Driving North (2)

We drove to Rotorua the next day.  At the lakefront there were ponies.  Eleanor rode Louise, and Rosamund rode Little Man.  The gentleman who popped them in the saddles and gave us the reins chatted with us afterwards.

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“You won’t believe it,” he said.  “I’m the 1932 model.  81 years old.”

We made appreciative noises, as he went on.

“That’s the good thing about being broke; you’ve got to keep working.”

“Oh,” we said.

He nodded ambiguously and then asked us to take his photo with Eleanor and Rosamund.  “You can tell everyone you saw your Koro up in Rotorua.  Everyone knows Koro.”

I’ve been to Rotorua a handful of times over the years, and it has never really grabbed me.  Cathy and I once came here in about 1996 and stayed at a motel called The Ace.  We were amazed to discover that it is still there on the long main drag into town that is lined with motels, hotels and Maori cultural centres.  Amazed because it wasn’t very good, and because they roped us into a deal to take the gondola up to a tepid buffet dinner looking out over the distinctly unimpressive lights of Rotorua at night.

There was something about that buffet that ruined all buffets for me.  I have since experienced amazing buffets, but because of that buffet in Rotorua my initial reaction to the “b” word is to sigh and feel slightly depressed.  Try it one day if you meet me: say “buffet” and watch my face.

Looking at the enormous Te Puea Centre as we drove into town I thought that foreign visitors to New Zealand must end up assuming that traditional Maori culture has something to do with thermal activity.  Maori cultural performances are oddly concentrated in Rotorua.  This is probably a result of a long association between Rotorua and government backed tourism – something I only really became aware of on this visit.

More or less at random we went to the unpromisingly-named Government Gardens for lunch.  I had never been there before, so we more or less randomly discovered one of Rotorua’s most well-known main attractions.  A large park area with established trees, a bowling green, rose gardens and two quite famous buildings.

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The information board out the front informed us that this building (erected in 1906-07) was the first official government tourism venture.  Behind the gun in the photo above stands a memorial to the Maori men of the local area who were killed in World War One.  This is my favourite kind of memorial.  It sort of sticks in the skin of modernity.  A memorial where a Maori iwi celebrates dying for Empire, King and Country in Turkey and France.  This is not a dig at anyone, by the way, I like the memorial because it sits there awkwardly reminding us that the past is a complicated place for the modern mind to venture.

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Huntly.  I think this is the first time I have stopped in Huntly.  Mostly I have heard bad things about it.  To be honest the main reason we stopped this time was because Dai Henwood said on 7 Days that they still have a Deka sign and I wanted to see it.  Deka closed in 2001.  Twelve years is a great run for this sign.

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It has a weird main street.  Huntly, that is.  The road dips down a bit under a pedestrian bridge, and then bobs up again in what feels like a street where the buildings have been pushed in a bit too much, like they’re crowding the cars, and the people.  We went to a Mr.-Bun-kind-of-place that also served meals with catchy acronyms for names; BECS was bacon, eggs, chips and sauce, FECS came with a fish.  Curiously they didn’t have an acronym for the sausage meal.

Quite a while ago I wrote some posts about 1973 (I was born in 1973… yes, I’m that vain).  The Rumour was a pretty big band in New Zealand in 1972 and 1973.  The duo driving it were brothers from Huntly.  The interview in the Listener with “Shade” (aka John) Smith is one of the funniest things I have ever read.  Unfortunately it didn’t give me a particularly positive impression of the town.  Which isn’t really fair.  I don’t think John “Shade” Smith would really be typical of any town.

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It’s quite hard to explain Rangiriri to a six-year-old.

“The Maori people were here a long time before – ”

“Yeah, yeah, I know, before the white people.”

“- and then the, um, white people wanted the land… well, not straight away…”

“Why?”

“So there was a fight about the land, and -”

“Why didn’t they just give them the land?”

” – many people died.”

Then there was a lot about who exactly it was who had guns.  They both did.  I’m not sure why this was hard to understand but it was.

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Let’s face it, “why?” is always a good question.

There were information boards around the remains of the Maori trenches and earthworks that showed where the fighting had been fiercest.  Even with an information board it’s hard to appreciate that a long time ago those moments in time were a now.  Men dug the earth and calloused their hands, smelt the soil, waited in the night for the assault, listening to the early morning chorus of birds, clutching their rifles.  And many of them went on to death.  All for the land.  For the right to self-determination.  And now all it is really is a little carpark by State Highway One, a track, and a patch of lumpy land.

Posterity deals with our fiercest moments harshly sometimes.  Usually.

******

On the way south after the holiday Eleanor asked about Matt again.  She often brings up people who have died like my father, or Cathy’s grandmother.  It fascinates her.  This time it was Matt.

“Where do they go after they die?  Do they meet their friends and things like that?” she asked.

Cathy said that some people think one thing, and some another, but that we think they don’t go anywhere.  They stop.

I watched the farmland of the Rangitikei unfold for a while assuming the conversation had ended.  When Cathy told Eleanor “it would be alright” I realised Eleanor had been crying in the back seat.

I don’t know what to tell you, Eleanor.  We stop, it’s true, but we have now.

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John-Paul

I wrote a book called Kaitiaki o te Pō

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