Inaugural TARSNZ AR Birthday Weekend 13-16 January 2012.
For more information contact Cheryl Paget firstname.lastname@example.org or 0064 (0)6 877 5048.
Inaugural TARSNZ AR Birthday weekend
13-16 January 2012, Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
The region of Hawke’s Bay is situated on the eastern coast of the North island of New Zealand, and as nine plucky TARSNZ members from all over the country congregated on Friday 13th of January in Havelock North, we discovered that we had inadvertently met at probably the only place in New Zealand with a genuine Ransome connection. Dick Kelsall, who as a child lived across the valley from Low Ludderburn, and whose father had developed the signalling system with Ransome that found its way into Winter Holiday, had apparently immigrated to New Zealand in later life and had lived in Havelock North until his death. This piece of news, shared immediately upon arrival was a complete surprise to most of us – how lucky could that possibly be?! It could only mean that the weekend could only be a success, which it indeed was.
The weekend kicked off with a presentation on Friday evening at the Hastings library, attended by around 50 members of the public, enticed by a wonderful article in the local paper. Entitled “Arthur Ransome, story-teller, journalist, sailor, fisherman and suspected spy” the presentation gave an overview of Ransome, his importance in the genre of children’s literature, a brief biography and the was-he-wasn’t-he argument about whether he was a double agent. The library staff had enthusiastically supported TARSNZ making the presentation, and had allowed a fantastic display in the library. In fact the publicity for the event was so good that when the librarians went to put Ransome’s books in the display, they could only find a few – all the others were out on loan!
TARSNZ members went for a great meal and a long parley at a local restaurant after the presentation, where we sat drinking Hawke’s Bay pinot gris (grog) looking out over Te Mata Peak (which looks like a man lying down) that we planned to walk during the course of our activities.
Saturday 14th was a typical of a Hawke’s Bay summer – hot, bright and clear. We started off in Napier, aptly dubbed the Art Deco Capital of the World. Hawke’s Bay suffered a devastating earthquake on 3rd February 1931, with the main settlements of Napier, Hastings and Havelock North utterly destroyed. Napier was rebuilt in the modern architectural style of the day – Art Deco, with neighbouring Hastings developing a mix of Art Deco and Spanish Mission styles. The result in Napier is the biggest concentration of Art Deco style buildings definitely in the southern hemisphere, if not in the world, and a huge tourist industry developed from the result of an 80 year old tragedy.
The TARSNZ went on an hour long guided Art Deco tour of Napier, peering through letterboxes and doors to view the sumptuous interiors of office buildings and banks, and gazing up at the ziggurats, sunbursts and speed lines gracing so many of the buildings. Where better than Napier to find out about life in the 1930’s – the time of the Swallows and Amazons?
We went our separate ways for lunch (long lunches are very much a feature of Hawke’s Bay life) and re-congregated on the coast at Clifton, where we embarked on a tractor tour along the beach to Cape Kidnappers – exotically named by Captain Cook after his Tahitian interpreter was kidnapped by local Maori at this point in 1769.
The tour was a perfect for the Dick Callums among us, with geological information along the way, our tractor-driving guide pointing out fault lines clearly visible in the cliff face, and the different layers of rock. At the end of the beach, we had to embark, and after a short walk to the top of the cliff came upon the largest mainland Gannet colony in the world. It was nesting time, with adult birds caring for their fluffy chicks – many of whom were actually bigger than the parents and taking up the entire nest!
As the mother of two teenage boys, I know exactly how those gannets felt. As you can only access the Cape at low tide, we felt like we really had crossed the Red Sea. After a speedy ride back along the beach, we were all tired out with the fresh air and exercise of the day, so we all went our separate ways for an evening meal and a good long sleep.
Sunday 15th was again a gorgeous day – perfect for a visit to the Hawke’s Bay Farmer’s Market – the oldest Farmer’s Market in New Zealand and the largest, perfect for the Rogers and the Susans.
Hastings used to be dubbed the Fruitbowl of New Zealand as it is the largest pipfruit producing region in the country. 60% of New Zealand’s apples are grown here, so if you ever eat a New Zealand apple there’s a very good chance it comes from Hastings. There are a great many stalls at the market, selling artisan breads, ice cream, cheese and cakes and locally produced jams, chutneys, olive oil, wine, beef, venison and pork, fruit and vegetables, and topped off with a musician playing his guitar and singing. We did wonder if he would do sea shanties!
When we could finally tear ourselves away from the gastronomic delights of the market, we headed to the Osmanthus Garden in Cornwall Park, Hastings. This Chinese garden was created to celebrate the 15th anniversary of the Sister City relationship between Hastings and Guilin, a relationship developed due to the agricultural similarities between the two cities, a relationship which actually led directly to the development of the gold kiwifruit, and the pacific rose apple variety.
The Cannonball stall
2011 saw the 30th anniversary celebrated – the first and thus oldest New Zealand-China Sister City relationship. The garden is a fusion of Chinese and New Zealand native plants and traditional design, and includes a large pond and pavilions, and is designed as a giant Chinese puzzle. We almost expected to see Missee Lee walk around the corner of this tranquil garden.
However, our day had barely begun – we next headed off to Kanchenjunga (Te Mata Peak) which we intended to climb. We met two new TARSNZ recruits in the car park – one had attended the presentation in the library and wanted to join our activities, and he brought along his nephew. Both were called Alasdair and both were incredibly knowledgeable about all things Swallows and Amazons, so they were promptly nicknamed Old Billy and Young Billy, despite Old Billy’s protestations that he wasn’t anywhere near old enough even to be young Billy!
We set of at a pace up the track, noting of course that to be truly authentic we should a) rope ourselves together and b) stay off the official track, but we tacitly agreed that given our average age we should not attempt anything quite so risky! By this time, it was midday and the temperature was 28 degrees centigrade with no wind. Luckily, Te Mata Peak rises fairly steeply to 399m above the Heretaunga Plains which is virtually at sea level, so as we climbed the temperature dropped to a very pleasant level.
Four of our group took the rattletrap option to the summit, and met us there with a boot full of picnic – much of the grub purchased at the farmers market that morning. The walkers were jolly pleased to meet the rattletrapers at the top, where we all tucked into our lunch, admiring the amazing view. Sadly, it was too hazy to see Mount Ruapehu, an active volcano in the Tongariro National Park around 150km away as the crow flies.
We followed the goat track down from the summit, where Old Billy proved to be a very friendly native by leading the way. A quick spruce up at our various accommodations preceded another fine meal at a local pub, where we wet our whistles with a glass or two of the local grog and prepared for the TARSNZ fiendishly hard quiz – held at St Luke’s church hall in Havelock North. This fine timber church was consecrated in 1874, which makes it rather an ancient building in terms of New Zealand’s pakeha (or European) history.
On the summit of Kanchenjunga – our 9 members increased to 11!
Much scratching of heads took place over the quiz, where TARSNZ members and the Billies were lulled into a false sense of security with an easy first round where all teams scored 10 out of 10 – by the middle of the quiz one team (who will remain nameless, but you know who you are) were too embarrassed to call out their score as it was, on more than one occasion, a big fat zero! By the end everyone was groaning, and most were stumped by the “Life and times of Arthur Ransome” round. In fact some members were heard to bemoan the lack of time in the pub to get grogged up enough to liberate a few more grey cells! Many of the questions were supplied by the AUSTARS, so the quizmaster takes no credit for the fiendishness of the questions! The winning team – Dolly the Cragfast Sheep – were rewarded with a couple of bars of William’s chocolate.
We took a mid-quiz break to tuck into a specially decorated birthday cake, expertly cut by our very own Captain John, and at the end everyone received a certificate of participation, with a twist – members were awarded certificates for “looking the most like Captain Flint,” “having the squashiest hat,” “being the most like Nancy and Peggy” “Having the most fun crossing the Red Sea” and “the Amazon award for escaping” to name a few.
Monday 16th was another fine day, where we visited Te Mata winery, one of the oldest wineries in Hawke’s Bay, and enjoyed a guided tour. We saw cellars and barrels that would gladden the hearts of the hardest pirates, despite the fact that the picking season hasn’t yet started, so the cellars only contained the ageing wines – the 2012 crop is still growing on the vine. We were also given a wine tasting – as true pirates, of course you can’t throw good grog away, and despite the sun being a long way off the yardarm we managed to knock back quite a few different varieties between us!
For the afternoon we headed over to the Silky Oak Chocolate Factory, where we had a talk about the chocolate making process used there, and tasted a few cunning samples. We had lunch at the cafe (more chocolate!), before heading off in our Rattletraps to our various homes, all thrilled at how well the weekend went.
Considering that on Friday we were virtually all complete strangers, by Sunday we were fast friends, and vowing to make AR’s birthday weekend an annual event. In 2013 we plan to go Away to Rio – Wellington – which has a rich literary history, an observatory, an island wildlife sanctuary in the harbour, a fascinating history and an international airport – just perfect for TARS to fly in from other parts of the world to join us!