it was the first New Zealand beach you’d ever seen, you’d be impressed. It’s not as crowded as Mount Maunganui’s main beach, being further along the coast from the Mount, and you can still bodyboard there.

Kaiate Falls

So… Kaiate Falls: if your visit to the Bay of Plenty is fleeting, don’t bother with the falls, as there are lots of other things you should see first, BUT if you’re going to be there a while, the falls are a great place to go. And here’s a bonus: if you have a self-contained campervan rental, you can stay at Kaiate Falls for up to three nights for FREE, and you don’t even have to book. For more New Zealand campervan hire holiday advice, check out my tips for travelling New Zealand in a motorhome.

Hope you’re all still having a wonderful summer. (Or winter!) See you next week.

Jazzing It Up for Easter

Every Easter since 1963, the sunny city of Tauranga has hosted New Zealand’s National Jazz Festival. My parents live in Tauranga, so, of course, they always go. This year, I went with them.

Despite the bad weather warnings, Easter 2016 was scorching. There were lots of ladies in absolutely lovely dresses! Everyone was having a great time, drinking cold beers and sparkling wines, and dancing to the various different saxophones.

At the Tauranga Jazz Festival 2016

Five stages were set up at intervals along the Strand, Tauranga’s main street of bars and restaurants. It overlooks the harbourfront, where there’s a fantastic playground for kids. This weekend, there were a few fairground rides as well. Unfortunately, I was too big for the bouncy castle!

It cost a gold coin to enter. My family headed for our favourite pub, Brew, passing this quirky pop-up bar along the way…

At the Tauranga Jazz Festival 2016

It was quite crowded. Well of course it was. The Jazz Festival gets over 60,000 people attending now. (It takes place over a few days in a few different locations.) The atmosphere was great. I mean loud music and crowds aren’t necessarily my thing, but it was okay sitting at the edge of things with a nice glass of bubbly.

So if you’re coming to New Zealand and you find yourself in the Bay of Plenty area around Easter, head to Tauranga. There’s lots to do round there anyway. Check out my 10 Free Things to Do around Tauranga article for inspiration.

A Tortoise Hood Ornament on a Vintage Car

And, oh yeah, there were vintage cars there as well. I thought this was quite sweet.

Classic Flyers – Somewhere to Go if You’re in the Bay of Plenty

Something you might not know about the Tauranga/Mount Maunganui area is it has a rather good aviation museum. It’s called Classic Flyers and you can find it at Tauranga Airport. Now I’m not really interested in planes, but, unfortunately for me, my dad is, which is why I found myself there a few weeks ago. Nevertheless, I was pleasantly diverted.

RedPlane

I’d been to Tauranga Airport a few times, picking up my visiting grandfather and attending the Tauranga Airshow, but I’d never been to the museum. It has a surprisingly nice café that’s wonderfully decorated, and the gift shop is a haven for modelling nerds. It’s a very small museum – the size of a hangar, basically, but we managed to spend quite a bit of time there.

It cost $15 each to get in and there was a kid’s birthday party going on when we arrived. I was jealous of them climbing into the gunner tower – what is that thing? Is it called a gunner tower? I obviously wasn’t paying much attention. I was too distracted by the Star Wars music going through my head. You know, this bit:

My dad’s been to Classic Flyers heaps. He was taking flying lessons. You can do that there, and book one-of flights in classic planes. Dad learned how to fly a glider because that was cheapest. I’m sure he’d rather have flown a Spitfire. There’s a Spitfire in the museum, or at least a full-scale replica. I’m sure it’s great if you love old planes. There’s this biggish one you can go in. I hit my head.

There was an awesome temporary exhibit on about the experiences of the local ANZACS – the Australians and New Zealanders sent off to fight in World War I. 2015 is the centenary of the Gallipoli tragedy, so there’s been special emphasis put on ANZAC commemorations this year. The exhibit was beautifully done and worth the ticket price alone.

Uh, what else to say about it? Planes. If you’re travelling around New Zealand and/or looking for something to do in Tauranga/Mount Maunganui, and if you’ve got kids, or you’re especially interested in aviation history… or if you’re looking for a nice café, I suppose… drop in on Classic Flyers.

AreYouMyMummy

P.S. I found this in the ANZAC exhibit and simply couldn’t resist… Any Doctor Who fans in? All together now: “Are you my mummy?”

The Alien World of White Island

Have you ever visited somewhere so unique that you rave about it years later? It’s been six years since my family went to New Zealand’s White Island, and I still find myself thinking about it and talking about how amazing it is. I can’t believe how few of my friends have been!

White Island is an active volcano out in the Bay of Plenty. It’s a small island, but it looms large in my memory. I remember the huge clouds of dense, white steam billowing from it as we approached in the ferry. It was so exciting, like coming upon a lost world. We’d already been treated to the sight of dolphins that day – they’d surrounded our ferry as we left Whakatane and played with us for so long we almost forgot where we were going – so, as you can imagine, things were pretty magical.

The island looked like a broken crown. As our ferry slowed and bobbed up to the jetty, I began to detect the rotten egg smell of sulphur. It was a scent I was familiar with from Rotorua. Some of the other tourists muttered complaints about it, but I liked the smell: it made the experience more immersive. It’s not that bad anyway.

As we disembarked onto the alien beach, we were given bright yellow hardhats as a precaution. They matched the streaks of sulphur in the dark grey sand. A powder-blue stream braided its way down to the sea. I remember the joy of stepping from stone to stone to cross it. You’re not allowed to wear sandals if you visit White Island. I suppose there’s a danger of stepping in a small spurt of boiling water, or a puddle of acid. The rocks are quite sharp too. But this stream wasn’t dangerous.

White Island is aptly named – much of the island looks like it has been doused with white powder, but there are many other colours too. It’s actually quite wonderful how colourful it is. On a rock face so veined it looked like a withered leaf, I saw reds and blues and pinks and purples and no, I wasn’t on drugs. The most astonishing colour was the green of the acid lake – negative one on the pH scale and no safety barrier!

Even the air is slightly acidic on White Island. It made my freshly shaved legs sting – not unpleasantly; it was more of a tingle. Some of the men in our party experienced the same thing on their faces, and occasionally my eyes felt as though I was cutting onions. It’s advisable to wear old clothes when you go to White Island, as there’s a small risk of certain garments changing colour. I was fine, but my grandpa’s beige shoes turned pink, which he wasn’t too happy about! I wonder what being on the island for too long would do to your skin.

People did live on the island at times. Between the 1880’s and the 1930’s, various attempts were made at mining White Island for sulphur, which was used to make match heads and fertiliser. It was a dangerous job.  In 1914, all ten of the miners living there were killed when a section of the crater collapsed, causing a lahar to flow over them. But their cat survived, so that’s something.

The corroded shells of the abandoned miners’ buildings and rusted cogs add to the island’s eeriness as you wend your way through bubbling pools and plumes of stream. The crusty ground feels disconcertingly hollow in places. We stopped near a yellow-streaked waterfall and the guide pointed out strange clusters of crystals. It was like we were in an episode of Star Trek, on the alien planet of the week.

I’d never been anywhere in my life that was so… different. I suppose that’s why I remember it so fondly. It was beautiful, but it was weird and haunting and a total feast for the senses. You’re standing on an active volcano, seeing the steam and the machinery and the colours; you’re also hearing the bubbling, a rumbling like the earth is hungry; smelling the sulphur; feeling the heat and the acid whispering upon your skin. You can even taste the volcano – sort of dusty and metallic.

White Island

Some people had a swim in the sea when our tour was done. I didn’t. I just sat and looked at the volcano. I wanted to imprint it on my memory and I guess it worked.

If you’re interested in visiting White Island, check out www.whiteisland.co.nz. It’s expensive, but it’s a long tour and the price includes food. Also, it’s highly likely you’ll encounter dolphins on the ferry, so that saves you paying for a separate dolphin tour. To find out more about dolphin tours, read my Top Ten Places to See Dolphins in New Zealand.

Why Living in Tauranga Ruins You for Life

I live in Tauranga, New Zealand. But not for much longer. The time has come to fly the nest.

To Hamilton.

Laugh all you want. Hamilton’s a nice place. (I’ve written about it here – fingers crossed I won’t have to eat my words!) But it’s not as nice as Tauranga.

Living in Tauranga has ruined me for anywhere else.

Just yesterday, we visited our local beach and took a few pictures.

Mount Beach 2Tauranga Rocks 4Pilot Bay

Yes, that’s our local beach. That’s Mount Maunganui, known locally as the Mount. Well, actually, as the Mount is situated at the end of a very narrow peninsula that has a beach on either side, that’s two of our many local beaches. And if you walk around the base of the Mount, you’ll find many more miniature beaches and so be able to claim your own private beach. God, I love living in Tauranga.

Mount Bench 2

Tauranga is the perfect place for a holiday. In fact, my family came here for a holiday about ten years ago. I never imagined we’d end up living here.

Mount Maunganui Beachside Holiday ParkThere’s a holiday park right at the foot of the Mount. (That’s it in the photograph.) If you ever hire a campervan in New Zealand, you should totally take it there.

There are hot pools right next-door. Locals get a discount, (you just have to take in a bill or something to prove you live in Tauranga,) but so do patrons of the holiday park.

Also, just across the road is a very nice ice cream parlour called Copenhagen Cones. This place even does baby cones for $1 – why, oh why can’t ALL ice cream parlours do this?

Proud TuiYesterday, we took advantage of the glorious spring weather to walk around the base of the Mount. The sun was really hot, but the Mount base track is partly shaded and you get a cooling breeze off the sea. The pohutukawa trees on both sides of the track were teeming with tuis showing off to attract mates. In summer, the track is resplendent with the Christmas-red blooms of the pohutukawa.

I found a wonderful place for a picnic.

Mount Bench

And I observed a native Kiwi in its natural habitat.

Native Kiwi

It was a good day.

Mount Base Track

 

McLaren Falls

Just outside Tauranga, McLaren Falls Park is a beautiful place. You can feed the ducks and kayak on Lake McLaren, surrounded by stunning trees. You can walk around the lake – so peaceful, and the path’s of a decent length without being strenuous. You can camp there, and it’s got so many wonderful picnic spots – you’re spoilt for choice. Best of all, it’s got the waterfalls.

Last time I went, a few weeks ago, the waterfalls were quite disappointing because it had been a long, dry summer. It was a good chance, though, to see the interesting rock formations that would otherwise have been hidden by water. We scrambled over the rocks and went across the top of the falls. Here, various natural pools just beg you to swim in them. You have to take your togs.

(Oops. ‘Togs’ – that was very Kiwi of me. I meant to say ‘cossie’. And by that, of course, I mean ‘swimming costume’.)

Falls4As you sit with your legs dangling in the water, you look up the wide river and the rocks and trees towering up either side of it, and you just have to appreciate the awesome power of nature. Then you look down. Brave young people jump often jump down the falls, but I’m not one of them. It can be fun watching them from the bridge, though.

Falls2The park has a strangely North American feel to it, although some bits also seem very English to me. It’s because of the trees – New Zealand natives aren’t much in evidence there.

It reminded me of the family picnics when I was a kid, back when we still lived in Britain. The sound of the ducks gossiping and the swans beating their heavy wings, accompanied by the wind in the trees… rippling over the water…

The only bad thing about McLaren Falls is the cornucopia of biting insects. I went well prepared last time. As soon as I stepped out the car I began vigorously applying repellent, but even as I did I was squashing mozzies against my legs. After that I was fine, though. I escaped the park unscathed.

Campervan2Despite the insects, McLaren Falls Park is a fantastic place to camp. Waking up to that scenery is an absolute privilege and it’s only $5 per adult – kids under 16 are free. You don’t need to book and you can stay for up to three nights. You’ve got free barbecues, an animal park next-door and, after dark, you’ve got glowworms. Check it out if you’re ever in the Bay of Plenty with a New Zealand campervan rental.

More from around Tauranga:

Top 10 Things to Do in Tauranga

Shopping in Tauranga

Te Puna Quarry Park

The Tauranga Airshow

Mount Maunganui

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