We all know and understand that Britain (with or without Scotland included) is the centre of the known universe; so we probably shouldn’t find it surprising that key events in British history are taught in New Zealand schools – you know, Kings and Queens, how we beat the French (several times), how we built and lost an empire, that sort of thing. So how much do we Brits know about New Zealand’s relatively short history? Not much if my meagre store of knowledge is anything to go by.
Anyway, all that was put right today by our visit to the very beautiful Waitangi Treaty Grounds where we were given an excellent summary of ‘everything you need to know about Kiwi history but were afraid to ask’, followed by a very enjoyable ‘cultural experience’ which included, among other things, half a dozen scary looking Maori boys and girls sticking their tongues out at us and threatening us with clubs and spears.
Not your usual welcome, admittedly, but really well done and very effective. In point of fact it would probably have been even more effective if it hadn’t coincided with a powerboat race taking place on the Bay of Islands and passing within 400m of where we were stood. Sadly, when it comes to volume even a Maori Haka can’t compete with forty or fifty 350HP Mercury outboards at full chat and a slack handful of low flying helicopters screaming overhead!
Our drive up the coast from the Bay of Islands took us to the beautiful Matauri Bay where we swam and explored yet another practically deserted, fabulous beach. Overlooking the bay is the monument to the Rainbow Warrior which, those who remember the 80s will recall, was sunk by the sneaky French Secret Service in Auckland Harbour – need I say more?
Bit of a quiet day today. After breakfast and before getting underway we spent half an hour availing ourselves of the free Wi-Fi service kindly provided by the good citizens of Lawrence. They’re no fools …….by providing free Internet access to all comers they’ve guaranteed that every coach and data-starved tourist will pause for a few minutes in the town to check their e-mails and perhaps buy a bite of breakfast or lunch whilst they’re about it. Their cunning plan seemed to be working well whilst we were there.
Our route north took us through Alexandra which, according to our Rough Guide, sprang up during the 1862 gold rush and flourished for about four years before turning itself into a quiet, prosperous service town for the fruit growers of Central Otago – and believe me, there are a lot of them, with every imaginable variety of fruit being grown on the hundreds of estates that fill the valley floors. Whether by luck or good judgement we managed to miss all of the ‘tourist attractions’ to which the town lays claim, but we did enjoy our (now routine) mid-morning coffee and muffin whilst sitting in the sun and watching the world go by. It’s a nice place.
Today has been Waitangi Day which commemorates the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840 between the UK and the ‘United Tribes of New Zealand’. In theory the treaty was supposed to protect the right of the Maori peoples, though there seems to be more than a hint of suspicion that it was just as much about keeping the French out of New Zealand – something for which we should all be grateful!
Our stopover tonight is at Cromwell, which sits on the banks of Lake Dunstan and has the distinction of being about as far from the sea as you can get in New Zealand. A bit like Banbury I suppose…….
….holiday blogs, motoring obsessions and an occasional account of goings-on in the Ewbank household