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Nelson Picton

6th February 2012

Hangi on Waitangi Day and a Walk Along Tahunanui Beach

A Founders Heritage Street
    Today is Waitangi Day, the anniversary of the signing of the Waitangi Treaty between the British and the Maori in 1840.
    I headed off quite early to the opposite side of the city, passing Rutherford Street on the way. It was quite appropriate to have a street named after that famous fellow. Brightwater, near Nelson, was the birthplace of Lord Rutherford, the Nobel Prize-winning physicist who successfully split the atom. His image appears on New Zealand's $100 banknote, the largest denomination in circulation in the country.
    My destination was Founders Park. The generous donation of $50k by the Newman family in 1976, to back their concept of a Nelson Regional Transport Museum, sowed the seed of today's Founders Heritage Park. The following year a Board of Trustees was established and by 1980 the Nelson City Council had approved the land for the Park. Filled to a depth of 3-4m with city waste, capped with clay from Walters Bluff, the allocated landfill site required much engineering work to prepare it for development.
    Created with a combination of community skills, unemployed labour directed from the Labour Department, community service clubs, local businesses and a raft of volunteers, Founders officially opened in 1986. During the early period of development which included extensive landscape gardening, many historic buildingd were relocated to Founders while others were replicated. Following a period of uncertainty, the Nelson City Council assumed control in 1995.
Bristol Merchant Buccaneer
    I wasn't sure what to expect of the event planned for the park today. I knew there was going to be a hangi "feast" with lots of kai "food", but that was my scant knowledge. On my arrival, before the hordes arrived, I looked around what old buildings there were. Most served as shops nowadays, pedalling arts and crafts, a mirror image of the city.
    Like St Ives in the UK, the quality of light drew painters and potters to the city like a magnet. Nelson was now a centre for arts and crafts. Galleries and artists' studios housed work made from glass, metal, stone, wood, clay, sand, paper, ink, paint and fabric. Each year the city hosted popular events such as the Nelson Arts Festival. The annual Wearable Art Awards began near Nelson and a museum, World of Wearable Art, was housed close to Nelson Airport, showcasing winning designs.
Hangi Being Uncovered
    A transport museum stood near the entrance, full of old Newman coaches. Nearby was an old engine shed containing old steam and diesel locomotives and a range of carriages. There was nobody in attendance, the guy in charge was constantly ferrying folk up and down an 800m section of track in a trolley bus. Thus I took full advantage of the situation and wandered around the workshops, spotting lathes from London and Huddersfield, a collection of pillar drills and milling machines and that wonderful aroma of grease and cutting fluids. I would have loved to have seen some of these in action.
    What surprised me was seeing a Bristol Merchant Buccaneer (a plane for the uninitiated) parked up on an area of grass. This landed on the Wakapuaka mudflats in 1986 before being stripped of its wings and tail plane and towed by road into Founders Park. It is one of four remaining Bristols in New Zealand, another one being on display at the Omaka Aerodrome in Blenheim.
    Merchant Buccaneer was the last Bristol flying in Straits Air Force Express (SAFE) colours. It started its 33 year flying career with the Pakistani Air Force in 1953, and purchased by SAFE and flown over to New Zealand in 1966 to uphold "Airmail" and interisland freight contracts.
Maori Singsong
    The roadways through the park were all lined with stalls selling more arts and crafts, but predominantly food and drink from all over the world.
    At the end of the park, a path covered in trampled sea shells took me through to Whakatu Marae, an area of cabins inhabited by Maori. On a slight rise to one side, I watched a small group of Maori men, all leaning on shovels and stroking their chins, in deep debate about something. Close to where I was standing, I could overhear a group of Maori women setting up stalls. "It's only been cooking for 4 hours," said one of them, "we will have to microwave it."
    Then I twigged, the Maori men were standing over a fully charged hangi pit. In a short while the men started to shovel away the mass of ash and charcoal to recover the treasure hidden below. The deeper they dug, the more steam started to rise, and the fiercer the heat was on their bodies.
Not Quite the Red Arrows
    Soon they had reached a layer of sacking which they gingerly removed, followed by more layers of sheets. This revealed two iron cages, each about 150cmx30cmx30cm, which were full of hessian sacks crammed full of vegetables. The sacks were carefully removed, placed into metal dishes, and despatched to the women by the stalls. Below the cages were two more, each filled with parcels of meat wrapped in aluminium foil. These too were sent across to the expanding army of women volunteers. Below the cages were old lumps of rail and iron, presumably put there to get some heat below the items to be cooked.
    I gave it half an hour before I tried the hangi. It comprised steamed potatoes, sweet potatoes, lamb, stuffing, and a little chopped up salad. The meat was a little tough, but overall I enjoyed the meal. This Maori area where I sat eating was full of bonhomie, a festival for all.
    The sun was now baking hot, and I was searching for shade. I nipped into the Founders Microbrewery to try half a pint of Red Head, a very pleasant ale. While I was queuing, I heard a voice from further behind, "It's the man from the boat trip." I turned around to see the couple I had met on the water taxi on my trip up to Torrent Bay. We sat with our drinks at the same table, and I mentioned to them that Bas had told me the previous evening that he thought the education system was too simple, hoping to pick up the conversation that we had begun 3 days earlier. "Yes, the British degrees are recognised in New Zealand, but Britain doesn't recognise the New Zealand degrees," said the woman. Her husband added, "It wasn't just education that took us back to the UK, my father was ill at the time, and I couldn't progress any further in my job since I wasn't a Kiwi."
    The couple had a week left before they returned back to snowy Britain, and the man's wife was a little despondent at the thought. However, she brightened up when her son walked in with his Maori wife, to drag the couple off to the powhiri "greeting ceremony". I too went off and found a stage where a group of Maori were ready to perform. They went through similar songs (as far as I could tell), and dances that I had witnessed at Waitangi a couple of months ago. With their clear melodic voices, they were a pleasure to listen to, and all sung with a smile.
Panoramic View of Tahunanui Beach      (please use scroll bar)

    A woman who sat next to me on a log during the performance, was from Australia. "My father came from New Zealand," she said, "and I came over to a family reunion. I met lots of cousins I had never seen before. Now, after the reunion, a friend and I are touring New Zealand in a campervan." I knew there was no equivalent to Waitangi Day in Australia, but we chatted about the relationship with the Aborigines. She told me that there had been an official apology from the government to the Aborigines. Cruel things were undertaken in the past, such as taking the Aborigine children away from their parents and putting them into institutions. We talked a while , then wished each other happy travels and safe journey, and we became memories.
    By the time I'd had enough of the event, besides the hangi, I had tucked into Swiss potato cake with cheese and bacon, and later Burmese Curry. Absolutely delicious!
    I walked the 2 or 3 miles back to camp, picked up my wagon and drove out to Tahunanui Beach, passing a long row of ship containers on the roadside on the way, a reminder of the terrible floods the city had suffered in early December. Mel's house was sufficiently far from the Maitai River and did not suffer any problems during the crisis.
    The beach was a magnificent wide curving expanse of sand and shallow sea, with the Abel Tasman National Park across the Tasman Bay forming a blue silhouette against the azure sky. The sea just sparkled like a million diamonds. It looked as though most of the city was out on the beach. Bas had told me the evening before that most New Zealanders look at Waitangi Day as just another day off work, and ignore the significance of the day. That appeared apparent here, or maybe I'm being unfair.
    I walked a while up the beach till boredom set in, and walked back. The salty air was refreshing to breathe on this stifling hot day.
    I took another walk into the city in the evening and found a bar with Skysport being shown on about a dozen table sized screens. It gave me a warm feeling watching the English Premier League highlights, particularly those games being played in the north which seemed to suffering blizzard conditions. My God that sun was hot today.

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Nelson Picton

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

Last updated 7.2.2012