We are now on the north island of New Zealand and visiting the town of Napier in Hawk’s Bay celebrated for its Art Deco and Spanish Mission architecture. Napier is a town of 50,000 and it will be our base for some multi-stop touring today. We couldn’t visit New Zealand without going to a sheep station (farm) and will see both a herding and sheering demonstration today. If the weather clears, we next visit a mountaintop lookout point followed by a strawberry farm and local touring.
Our guide began by giving us some general facts about New Zealand and the area. The country’s population is made up of people 62% of whom are of European descent, 15% Maori (who settled the country 700-800 years ago), 10% Asian, and 7% Polynesian. Chinese immigrants grew crops for miners and still manage the major production of fruits and vegetables. It is almost time to harvest apples, strawberries, and wine grapes.
The Chinese gooseberry or hairy fruit was introduced to the country in the early 20th century. Renamed kiwi, the fruit is now internationally known and associated with New Zealand. They are currently developing a red variety for the color; there is no difference in the taste. Within New Zealand, the fruit is generally not referred to as kiwi as that name is associated with the national bird and often used as a reference to the people themselves.
We drove out of Napier along the coastal road toward Cape Kidnappers, seeing signs of erosion. One house had only recently literally fell into the bay. Residents were erecting sea walls, but the government challenges the construction. We are on our way to the Gordon Sheep Station, where 5 generations of this Scottish family have been sheep farmers in New Zealand. Wool from this area generally goes into the making of carpets.
Tommy Gordon introduced us to the sheep dogs and showed us their training and techniques. He controls the dogs using distinctive whistles, telling them when to move the sheep and which direction to take them. It was a fascinating demonstration. Tommy users dogs of many different breeds to assist, each having different talents. Each time there is one who bark and directs the sheep and a silent dog so stays directly opposite the “barker” who keeps the sheep together in a herd, even going off to collect one who strayed a little.
We met the farm’s pet boar before going inside to see the authentic sheep barn with traditional sheering equipment. Originally knives were used for the sheering, eventually moving to electric equipment, although sometimes hand-pumped. Workers are paid $3 per sheep and could sheer hundreds in one day. The sheering specialists move from farm to farm performing their skills. Sheep used to be sheered once a year; the Gordons now sheer every 8 months.
Sheep are protected by lanolin which their bodies produce to keep them warm even after being sheered. The sheep are always outside, except for the one or two days a year they are sheered. It is important that the sheep have shade after the sheering to prevent their skin from being burned. The wool is washed at a separate facility. The sheep lanolin is floated out when the wool is cleaned and is sent off for use in cosmetics and grease for auto parts.
I walked through their barn to see the displays and antique equipment. Some of the local children who like to come when there is a bus at the farm to see the show, showed me a possum inside the barn. It has become quite popular to mix the possum fur and sheep wool in clothing items produced in New Zealand. After a stop in the gift shop where Boris and I bought two sheep skins-one white, one brown-the group had tea and scones at a small restaurant across the street. The restaurant was quiet, but had lovely views out to the water. We were fortunate the rain had stopped and the skies were clearing so we could go to our next designated stop on Te Mata Peak.
The Te Mata Park Trust maintains this area as a recreational park; the land was gifted to the community in 1927. It is an area of extraordinary beauty and of deep cultural significance to the Maori people. The drive up to the peak is steep and winding. Bus travel is strictly controlled and our bus company, that started in the business of transportation 150 years ago with car and horse, is the only one who can make the climb. The drivers have special certification and are escorted by motorcycle security who clear the roadway. Our driver is actually one of the trainers, so we are in good hands.
We did see some bicyclists on the road. There are also mountain bike trails from the peak that are steep and well marked. At the top, we also saw several launch platforms for hang gliding from the peak. Te Mata is also known as the “sleeping giant” and is said to be the prostrate body of Chief Rongokako. There is of course a Maori legend associated with the mountain range.
We next drove through Hastings. Like Napier, it is decorated in the art deco style. The Hawk’s Bay area was originally settled by the Ngati Kahungunu aboriginal tribe who came to this area by canoe. The European communities were founded in the 1850s, but almost any building you see dates from 1931 or later. That year a massive earthquake demolished the brick and masonry structures. What didn’t fall in the quake, burned in the resultant fires. Hastings and Napier rebuilt in the art deco style, popular in Europe at the time.
One of the most charming landmarks in Hastings is the fountain which is bisected by the rail line. It is said to be even more picturesque at night with the lights on it. Maori heritage is also remembered in the city with totem poles from the various tribes who settled the area.
At some point the city had difficulties with people leaving bars in the evening and drinking openly in the streets. This community, followed by others nearby, has enacted stiff penalties if you are found drinking alcoholic beverages outside in public. The “Liquor Ban” is in effect “Every Day at Any time” and carries penalties of $20,000. Notice of the Ban is posted as you enter the community.
Our final stop was at the Strawberry Patch where you can pick your own strawberries. We are just before the season so the PYO area is not open until next week. We enjoyed a generous portion of their popular strawberry ice cream. The stop also had a produce section where everything was very fresh and smelled wonderful.
We drove back to Napier, passing through the areas where housing was first reestablished after the earthquake of 1931. Many of the homes are still in use today. Those reconstructed are often built to blend with the art deco style.
Driving by the waterfront at Port Ahurini, we saw a typical Maori craft in the marina before driving by the National Tobacco Company building, considered the best example of the art deco style in the city. The company, founded in 1922, had been making heavy profits so it had the funds to rebuild quickly. Completed in 1933, the building is now open for tours.
We drove up the hillside and saw small fishermen’s cottages that were not destroyed by the earthquake or fires, before pausing for a view of Te Mata. At the top, new housing is anticipated in an old hospital and another razed building nearby. New construction codes have halted work because the original plans do not come up to code.
Before returning to the ship, we drove through the town of Napier, which clearly celebrates it art deco style. It is displayed proudly in renovated buildings (only 4 had survived the earthquake and its aftermath) and even in its street signs.
Before we left the ship in the morning the captain had announced that there had been some potential damage caused by a miscalculation of the local pilot in Picton. We had noticed the shuttering the night before and our slower steed. Our departure was delayed, but the boat was fully inspected and deemed fit. Slight adjustments took care of the shuttering and speed issues and the night travel was comfortable.
UPDATE: There were problems with our approach into Picton caused by the local pilot who hit the rocks. The cruise company are required to have a local pilot on board when they are close to land and dock in these unique ports. The error was not the fault of the ship’s crew, although they stepped in to correct the problem when it occurred. On the night we left Picton it was thought there was no damage to the ship. The investigation of the ship took place while we were docked in Napier and was also conducted by divers outside Picton. The local pilot has been suspended.
©Jean Janssen Art deco building in Napier, New Zealand
Tomorrow we arrive in Taurango in the evening. We are part of a select group going to Hobbiton on an evening excursion. Taurango is our last port of call before reaching Auckland where we disembark the ship.