Ramblings of a much published New Zealand author

31 May 2010

One Out of The Box

One of the joys of retirement is the almost complete lack of timetable constraint. When everyone is at work in the middle of the week you can look out of the window at a lovely day and say, ‘Let’s go for a picnic - now!’
I’m sure this is what these two were doing when I came across them by the still waters of French Farm Bay on Banks Peninsula. It was a perfect early autumn day, ‘one out of the box’, and apart from my brief presence (which neither of them noticed) they had the bay all to themselves.

Banks Peninsula is like that, there is an uncountable number of these wonderful coves and beaches most of which are the outer indentations of what were once two massive volcanoes now known as Lyttleton and Akaroa Harbours. There’s room for everybody in this easily accessible and yet almost remote corner of what some people call God’s Own Country: New Zealand.


30 May 2010

Delightful Dilapidation

When I was watercolour illustrating ‘New Zealand Odyssey’, a book I did with co-author Euan Sarginson, I would have fallen in love with this barn that I discovered and photographed recently at French Farm on Banks Peninsula. Euan used to say of me that anything that was falling to pieces took my fancy!

Look at it; a collage of corrugated iron and weatherboards patched and patched again to the point where the original has probably been completely replaced.

I love the rust, it begs its share of the watercolour palette’s ochres. I love the sagging roof (straight lines are so boring) and the dead tree that writhes in sympathy against the dun-coloured tussock hills.

To me this old barn is gloriously photogenic; I suspect that to the farmer who owns it it is nothing more than a huge pain in the arse!


29 May 2010

St.John the Evangelist, Little River

This handsome little church was built in 1924 for the Little River (Banks Peninsula, Canterbury) Roman Catholics. It replaced a converted! old school that had had a sacristy and sanctuary added to it. Apart from that nothing much seems available in the histories. Who was the architect? How much did it cost to build. Who built it?

It’s not a particularly unusual building; its charm lies in its location. It stands at the south end of Little River village which itself could almost be called the gateway to Banks Peninsula being on the main road between Christchurch and Akaroa whose charms have steadily increased its tourist load year by year. The main road follows the line where the volcanic hills of the peninsula meet the billiards table flat lands of the Canterbury Plain.

A railway, whose rail-less permanent way banking still exists ,runs almost parallel to the road between the foothills and Lake Ellesmere. It’s now a cyclists’ track.


27 May 2010

Kaikoura’s Art Deco Surprise

Kerb crawling the Kaikoura seafront, it comes as a visual shock to see this superb little cinema. The Mayfair Theatre was built in 1935, and is now run by the local community. Art Deco it certainly is right down to its signwriting which is a letter form derived from ‘fat faces’ such as Braggadocio designed in 1930. One wonders whether the inspiration for the Mayfair came from the Art Deco reconstruction of Napier, on the east coast of New Zealand’s North Island after its devastating earthquake.

They still use the original projectors at the Mayfair lighted by those carbon arcs that require constant vigilance for fear of their gaps widening and the picture fading. (I remember as a boy how the audience used to catcall if the picture started to disappear because the projectionist might have popped out for a quick smoke!)
How astute of the local community not only to recognize the historical value of Art Deco but to maintain the theatre in such good nick.


26 May 2010

Fyffe House, Kaikoura Peninsula

Since before recorded history there were whales off Kaikoura. They mewed unmolested because Maori, who flocked to this coast for its fish and crayfish, had developed no technology that might harm them. But the whalers came in the early eighteen hundreds with their harpoons and flensing knives; the seas and beaches hereabouts must often have been a loathsome sight.

Kaikoura’s first whaling station, the Wai O Puka Fishery, was established in 1842 by Robert Fyffe and John Murray in ‘Fyffe’s Cove’ (now called Armers Beach). Twelve years later Fyffe was joined by his cousin, George, who unexpectedly found himself in charge of farming and whaling operations when Robert drowned just a few weeks later.

The Fyffes’ house was built in three distinct stages. The first, a simple cottage, possibly built in the mid 1840s, was earlier known as Cooper’s House. Its construction materials were standard for the times: cob, lath and plaster, pit sawn native timbers and eucalypts. But it also had whale vertebrae for foundations!

By 1857, George had added a kitchen with a store room above; then, with his wife, Catherine, he continued the extension, at right angles to the old cottage, until they had, by 1861, completed the west wing of Fyffe House. Only two other families, the Goodalls and Lows, have owned Fyffe House since it was built. George Low bequeathed it to the New Zealand Historic Places Trust in 1981.

In the intervening years Kaikoura has grown into a flourishing tourist town and it’s difficult to picture life when it was a remote whaling station on a harsh and craggy peninsula below mountains whose snow lasts all summer.


22 May 2010

The Deserted Cottage

All over rural New Zealand deserted cottages like this one moulder in paddocks, quietly disintegrating, their elements slowly merging into the ground upon which they stand. This one, north of Kaikoura on the north-east coast of the South Island was probably occupied as recently as ten or twenty years ago. Apart from the section of wall to the left its boards are still in reasonable condition, its window frames and glass are largely intact, its roof iron is quite good (despite a small garden growing in its front gutter). It's probably worse for wear on the hidden side because the bit we can see, facing east and north, gets sun whereas the back of the house might be damp and lichen encrusted.

With a lot of money and good intentions it might be restored - just.

One wonders about its history; how many generations grew up here? When were children's voices last heard in its rooms and the garden? What happened to the occupants: did they prosper and build a new house nearby, or did the cottage die with its dying dynasty?

Pictorially it's a gem of dilapidation but there's probably a sad story lurking in the background.


19 May 2010

Vineyards in Marlborough, New Zealand

Marlborough is a province in the north-east corner of New Zealand’s South Island. When I first came to this country over fifty years ago, it was little more than a parched, biscuit-coloured landscape subject to very low rainfalls and in a permanent state of aridity. Then as now, a few shingle-bedded rivers and streams laced its dry, tussocky landscape. Not much was done with the land apart from sheep farming where Romneys and Cheviots, almost indistinguishable in colour from their surrounds, selectively grazed sparse, whispering grasses.

Then somebody discovered that the soil, climate and hours of sunshine of Marlborough provided perfect conditions for vineyards. Dry gravels and long days of high heat summation were similar to the best of European conditions and promised well for a wine industry that was virtually non-existent midway through the twentieth century.

This picture, taken in Marlborough’s Awatere Valley is typical of what has happened. The foreground and the distant hills are the land’s natural colour, the large green patches of vineyard are typical of the country’s added value. It’s quite a new vineyard, there are others larger and older but this one in particular demonstrates the impact of grape farming upon an old, tired scenery.


18 May 2010

How To Ruin A Good View

This is Mount Ngaruhoe (pronounced na-roo-ho-ee) an active volcano in the centre of New Zealand’s North Island. It stands in Tongariro National Park which is largely comprised of a volcanic ‘desert’ plateau.

This picture was taken from the main road. Many years ago some idiot made the decision to place the power lines and pylons between the main road and the volcanoes. And here we are trying to build up our tourism business!


16 May 2010

Open 7 Days 38 (Final). Te Pohue Derelict Store

I wrote and illustrated ‘Open 7 Days’. It was published in 1991. It’s a series of freeze-frames of some historic New Zealand general and convenience stores as they were preserved in the last decade of the 20th century. Bit by bit, on this blog, I re-publish some of the entries from that book.
The book contained 37 general stores. This is the final page.
Highway 5, Te Pohue, Hawke’s Bay.
Empty, lifeless and encrusted with peeling paint, the Te Pohue Store seems to exemplify the rural decline of the 1980s. When I called at the local hotel to find out something about the store, I was told that the people of Te Pohue drive to Napier for their groceries these days. That’s a distance of nearly fifty kilometres, but short enough to kill off one general store!

I was fortunate to make contact with Peter King, formerly of nearby Rock Station, who told me a little of the shop’s history.

The building has been on its site for about a hundred years. It started life as a billiards saloon but became the store in 1910 when Grant and Howell’s store, opposite, burned down and they moved across the road. Percy Howell married Grant’s sister, Leana, and between them they ran the Te Pohue Store. Their three children, born between 1916 and 1920, worked in the store after leaving the village school.

Peter King tells of an occasion when the mare had a foal while still harnessed in the shafts of the delivery cart when Percy had popped inside the store to have his lunch! Later he did his deliveries to the local farming community and five timber mills in a less capricious ‘International’ truck.

The store was brightly lighted with rock gas in the early days, and in addition to the usual stock, all of which was served from shelves behind the counter, Peter King particularly remembers a speciality – ‘bachelor buttons’ a device made in two parts that could be clipped onto trousers, thus obviating the need for sewing on buttons.

Westal Tucker took over the store in 1948 but, sadly, it closed down in 1967.


13 May 2010

Open 7 Days 37. Okains Bay Store

I wrote and illustrated ‘Open 7 Days’. It was published in 1991. It’s a series of freeze-frames of some historic New Zealand general and convenience stores as they were preserved in the last decade of the 20th century. Bit by bit, on this blog, I re-publish some of the entries from that book.
Okains Bay, Banks Peninsula.
Proprietor: Chris Stanger.
Chris Stanger is a solo parent. He finds living in Okains Bay perfect for his lifestyle because while he works the shop, his sons go to the school whose front gate is less than a gumboot’s throw across the road. Chris, a mechanic by trade who has served time as a truckie, took over the store in 1987 for a bit of peace and quiet. He now looks after the needs of about forty families, but gets very busy for eight weeks in the summer when the local camping ground accommodates about 400 holidaymakers.

Because Okains Bay is so isolated, Chris doesn’t quite suffer the problems other country storekeepers have of competition from big-town supermarkets. That means he carries a more comprehensive inventory of groceries, dairy lines, petrol and oil, hardware and home-brew supplies. The store has the postal agency and is the fire group’s call-out point. It also provides a focus for news and advice, and Chris often finds himself consulted about marriage guidance, household budgeting, fixing the car, employment and how to achieve a successful home-brew.

It’s a great old building, very original, with two old kauri counters in the shop. When things are quiet in the winter, Chris manufactures garden gnomes – a gang of seven plaster dwarfs – which he sells, either naked or painted, both in the store and to garden centres in Christchurch – The Big Smoke north of the Port Hills beyond Lyttelton Harbour.


12 May 2010

Romancing the Corrugated Iron 2.

Taihape, once ‘famed’ as a railway settlement on the main trunk line from Auckland to Wellington, makes a plaintive attempt, every Tuesday after Easter, to become fleetingly famous again by getting contestants in various age groups to throw gumboots across a field – the longest throw being the winner. It’s as idiotic as discus, javelin or wire hammer throwing except that the missile is a rubber gumboot and it doesn’t qualify as an event in the Olympic Games.

Taihapeans (or whatever they’re called) are so proud of this world-shattering event that they have erected a monument in its honour – a corrugated iron gumboot – at the northern entrance to the town. Most tourists from overseas are puzzled by this ‘icon’ and shake their heads in disbelief.



11 May 2010

Romancing the Corrugated Iron. 1.

Tirau’s most ambitious iron building; the Wool Gallery

Tirau is a small town in New Zealand’s Waikato area, an ideal point to stop and have a coffee break in a long journey on the main highway. Some time in recent history somebody made a sculpture out of corrugated iron, a material that’s hardly considered in old Europe but which is at the heart of construction in New Zealand. Ever since it was invented, galvanized corrugated iron has formed the walls and roofs of most local buildings – rectangular sheets of it, hundreds of square metres of it, painted or plain, practical, unimaginative, ordinary.

But that somebody who decided to bend the iron not only opened up a whole new world of possibilities, he (she?) also lifted Tirau out of an undifferentiated rut and turned it into the corrugated iron capital of New Zealand – maybe even the world!

Local church sculpture; ‘the Good Shepherd’

Tirau Primary School

09 May 2010

Open 7 Days 36. Albury Store, South Canterbury

I wrote and illustrated ‘Open 7 Days’. It was published in 1991. It’s a series of freeze-frames of some historic New Zealand general and convenience stores as they were preserved in the last decade of the 20th century. Bit by bit, on this blog, I re-publish some of the entries from that book.

Albury, South Canterbury.
Proprietors: Graham and Dorothy Thomas. 

This may be the only store in New Zealand that has a coal range that’s fired up every day, summer and winter. On this fifty-year-old veteran, the Thomases brew up tea and coffee for visitors who come to see what is now principally a museum.

The store is older than its site. It was built in 1882, and in 1908 the whole town turned out to see it dragged to its new home by traction engine. It still sits directly on the ground, with no piles, exactly as they left it! It used to serve the community with ‘everything from a needle to a haystack’, but in later years, with most people travelling to Timaru for their shopping, the inventory has become limited to a postal agency, confectionery, gifts, teas and hot bread.

Graham and Dorothy bought the store in 1988 and, because it has such a rich history, decided to turn it and the adjacent 1862 smithy into a museum. They now spend much of their time restoring and organizing an enormous collection of artefacts, a labour of love that might never be finished.

Inside the store There’s a ‘Bull Dog Ale’ box that dates from 1848. It used to stand outside and when the locals weren’t sitting on it for a chat, the storekeeper put groceries in it for customers to collect after hours. That was in the days when, according to Graham’s records, a ton of flour cost (in today’s money) $34.50, a pair of boots $1.75, a dozen eggs 10 cents and One Fat Cow $16.50!
Albury lies in the beautiful valley of the Tengawai River, between Cave and Fairlie. It marks the approach to the pass named after James McKenzie, the so-called sheep stealer, a resourceful and ill-used man who was arrested and then escaped here in 1855.


06 May 2010

Schist Outcrops: Dansey Pass

Most of the romance has been removed from the roads of New Zealand so that tourism may be more comfortable, easier. Roads that were once serpentine and shingle-surfaced are now straighter and macadamized; the traffic travels faster, the roadside histories are passed by, the grandeur is now seen in broad sweeps with detail left unconsidered.

But Dansey Pass, once a miners’ route from north Otago into the gold fields of the Maniototo and Central Otago, remains narrow, winding, rough and romantic. It runs from the Kyeburn Diggings to the south bank of the Waikato River and if you care to stop at one of the few off-road refuges and switch off the engine and then listen to the sweet nothings that come on the air from the stream below and whispering tussock grasses your eyes will start to distinguish slow moving sheep who, like the remains of miner’s stone huts, are the same colour as the landscape: sometimes, grey, perhaps pink, often amber.

The rock is mainly schist; speckled pancakes perfect for building huts and fences where one layer may be snuggled above another without mortar – like giant flaky pastry. In an otherwise hostile surround the rock was often home and shelter to the miners.


Meldrum Baker, Usk Street, Oamaru

Oamaru, halfway down the east coast of New Zealand’s South Island, is famous for its limestone buildings. They are built, often in classical style, of Oamaru stone, a shortbread confection that comes out of its quarry soft and workable and then hardens after continuing exposure to the air.

Most Oamaru stone buildings are on the grand scale but in a side street, Usk Street, off the main highway is this precious little item: Mr Meldrum’s bakery.

Andrew Meldrum’s Oamaru business career started in 1879 and his bakery, shop, house, stables and other outhouses were clustered on a quarter acre plot. He was born in 1842 in Aberdeenshire and came to Oamaru via Port Chalmers (near Dunedin) in 1874.

He was a worthy citizen, involving himself in school management and church affairs and, having married Miss Davidson, also of Aberdeen, he fathered ten children by her some of whose descendents may still thrive in Oamaru today

But whatever else he left behind, his bakery, quite unlike any neighbouring buildings in Usk Street is a lasting gem.


Open 7 Days 35. Cave Store, South Canterbury

I wrote and illustrated ‘Open 7 Days’. It was published in 1991. It’s a series of freeze-frames of some historic New Zealand general and convenience stores as they were preserved in the last decade of the 20th century. Bit by bit, on this blog, I re-publish some of the entries from that book.

53 Elizabeth Street, Cave, South Canterbury.
Proprietors: Kevin and Margaret O’Neill.

‘I don’t know why they call it Cave. There isn’t a cave round here’. The guide book agrees with Kevin O’Neill, but with the proviso that there could have been a limestone cave that was destroyed by quarrying.

The Cave Store stands out from its surroundings like a buttercup in a summer meadow. In doing so, it contrasts brashly with the genteel mellowness of All Saints Church, opposite, built of soft-toned riverbed stones and surrounded by ornamental trees.
There is nothing historic or outstanding about the store; its appeal, for me, lies simply in its colour and its reassuring air of reliability.

It started life as the private home of one of the first owners of the original store, which was completely destroyed by fire.

Kevin and Margaret O’Neill, both from farming backgrounds, moved in in 1986. They continue to sell general groceries, petrol, bread, milk and farm supplies as well as operating the postal centre and doing the rural mail run around the district.


05 May 2010

Open 7 Days 34. Rolston’s General Store, Oturehua

I wrote and illustrated ‘Open 7 Days’. It was published in 1991. It’s a series of freeze-frames of some historic New Zealand general and convenience stores as they were preserved in the last decade of the 20th century. Bit by bit, on this blog, I re-publish some of the entries from that book.

Main Road, Oturehua, Central Otago.
Proprietors: Grant and Mary Rolston

The first store in Oturehua (then called Rough Ridge) was built in 1899 by James Caldwell, but within three years Thomas Gilchrist had bought him out and the business remained in the Gilchrist family for the next eighty-seven years.

Very close to the site of the original store, the present building was put up in 1929, with a bakery at the back run by Alex Robertson, who married into the Gilchrist family.

It was gold that lured Thomas Gilchrist from Victoria and also sustained the early settlement, although farming became the eventual heart of the economy. Horse-and-cart deliveries were made to St. Bathans and Moa Creek, orders being taken one week and delivered the next, and the offering included everything from timber, petrol (in cases), tyres, fencing materials and stock foods to crockery, tools and clothing.

In 1989, when only Herb and Bruce Gilchrist remained (Herb having been there forty-seven years and Bruce thirty-six), the Rolstons moved in from Norsewood. The shop remains little changed and still sells a wide range of goods. It has the local postal agency and runs the rural delivery of mail, papers and groceries, often through heavy snow.

The community is nowadays composed of transport workers and farmers, supplemented by visitors who summer at their cribs , enjoy winter sports at the Ida Burn Dam or appear in their thousands at the motorcyclists’ Brass Monkey Rally every Queen’s Birthday weekend.
The nearby Hayes Engineering Works is a monument to New Zealand’s capacity for inventiveness.


03 May 2010

Open 7 Days 33. Patearoa Community Store

I wrote and illustrated ‘Open 7 Days’. It was published in 1991. It’s a series of freeze-frames of some historic New Zealand general and convenience stores as they were preserved in the last decade of the 20th century. Bit by bit, on this blog, I re-publish some of the entries from that book.
Patearoa, Central Otago.
Proprietors: Bill and Mal Warren

In 1987 the century-old Patearoa Store and its post office were on the point of closing down. However, the locals wouldn’t hear of it, so they clubbed together (as did the people of Millers Flat) to buy the land and buildings, which they now lease to the Warrens.

Bill, a retired Christchurch policeman, and Mal, an unretired sign-writer, own the Pateroa Hotel across the road. It dates from 1928 and is on the site of one built by Thomas Newton in 1887. It was called the Sowburn Hotel then, and the first store was next door, on land owned by the publican. That hotel, like so many others in New Zealand over the years, burned down in 1927.

In the 1940s the publican, Arthur Keegan, tried to raise the rent and this incensed Mr Robertson, the storekeeper, so much that he bought the abandoned Upper Kyeburn schoolhouse, moved it from near Dansey Pass and set it up on the other side of the hotel. The resultant ill-feeling was sorted out by the parish priest. What now constitutes the Patearoa Store is the old store and the schoolhouse butted together.
Patearoa was part of the Central Otago goldfields, and remains of the nearby Sowburn diggings are evident in buildings and abandoned machinery. Now a farming area, it’s a vibrant community, its residents competing actively around the Maniototo Plain at rugby, cricket, tennis, golf and bowls. The store, besides being a postal agency, supplies general groceries, milk, bread, newspapers and the friendliest of welcomes.


01 May 2010

Open 7 Days 32. Hampden Super Store

 I wrote and illustrated ‘Open 7 Days’. It was published in 1991. It’s a series of freeze-frames of some historic New Zealand general and convenience stores as they were preserved in the last decade of the 20th century. Bit by bit, on this blog, I re-publish some of the entries from that book.

Liverpool Street, Hampden, Otago.
Proprietor: Joy Long
The Hampden Super Store occupies a charming spot in a village that, although it straddles State Highway One, still manages to tranquilise the senses. The trees, grand and mature, are very English, and that’s as it should be, for Hampden takes its name from a wealthy Buckinghamshire landowner and lover of fair play who took arms against Charles I and died for his ideals on Chalgrove Field, near Oxford, in 1643.

It’s been a general store since 1890, and at the rear there are the remains of an old bakehouse. The business has been in the Long family since 1975. Joy and her husband, Steve, took it over from her parents. Since Steve died, Joy has run it with the aid of her children, Mark and Vicki. They all enjoy serving and chatting to the customers, who comprise residents and the seasonal holidaymakers who come to this restful seaside village.

Joy says the shop is, ‘a meeting place where people may catch up on local news … a general store with most things available that you could get in town. We still run monthly accounts, as it’s a farming and fishing area … they always pay’.

The welcomed appointment of Hampden Super Store as an agency of NZ Post followed the complete restructuring of postal services in 1988. When I visited, the appointment was so recent that its impact could still be seen on the ‘A1′ sign under the tiger!

The local Lions Club’s money-raising roadside stall.


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By Don Donovan