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.

The Immigrants’ Christmas

My mum’s just put up the Christmas tree! Here I am, staring at the shaggy, green pyramid, bare for save for the angel at the top – the same angel that superciliously surveyed our lounge when I was a kid back in England.

Decorating the tree will be extra-special for me this year. I’m about to leave my parents’ home; not just for university. I won’t be back for summer holidays. I won’t have summer holidays anymore. My boyfriend and I are about to move into our own place. Start our real lives.

Wow.

This will be our third Christmas together, but our first Christmas together. Until now, we’ve each spent Christmas with our own families. Now we have to balance our time between them both. It’s just lucky that Tim’s family are German immigrants to New Zealand. Germans open their presents on Christmas Eve, so we can have a German Christmas on Christmas Eve with Tim’s family and an English Christmas on Christmas Day with my family.

Still no Kiwi Christmas.

candles

I’ve been in New Zealand thirteen years and never had a Kiwi Christmas. As English immigrants, my family stubbornly sticks to our English Christmas, even though it’s thirty degrees in the sun-drenched garden and none of us can stomach a huge, hot turkey dinner.

Tim’s family’s the same. Their first Christmas in New Zealand, before Tim was born, his mum insisted on closing all the curtains and lighting a load of candles – bear in mind that they lived in a bus at the time. The heat was suffocating, but it just wasn’t Christmas without darkness and candles.

Despite the weather, the New Zealand Christmas still strongly resembles the European/North American Christmas. I’ve often thought it must be weird for Kiwi children growing up hearing ‘Let It Snow’ at Christmas, and seeing fake snow in all the shop window displays, when in many parts of New Zealand it never snows in winter, let alone at Christmas. I wrote about the paradox of New Zealand Christmas last year, so I won’t dwell on it now. I’m just waiting for mum to put the old Christmas CD on.

I know she will. It’s tradition. We always listen to it while decorating the tree. Apart from the one year we lost it. But we found it again the next year. It’s just not Christmas without Slade’s ‘Merry Xmas Everybody’, Band Aid’s ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas?’ and The Pogues’ ‘Fairytale of New York’.

Little Girls on Santa's Lap

Fourteen years ago, my little sister and I tell Santa what we want for Christmas…

Oh my god – I won’t be decorating the tree next year! I might have my own tree to decorate. I’ll have to rip that CD!

I wonder if I’ll ever have a Kiwi Christmas. What would you do? Spend Christmas in a campervan at the beach, having a barbecue and drinking cold beer?

The first year we were in New Zealand, my nana actually sent us a load of Christmas wrapping paper from England, thinking we wouldn’t be able to buy any here! She soon learned that the spirit of Christmas consumerism is just as alive in New Zealand as anywhere else. Take a walk down Auckland’s Queen Street right now and you’ll be simultaneously enchanted by the Smith & Caughey’s Christmas window and creeped out by the colossal Santa Claus looming above the big Whitcoulls.

(The Whitcoulls Santa used to be even creepier with his beckoning finger and winking eye. There was never anything explicitly wrong with it, but it somehow made everyone who saw it a little uncomfortable.)

Because of this consumerism, Christmas in New Zealand isn’t really that different from anywhere else. It’s just the weather. The bright, warm sunshine still sends me crazy at Christmas… although there is something appealing about the way it illuminates the deep red blooms of the pohutukawa trees.

Pohutakawacroppe

Will I ever have a true Kiwi Christmas? Maybe. One day. I’m all grownup now. I’m moving out; moving on. Maybe in a few years I’ll have my own Christmas traditions.

But right now I’m going to close my laptop and help my little sister decorate the tree.

The Great Kiwi Barbecue

New Zealand campervan hire

Last Night of the Poms: The Story of Our Move to New Zealand

A blossoming pohutukawa tree in Kaikoura

A blossoming pohutukawa tree in Kaikoura