So, today (well yesterday actually, I was too tired to write it last night) was always one I had been looking forward to. The trip north to the Bay of Islands and Waitangi. Many of you will know that I am Chaplain to the New Zealand Society of the UK and I lead a Waitangi Day service near 6th February each year in the presence of the High Commissioner of NZ. That day is the National Day of NZ.
The day was fantastic. I took loads of pictures, so this will be one of my longer blog posts.
The day started with an admin glitch. But you must all be fed up hearing my skilfully told tales of travel chaos, so with much to say today I shall spare you all.
I had to get up early to get the coach. There was a lovely sunrise over the bay.
The drive north took us through lovely countryside. Lush green pastures, mountains and thick forests. The main rural industries of the north are pastoral (more cattle than sheep these days), forestry and wine making.
Our driver Tony gave us brief commentary as we drove. I complimented him on the phlegmatic style when we stopped and discovered that, despite being an experienced coach driver, yesterday was his first day with that tour company, so he was pleased to be praised.
He did a D-tour off the main road to stop by a Kuari tree. These indigenous trees grow very slowly, and have been under threat since the British settlers de-nuded the place for wood for their ships. This example is said to be 2000 years old.
I also learnt a range of obscure facts: Kiwis are nocturnal, the old station house at Waitangi used to be a brothel (did I need to know that?), and there is a major housing shortage throughout NZ which keeps prices artificially high.
We also passed loads of Munuka trees, ‘from which we get the honey’. I mused on the fact that UK honey is from bees and I assumed Manuka honey was a sap. I wonder why they call it honey, I mused. It was only later in the day that another guide (they are all very proud of telling you about their native trees) mentioned the lovely flower of the Manuka which the bees collect pollen from. Once again I proved how easily I am confused!
We also passed many golf courses. Tony pointed out that the tradition in NZ is to wear two pairs of socks. (Dramatic pause) It’s in case they get a hole in one, he declared! Now that one I understood.
We arrived after three and a half hours at Paihia, the town near Waitangi. After a brief loo stop some of us boarded the coach to drive to the memorial grounds. I was struck by the fact that very few people wanted to go on that trip. Many more went on the whale and dolphin search. But it was Waitangi I had come for. The grounds are very beautiful. The main house was gifted to the nation. It had been the home of the Governor General who signed the treaty on behalf of Queen Victoria with the many Maori tribes.
It is perched on top of a hill and the view over the Bay of Islands, where Captain Cook first landed, is stunning. In fact much of the rest of the blog includes amazing views of the Bay and the area.
Our guide also took us to the ceremonial war canoe on display and explained all the traditions and history. One interesting nugget is that the hull is pitted with small dimples which increase the potential speed of the boat. The guide enjoyed pointing out that the golf ball industry, the airline industry and the yachting industry have together spent billions of pounds of research which has discovered that pitting the hull (or ball) increases its speed. He smiled roguishly and asked: why didn’t they just ask us? We knew that centuries ago.
The treaty was signed in 1840. There was much debate about what it meant. It was only the early Christian missionaries who had learned Maori, and they were concerned that the translation was not as good as it could be. Even today, if one looks at the English and Maori texts there are words which are ambiguous. Not all the English has a true Maori equivalent. (This reminded me of the English spoken in US, Canada and now NZ! See earlier blogs)
The key problem is the distinction (and translation of the English word Sovereignty, which we thought they had signed up to. But it was translated as Governance, which they thought meant that the chiefs would remain in power, but the British would bring their law and order. Very different concepts which went on to cause many tensions.
This led me to muse, somewhat naughtily, on the fact that I am co-Chaplain to the NZ Society in London with the Archdeacon of Canterbury. As the Vicar I bring sovereignty and as an Archdeacon she brings governance. Well, perhaps not, but I enjoyed the thought.
Another big issue regarded flags. In 1834 the Maori were asked to choose a flag. The flag was important as it gave the right to trade in any port a ship visited. This is the flag they chose.
After the treaty was signed the Maori chiefs were offended by the fact that the flagpole at Russell only flew the the Union flag and not the NZ flag as well. 4 times one of the chiefs chopped the flag pole down! We were told that it has never been ‘decommissioned’ making NZ the only country in the world to have two authorised flags. There was a referendum in 2014 to change the more familiar NZ flag, but the vote was to stay with it. I can’t find much reference on line to the united tribes flag, so I shall do some more on this when I get back. Perhaps we should add it into the church a SLJ and get the current High Commissioner, himself a Maori, so come and celebrate it. But there may be issues that need considering. Perhaps. someone in the NZ can advise. Watch this space.
We were bundled back onto the coach and down to the harbour at Paihia for the second half of our day. This was a trip to Russell, the first capital of New Zealand. This involved a ferry trip across the harbour, so I was in my element again.
The Bay is surrounded by sandy beaches, and houses overlooking the amazing views.
No settlement in New Zealand can claim a past as colourful and chequered as that of Kororareka, in the Bay of Islands, later to become Russell. In the 1830s it was such a wild place that it earned the name ‘hell-hole of the Pacific’. Whalers, sealers, escaped convicts, seamen, and adventurers descended on the little Maori village. Drunkenness, debauchery, grog shops, and the oldest profession proliferated. It rivaled similar settlements around the Pacific, such as Sydney, San Francisco, and Hawaii. It also sounds a bit like the Worshipful Company of… No, don’t go there.
The name Kororareka means ‘how sweet is the penguin’, a much nicer name than hell hole of the Pacific.
Russell has a population of about 8000, mostly in low paid tourism jobs. Two thirds of the houses are owned by ‘swallows’: people who own property and rarely come. Some of the huge mansions are worth millions of dollars. We went on a mini-bus tour around the town, and passed the oldest Anglican Church in New Zealand.
High above the town stand the infamous flag pole which got chopped down by the chiefs, and a sun dial with a mosaics on the base..
The views from the top of the hill are stunning. One of them was described by HM The Queen as the best view in NZ.
And so back down to the ferry. By this time I was in information overload, and you probably stopped reading ages ago. We crossed back to Paihia and after a short look around the town boarded the coach for Auckland.
It was a long day – 14 hours, but worth every minute. The Bay of Islands must surely be one of the most beautiful places in the world.
One final thought. I reviewed the pictures I have been taking and found one which is more frequently in my files than any other. I seem to have at least one version of it every day. I thought I might share it with you, at the end of this mammoth blog, thus proving my rather amateur skills as a photographer. Why I keep taking pictures of my own knee I know not!