...... previous day next day ......
Abel Tasman Coastal Track Nelson

5th February 2012

An Ugly Building Near the Centre of New Zealand and the Birth Of New Zealand Rugby

Trafalgar Street
    I left Marahau under a haze of drizzle. The roads were exceedingly "greasy" with the drizzle, so much so that I passed two cars upside down in ditches with emergency vehicles in attendance.
    The road around to Nelson took me through Motueka, and then along the coast to Mapua. A few kilometres inland and I would have been travelling through the Upper Moutere wine region. From Mapua I had a splendid view across the Waimea Estuary to the pine draped Rabbit Island with its endless stretch of beaches, before I swept into the city of Nelson, nestled on the coast between the Arthur and Richmond ranges.
    I picked up a campsite close to the city centre, and even closer to Nelson hospital; handy if I go down with the yellow-spotted sandfly disease. The guy who ran the site took me through to his office. I was instantly mesmerised by his hair. It was wiry and had the same colour as the Grey River; chocolate-grey. It just didn't look real to me.
    The chap's name was Geert, and hard to pronounce, the "G" sounding like a gutteral "H". He was Dutch and went by the name of Gary on site since nobody could pronounce his real name. He kindly gave me a map and pointed out the places of interest on it.
South Street
    Since it was now dry outside, I wasted no time in walking into the city centre. Once I had established what was happening in the city on Waitangi Day (tomorrow), I walked down Trafalgar Street, a pretty main thoroughfare full of shops, cafes, restaurants, hanging baskets and trees.
Christ Church Cathedral
    Nelson city was named after Britain's most famous sailor, who defeated both the French and Spanish fleets at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. Many of the roads and public areas around the city were named after people and ships associated with that battle, and Trafalgar Street was the main shopping axis of the city. Inhabitants of Nelson were referred to as Nelsonians. The city was renowned for its arts and crafts, golden beaches and its sunny, Mediterranean climate. Indeed it had a reputation of being the sunniest place in the country. This warm, sunny aspect, coupled with the combination of Nelson's pleasant lifestyle, excellent visitor facilities and three national parks (Nelson Lakes, Kahurangi and Abel Tasman) plus wineries on its doorstep, made the city utterly irresistible. It was well and truly part of the top-class South Island visitor circuit.
Christ Church Cathedral Windows
    Montgomery Square just of the main street had what could be best described as a car boot sale taking place in it, and like all car boot sales, it was full of junk. Shame on me for saying such a thing.
    I sauntered down to the olde-worlde, historic South Street. Here, a row of quaint workers' cottages stood, allegedly built between 1863 and 1867, and reputed to be the oldest fully intact street in New Zealand, though I vaguely remember having heard that said of somewhere else.
    A stone throw away from South Street, a hill was sited, on which the grim, grey-stone Christ Church Cathedral gazed down Trafalgar Street towards the sea. The construction of this building started in 1924, but lack of funds brought about modifications to the design, and the final hybrid was completed in 1965, though the tower still looked as though it was under construction. Indeed to me it resembled a fire-station practice tower. I climbed up the granite steps made form Tonga granite, a brief reminder of the Tonga Quarry that I passed yesterday. The impressive stained-glass windows at the front of the building made up for the ugly exterior.
    Inside, the building was mostly grey, apart from the pews and beautiful windows. One thing I had never seen before in a cathedral was a labyrinth on the floor. Over the centuries, labyrinths have been a feature of many cathedrals, one of the best remaining examples dates from the Middle Ages and is found in Chartres Cathedral in northern France. On the floor of Christ Church Cathedral they have reproduced a classic seven circuit labyrinth.
    The Middle Ages was a time of pilgrimages, but since many could not make the pilgrimage to Jerusalem (considered at the time to be the centre of the world symbolising the Kingdom of Heaven), they would instead make pilgrimages to cathedrals like Canterbury, Santiago de Compostella and Chartres. When they arrived they would complete their pilgrimage by walking the labyrinth.
    Unlike a maze, labyrinths have only one path, there are no dead ends. It has a single circuitous path that winds into the centre. From a religious or meditative viewpoint, there are generally three stages to the walk: releasing on the way in, receiving in the centre and returning, that is, taking back out into the world that which you have received.
    It was partially covered by a piano when I spotted it, but a couple coming along wanted to walk the labyrinth, so I helped one of the cathedral workers to move it. I fell into conversation with the worker, and asked him, "What is this grey stone that the building is made up from?" It was local granite, whose name escapes me. He took me across to one of the pillars near the Chancel. The side nearest the Nave was smooth granite. On the Sanctuary side, the colour was almost the same, but the texture was totally different. It was concrete and obviously part of the hybrid construction.
Botanical Reserve - Site of New Zealand's First Game of Rugby
    He told me the tower was concrete too. I didn't make my views of the aesthetics of the tower known to him, but I did ask, "Is it earthquake proof?" "We don't know," was his reply. "When it was built, the steel rods were placed too near the surface, and now moisture has got in to them and is starting to ping off some of the concrete. It will cost over a million to rectify the situation. After the Christchurch earthquake, insurance is tripling. Next year we will be able to insure against fire and vandalism, and the contents, but not the building," he added. "We will need great faith that nothing untoward happens," he laughed, but that didn't prevent Christchurch Cathedral from becoming rubble.
    Across the Maitai River lay the Botanical Reserve, which saw New Zealand's first ever game of rugby being played out in 1870. Charles Monro was born at Waimea West in 1851 and entered Nelson College in 1861 where he remained until 1865. In 1867 he set out for England with the intention of entering the army. In preparation for this he attended Christ's College in London where he learnt the game of rugby. Returning to New Zealand, he brought the game with him and is considered the founder of rugby in New Zealand.
Centre of New Zealand
    At the top of Botanical Hill stood a scenic lookout with views to the city, port and mountains. The lookout was called the "Centre of New Zealand" due to its close proximity to the country's geographic mid-point. The mountains sitting behind Nelson were dark, brooding and draped in low cloud. The view across Tasman Bay to the Abel Tasman National Park was much brighter. Beyond the harbour was Boulder Bank, a 13.5km long barrier spit sheltering Nelson Haven; a unique geological feature composed of granodiorite pebbles, cobbles and boulders derived from Mackay Bluff, north of Glenduan. The 140 million year old granodiorite had been brought to the surface through uplift and erosion, and the exposed angular pieces fallen off the bluff are transported by coastal longshore currents to form the spit. The rock is very hard and does not readily disintegrate. Instead the angular pieces abrade against each other forming progressively smaller cobbles and pebbles the further they get from Mackay Bluff.
    The Maori version is slightly different. A long time ago Kupe was returning to the North Island after visiting the Nelson region. Two of his men, Pani and Kereopa, decided to return to the idyllic bay to live and absconded with the daughter of Kupe, setting out in two waka (canoes). Kupe was extremely angry and set off in hot pursuit. The two fugitives tried various ploys to impede Kupe such as offering karakia (prayers) to their atau (gods and spirits) to invoke storms, reefs and whirlpools. None of these tactics slowed Kupe so they threw his daughter overboard, diverting Kupe to rescue her. The incensed Kupe nearly caught the men as they neared Whakatu (Nelson) but they sped up and Pani escaped out into Tasman Bay while Kereopa headed towards the shallows. Kereopa, seeing that Kupe was almost upon him, called to the atau to form a barrier. The barrier grew out of cliffs at Horoirangi (Mackay's Bluff) apace with the two canoes as they headed towards land. Kupe had no time to get around the end of the bank, giving Kereopa just enough time to land and escape inland to the south. Kupe put about to pursue Pani, who invoked the atua to impede Kupe with taniwha and storms. However, it was the waka of Pani that came to grief in the terrible rips as Kupe chased him past the northern end of Rangitoto ki te Tonga (D'Urville Island).
Panoramic View of Nelson, the Blue Smudge on the Horizon Being Abel Tasman National Park      (please use scroll bar)

    While I had been doing an early explore of Nelson, I had been talking to my eldest daughter Sally about the possibility of meeting up with Mel for a coffee and chin wag. Sally and Mel had shared a house when they were at Manchester University, and Mel had moved out to Nelson a couple of years ago. Sally had passed my mobile number on to Mel, and soon Mel had invited me over to her place for a meal in the evening; a very kind gesture.
    I returned back to camp, and bumped into Geert again. "In the four years I have worked here, you are the only person who has called me by my proper name. I am very thankful for that," he told me. The smallest of things can sometimes cheer people up. He was very much into vintage cars and motorcycles, and he pointed out a museum in town that had a good collection. I sensed his disappointment when I told him I was not going to bust a gut to visit it, though he was impressed when he learned that I had been to the Whanganui Cemetery Circuit Road Races. He had also done some sailing in his time. One memorable trip was a sail around the Caribbean, immediately followed by a sail across the Atlantic to the Azores, then to Falmouth, then across the south coast of Britain and across to Holland. The journey included one engine fire and an almost near disaster when the steering was on the verge of failing. Sadly a batch of customers turned up so I had to leave our discussion.
    In the evening I went over to Mel's, and was greeted at the door by a giant of a fellow called Bas, probably misspelt and Dutch by birth. He seemed a warm friendly chap, and as I apologised for my lateness he laughed it off by telling me he had only arrived too. He took me into the kitchen where Mel was busying herself with food. She had hardly changed since I last saw her, and she gave me a friendly hug and a warm welcome.
    They had made a couple of large pizzas from scratch on a large pizza stone in the oven, and they were scrumptious. We had a chill and chew, catching up on what they were up to, what my daughter Sally was up to, and what I had been up to on my travels. Mel and Bas were hoping to go to Perth in 6 months' time in order to earn enough money for a trip to Europe. I hope it all works out for them.
    We got onto various topics such as the Christchurch disaster, the Maori culture, politics and media, and also education. Bas, whose parents moved here from Holland when he was three years old, thought the education system here was too easy, though it is hard to define yardsticks by which to judge that.
    I had a very pleasant time with them; good food and good company. I checked the clock - 11:20pm and Bas had to be up by 05:30, so I thanked the two, wished them safe and happy journey where ever they end up travelling to, and bade them farewell. They seemed like a well-matched couple, and I wish them well.

...... previous day next day ......
Abel Tasman Coastal Track Nelson

Uploaded from i-Site, Nelson on 7th February at 10:20

Last updated 3.1.2013