An easy flight, and now 3 weeks in New Zealand. The trip, as always, is a mix of memory (I spent a year here when I was 13), family stories (my mother was a New Zealander), wilderness wandering and getting to know how old New Zealand
has changed into new New Zealand.
Jerry and I are visiting my cousin Jocelyn and her husband Albert.
Our mothers were sisters. They looked alike, both had thick black hair and widow’s peaks, but they were unlike in many ways. They started school at St Hilda’s girls school in Dunedin, South Island. Jocelyn’s mother, Freda, was 4 years older and finished school at St Hilda’s. My mother, Marion, went to a state school, Southland Girls High, for high school. Both Freda and my mother agreed that they learned nothing at St. Hilda’s except table manners. Marion believed that she was lucky because she got a good education at Southland Girls High.
Marion was restless and curious, tended to worry and feel insecure. Freda was calm and self assured. Freda took a secretarial course, went to work in Auckland, and soon married an eligible bachelor. She settled down to live a comfortable conventional life in New Zealand. Marion left New Zealand as soon as she finished the University of Otago to go to graduate school in England where she married my father, an impractical intellectual.
Jocelyn and I are different too. She has spent a quiet life in New Zealand. She married Paul and had 3 children. A few years after Paul died she married Albert. My life has been a voyage, sometimes through rough waters, sometimes with smooth sailing. Despite our differences Joc and I have some inner affinity. She has a core of pure goodness. She loves people. The basic interest of her life is her family and her friends; she loves the beauty of her country and wherever she travels she takes a lively interest in her surroundings. She is cheerful, efficient and sociable.
Jocelyn’s politics are conservative, she is quietly religious and goes to church regularly. Albert is conservative and religious as well and has strong opinions on many subjects. Religion and politics are two subjects that Jerry and I avoid discussing when we are with them. Joc and Albert are endlessly generous with time and effort to entertain us. Last week they drove us down to New Plymouth for four days where we were able to indulge our liking for long walks. Joc and Albert are not walkers but they waited for hours in coffee shops or in their car while we scrambled around on many of the walking tracks around Mt. Taranaki
(formerly Mt. Egmont and the site of a lot of Lord of the Rings action.) We did a little walking together on the city walkway that goes along the waterfront in New Plymouth for about 10 kilometers.
New Zealand is full of fine places to walk, in both the city and the wilderness. New Zealanders maintain their fitness by a fanatical interest and participation in all sports and by utilizing these beautiful outdoor parks and camping places.
Before New Plymouth the 4 of us had driven up to Whangerei in the north of the North Island where Joc and I have an aunt, our mothers’ younger sister Pat.
Pat lives in a retirement village. She has significant problems with memory but in other ways is still a sharp thinker. At the age of 91 she has found a boyfriend, Tom. In our comfortable motel (2 bedrooms and sitting-dining-kitchen) I cooked a roast pork dinner for us all, including Tom, who turned out to be a lively and interesting guest.
In Whangerei Jerry and I walked a strenuous track up a high ridge and a more gentle one that winds along a river.
As a change and contrast Jerry and I set out on our own for a few days. First we went inland, to the Pohangina Valley. Because Jerry and I are both nervous about driving in New Zealand (on the wrong side of the road,) we traveled there by bus. We were met in Palmerston North by Pohangina Pete, a blogger I have been looking forward to meeting.
We stayed in a place he recommended, far out in the country. It is a lovely spot, at the end of a long winding gravel road in high hills. It is surrounded by well kept gardens and wilder places, next to some well maintained trails that go up the mountains of the Ruahine Forest Park. There we had a pleasant cabin with eccentric décor — the ceiling of the sitting area was hung with dried and artificial flowers –and there was a view, over green, sheep studded hills, of the valley.
The way to the bathroom and toilet was outside. We didn’t get a chance to hike the trails because it rained, but Pete kindly took us on a tour of the valley he loves.
Pete and I talked and talked. Since our politics match I enjoyed the opportunity to express my opinions freely. He is an ecologist and expert in the environmental issues that face New Zealand. We passed by a huge wind farm and talked about the pros and cons of wind farms. We talked about blogging. Pete said he tries to avoid writing about himself; he likes to write about ideas. I have been thinking this over. I have nothing against ideas, but I think that, like poetry, there are a lot of mediocre ideas circulating on the internet. Ideas work better when lightly seasoned with detail and example, best taken from personal knowledge. So I choose the personal in blogs. The only thing I am really expert on is my own experience. That is what I believe I can speak about with confidence.
Next we took the bus to Paremata, a suburb of Wellington. Here we visited an old friend, Hugh, the son of my mother’s best college chum and life-long friend Twinx (Anne). That’s where I got my name. We called on Hugh’s sister, Jan, at her house perched on the side of an almost vertical hill with vast views of the surrounding towns, hills and bays. Jan found some pictures of her and me when we were teenagers. She is recovering from a broken femur; she looked pretty but frail.
It was still raining in the morning, but as we began our drive into Wellington the sun suddenly came out and we decided on our original plan to take a ferry to Somes Island (with Hugh as our guide) in the middle of Wellington Harbor.
Somes Island has been used in the past as a place of quarantine, sometimes for people, sometimes for animals. It is not now used for either, but is a pretty wildlife refuge with the ever welcome well maintained walking trails. High on a hill on the island is a sad little memorial to people who died there while being quarantined. There were babies and others who died during the influenza epidemic of 1918, some Italian war prisoners who died while being interned, and one unfortunate man, thought to have leprosy, who died after a year of quarantine on the island. There were seagulls nesting on the craggy rocks,
sailboat races in the harbor,
sheep grazing on the hills and aggressive Canada geese with goslings walking the trails.
Later we had a drink outdoors along the waterfront in Wellington, my favorite city in New Zealand. The waterfront has been developed as a city playground, with skateboarders, cyclists, roller skaters, sculptures to climb on, eateries and pubs.
These are the streets I walked along coming home from school when I was 13 — how they have changed.
Next we took a bus to Napier. The bus driver (who had a Russian accent and a scowl) was determined to keep to his schedule, and he commended his passengers to be quick with their luggage and punctual with their rest stops like the captain of a brigade. The route passed through a deep river gorge, with the road hugging the side of the gorge hundreds of feet above the swift river. There was a white van in front of the bus which was not moving as fast as the bus driver desired, and he tail-gated it mercilessly until it pulled off at an overlook to let him pass. We got to Napier right on time.
In Napier we had the biggest adventure of the trip. We took a “safari” to see the gannets of Kidnapper’s Point. That’s an after Christmas post; in the meantime, a happy Christmas (as they say here) to all!