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Wednesday, October 19, 2011

18th Oct – Losing my Religion

I drew back the curtains on the van this morning, and there it was. The Waterfall. I really can’t get my head around the fact that I slept so close to something that beautiful.

After breakfast, I caught the ferry across the bay to Russell, a tiny town of about 800 people, but known in the 19th century for its brothels, grog houses and lawless behaviour. I went on a mini tour of the town, highlighting the historic buildings and sites. There was nothing over 180 years old, and the buildings included the first licenced premises in New Zealand, the oldest church, the longest functioning petrol station in NZ (from 1930). The driver pointed out much more than that, where trees had been planted to commemorate the birth of a child, where local characters lived, but the real gem was to come. An oldish man stopped me in the street and asked me if I was OK. I asked him the way to the church. It turned out he was the caretaker of the church and took me there, and walked me round, showing me the key features – the bullet holes, the embroidered footstools, and where key historical characters were buried. How lovely is that? It sums up many New Zealanders, polite, friendly and willing to help. (I’ll leave out Auckland, as that is a global city with many influences from the outside world. Manners are there, but help is not so forthcoming. In the church all the prayer stools had been embroidered by the ladies of the Parish. Because they cared. They had the birds, fish, sights, activities, and history of the town, the graveyard was lovingly cared for, even those occupants who’d been there for 150 years. The whole town was spotless – can we say the same about our towns and villages? I just can’t help thinking these are some of the traits Britain lost more than a generation ago. Probably gone forever. Ask yourself when did someone last say good morning to you that you didn’t know, or pass the time of day?

From there to the Waitangi Treaty Grounds, where New Zealand saw the light and became British. I think that it’s the only place where I’ve felt ripped off. 25 NZD to go in, and effectively I was only there for 1 and a half hours, and the buildings that I’d gone to see had mostly been re-built. Still they had the Bledisloe Cup of display (played for by New Zealand and Australia – and obviously now back in AB hands, so again I’ve seen a bit more of New Zealand’s rugby history. (Lord Bledisloe donated the cup, but also bought the grounds for the New Zealand public in the 30’s.)

And then onto Kerikeri to see the two oldest buildings in New Zealand – Kemp Mission House (1820) and the Stone Store (1830). Its only when you realise how new their history is, that you realise the depth of British history. 

Losing my Religion – REM – on the radio when I got back into the van after visiting TeWaitane Mission House and Church.

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