Part Three, The School Bus

ShackIf you have been following my blog over the years, you’ll know I’ve been prevaricating about writing a ‘novel’ for years. I’ve started it. But couldn’t start to finish it. My new year’s resolution for 2016 is to finish it. Happy New Year by the way.

Here you can have a preview of where the book moves on to from ‘A Giant Eel’ and ‘The Wrong Place’. Those chapters are available on this blog as well. This is the next chapter. Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin…

Hemi didn’t get to go to boarding school. He didn’t know anything about where Guy had gone to school. Just that he had gone away. Hemi was going to the High School in the nearest town. The one Guy’s mum didn’t think much of.

It used to be a good school, once upon a time. Maybe that was a story the older people used to tell as you can’t really prove any of that stuff, except by how good the First Fifteen was in the old days. Too many New Zealand High Schools have the fame of their first fifteen being the thing people talk about the most. For all our progression as a young country, we still set too much store by sporting accomplishment instead of academic achievement. That’s not what this story is about though. I digress.

Hemi was going to take the bus to the local high school. He’d been given his uniform to start his first day at High School. His mum had borrowed bits of uniforms from other people who didn’t need theirs for their kids anymore. None of if fitted properly of course and it all looked pretty second hand, which was what it was. Hemi thought it looked stink, but he’d never had a brand new bit item of clothing in his whole life anyway. It wasn’t that it was second hand, it was that it stunk of mothballs and they hadn’t bloody worked anyway if the moth holes were anything to go by. It was more than stink, it was ‘shit house’ Hemi thought to himself.

His parents had no advice to give him about School. It was a bloody long time since they went there and they didn’t pay any attention when they did. Hemi had never had any sort of conversation of any sort about education with his parents. His mother made him some sandwiches to take. Stale bread sandwiches, with Marmite and cheese in them. Bloody awful by lunchtime after a morning in a hot school bag, he knew that much about school anyway. He didn’t reckon high school would make his crappy lunch taste any better.

He’d met some of the kids who were going to be going to his new High School though as he’d played Rugby with and against them in the winter. It was a rural community so you pretty much knew who everyone was within a 50 kilometre radius. Which was about the size of the catchment area for the High School.

The School bus is a microcosm of New Zealand society. There’s no class system, but there is definitely a hierarchy. Kids from different backgrounds stuck together. They sat together on the bus. Farm owner’s kids mostly went to boarding school. On the school bus the farm manager’s kids were the top of the table at provincial High Schools, then the people who owned businesses. The local stock truck company, or the rural pub. Then there were the shepherds kids, the shepherds might be farm managers one day. Then there were the shearers and the fencers kids. The people doing the hard physical stuff, that required skill with the hands and repetitive experience, were often Maori.

There actually aren’t a lot of Maori in rural ‘middle New Zealand’. What they call the heartland. The Maori tended to live in town, or at the coast, up the East Coast, or up North. Not out on some country road in the middle of nowhere, not as a general rule anyway, not unless it was in some little community on their Turangawaewae, their land.

So Hemi was going to take the bus. He waited out by the old bus shelter on the dusty road. The bus shelter was an old corrugated iron water tank that had been cut in half with a piece of wood for a seat. He sat and waited, watching the morning happen, listening to the gentle sounds that penetrated the silence. He could hear Magpies, warbling to each other in the Macrocarpa. There was also the sound of sheep coughing and then bleating contentedly. That maaa, sound they make with a mouthful of grass, as if passing comment on the quality of the pasture. Off in the distance there was a Fletcher top dressing plane working some far valley. He could also hear the bus making it’s way up the long winding hill road, changing up and down gears. There was quite a lot to hear in this rural semi wilderness. He wasn’t thinking about anything in particular, just watching and listening.

The bus doubled as a mail bus, It had already been travelling for a few hours before it got to Hemi’s place. It came from down on the beach, a small community a long way from anywhere, beside the sea.

He knew how long the trip was going to take, and wasn’t looking forward to it. He lived so far from town that getting to and from High School was 3 hours of his day, every day. That’s a long time in an uncomfortable seat. The bus ride to town from Hemi’s place took over an hour and a half, it was half an hour until they even got to the tar seal. Hemi was the 2nd kid to get on after the bus left the beach. The beach was 40 k’s away. The 1st kid on was from the big station in the hill country. Hemi could choose his seat .

Choosing a seat for the 1st time on a new school bus is a minefield of social etiquette. He had to decide where ‘his place’ was. He wouldn’t go down the back, as he’d find himself marooned among the hard kids, or the ones who thought they were. You had to earn a place at the back of the bus. He couldn’t sit at the front either. That’s were the goody goods sat, the tell tales, the kids who would dob you in for anything. No, he wasn’t one of them either. He needed to be in the middle, but he might sit in someone else’s favourite seat, he could bugger up the dynamic of the natural unstated seating plan.

He decided to sit across the way from the kid from up at the Station. He knew her by sight only. It’s funny. He’d lived within a couple of k’s of this girl for all of his 13 years. She was just up the road. But he was the shepherds boy on a different farm. The people in the big station didn’t mix with the other people out here. He didn’t know why she didn’t go to boarding school. She looked a bit strange though. Not quite right somehow. He gave her the standard New Zealand greeting of someone you see but don’t want to use any words to say g’day. When you are just acknowledging them rather than actually greeting. It’s a physical expression, you sort of jerk your head up a bit, sometimes while also raising your eyebrows a bit or sticking your chin out slightly, all in one swift fluid movement.

That’s how you say g’day in New Zealand without using any words. It says all you need to say with one movement of your head.

He sat in his new seat and looked out the window. The bus pulled away and he watched his place get smaller in the distance.

The bus stopped and started, picking up more kids, young adults, the chatter increased. Nobody stopped to say g’day to the new boy. There was no need, they knew who he was and he wasn’t one of them. He was the Maori shepherds boy.

All the kids who got on the bus knew exactly what seat they were going to. They sat where they always sat and with whoever they always sat with. He wasn’t in anyone’s seat yet. He didn’t reckon the bus would fill up either. He might even get to have his double bench seat to himself. Choice!

Then she got on and sat beside him.

She came out of some crappy house on a run down block not that far from town. The house was in a shittier state than his and that was saying something. She was a Pakeha, with dirty hair and a scruffy uniform. It was dirty. Then he smelled her. She smelt of piss. There was always someone at school who smelt of piss. Like she’d pissed herself and hadn’t had a wash. It was Monday morning, the start of a new school year and she stunk of piss and was in dirty clothes. What the hell was that about? Why did she have to sit with him? He couldn’t get up and move. She was in the way and he didn’t have any reason to move, other than he was embarrassed to be sitting with her, a Stink Pakeha girl.

It’s a real dilemma for a young fella on his first High School bus ride. What to do man? This sucks. She was ugly, stunk of piss and was in dirty clothes, sharing his seat, what if people think he’s mates with her. His mind was swimming. He looked out the window, trying to pretend she wasn’t there. But she was inches away from him. She said hello. Well not so much as hello as Hi. She said her name was Beverley. Beverly Simmonds. Hemi’s heart sank, now he had to say g’day, so he gave her the wordless greeting. She wasn’t going to settle for that though. She asked him where he was from, she hadn’t seen him before, she wanted to talk to him, make friends, that was bad enough, then the penny dropped who she was.

She must be old mad Bert Simmonds daughter. Everyone for miles around knew about old mad Bert Simmonds. He had no nose, blew it off himself with a shotgun when he tried to kill himself when his mrs left him. He missed, how the hell do you miss your own head with a shotgun? Jeez man, how could something so stink happen on his first day. He did not want to be making friends with this dumb stink Sheila. He was getting all worked up now, but not showing it though ay. He was just going to have to suck it up until he got to school. He had a look around the bus for where he could sit on the way home. He wasn’t going to make this mistake again that’s for sure.


Filed under General views

What were they thinking?

IMG_0222In England they put blue plaques on the outside walls of places important or at least significant people used to live. ‘Orson Wells lived here once’ sort of thing. A friend posted a thought provoking and mildly ironic photo taken outside somewhere George Orwell used to live. Bolted to the wall below his blue plaque is a large CCTV camera. The picture is actually a fake but someone clearly thought it was worth the effort. A pointed reference of course for anyone who is familiar with one of the key tenets in Orwell’s famous book, 1984, about the frightening development in his future imagined world of ‘thought police’ and ‘thought crime’.

In his grim future world, we would be pursued, tried and convicted for thinking the wrong thing. Sent to Room 101 for re-education in the right way of thinking, along the party lines, whoever the party happened to be and what the acceptable thoughts were at the time. The world famous book and generally impressive movie were relentlessly depressing. Imagine being controlled and persecuted for thinking the wrong thing?

Thankfully the nearest real life manifestation of this horrendous subjugation of the general public came and went with the rise and fall of Soviet Russia and the somewhat lightening of at least the obvious widespread repression in Communist China. The last proper bastion of thought police in apparent public practice is in North Korea.

And in our homes.

In our homes? Yes, every day, we judge and categorize people for what they think. We deem them worthy of our attention, adoration or opprobrium based on what they think. Simply according to if we find what they think acceptable or not. We form opinions of people, life long ones, on the way they think. With the arrival of social media, we can now take our own thought policing to a far more public platform. We can judge everyone, not just the people we know. If anyone on the internet is wrong, we can publically scold, humiliate and correct them with our opinion which is the correct one. Reading any comment section on any online newspaper story that allows comments reduces my faith in humanity. It’s amazing. People took time to log in, and compose that stuff. I digress…

It’s like this. You know people you have some sort of interaction with every day; you will treat them convivially should you share a common thought process or with barely concealed or outwardly displayed contempt because you disapprove of how they think. In that case you might have otherwise liked them very much, but they consistently and stupidly fail to see your point of view on something important to you. They dare to even think the opposite; therefore they are a complete ignoramus and lower form of life than you. Because they think differently to you. You also think differently to them but they maybe feel less strongly about it than you. Losers.

One of the great causes of explosive personal conflict is the argument over a strongly held difference of opinion, which is simply two opposing thought processes. The less articulate will come to blows rather than being prepared to accept someone might be a worthy person in general but unfortunately takes a particular view on a particular touch point, thus negating any other redeeming features. The falling out is often total, the judgement of character intense and destructive, because of an unacceptable train of thought by the other person.

It doesn’t have to be as extreme as religion although that’s certainly the most public, global and historic example of people killing each other in the 100’s of millions over the centuries for thinking the wrong imaginary friend created the universe. It could simply be politics which is ingrained into children by their parents. Children grow up having the family political view enforced upon them until they gain the educational wherewithal to form their own opinions about which political ideals they might have themselves. Most just vote for who their parents voted for, or threw petrol bombs at when rioting for democracy, depending on where they were born

Here’s a revolutionary idea. You know you could just ask that individual you are so contemptuous of to explain in detail why they hold such ridiculous beliefs, so alien to your own. Get some perspective and understanding rather than berating, belittling and briefing against people until they change their core beliefs to match yours, thus giving you a victory over them. It’s called broadening the mind, broadening your understanding of the world. Be a bigger person and have some understanding of what it is that people seem so intransigent about, you know, like you are?

Because someone thinks differently to you, doesn’t make them a lesser being. Frankly the world would be a frightfully Stepford place if this was the case. A planet of nodding automatons agreeing with each other about everything all day. Healthy debate is fun and invigorating, you learn things, chief among the things you learn if you debate rather than argue is understanding. When we have understanding we are able to agree, even if we agree to differ. When we agree on the principles but differ in the detail or vice versa we can achieve a compromise and in compromise we avoid conflict.

Some people vote left and some vote right, some people fix cars and some people make them. Some are good at sums and others can’t count to save their lives but can string an agreeable sentence together. Belittling a worthwhile contribution a person makes to their corner of humanity because they also believe in fairies is actually making you the smaller person. If you disagree with a train of thought, deal with the thought, don’t just insult the person. Show you bothered to understand what you disagree with, not simply that you don’t like it because it’s a view other than your own.

We see this a lot in politics, the uninformed party faithful on one side or another will often simply resort to personal abuse of each other rather than offering any sort of alternative political case. This is most widely demonstrated on social media because it’s the easiest platform to be ignorant before the masses. Sadly, far too many take and use that opportunity.

Be informed about stuff; don’t let anyone catch you out for an ignorant ill informed opinion. Every argument has two sides, both are right to those arguing. Articulate a point of view, don’t just shout the odds as that simply makes you look silly. So debate an issue instead, get some understanding of what motivates other people, what causes them to think as they do, you never know, maybe it’s you who is in the wrong. Now that would be a thing.


Filed under Inspiration, Politics

Because You’re Worth It

Angel Rainbow2I can’t actually remember what caused me to start thinking about this or why. Maybe one just has a moment of quiet reflection when we get to a certain age, an examination of our situations and ourselves. When I say one, I mean me. I do.

I’m one of the luckiest people on Earth; I’m a white male, born in a first world country. Everyone else had a less fortunate start than me, apart from other white males born in first world countries of course. I was born with a head start over most other people and what did I make of that?

This is the point I think I will be making. What is the value of us, our worth? How is it measured? By whom? Who sets the standard by which we can feel our life has been worthwhile, a success? It’s a work in progress until the day we die if you think about it.

The milestones along the way are mere yardsticks, where we measure our success against other people, if we are that way inclined. Certainly other people will be forming opinions on how much our lives matter, how successful we are. They will measure you by their yardstick, which isn’t the same as yours necessarily.

I often wonder how people define themselves; it troubles me when people define themselves by their relationship to other people, or the people they used to be. You can read a lot about a person by the stuff they say about themselves, in profiles on social media for example. ‘Devoted wife and mother or partner of an amazing man, or woman.

I know of an amazing woman, active on social media who despite being a talented actress, author, mother and business owner, described none of these things, but was defined by who she was married to and what she used to do. I often see people who refer to themselves as ex-something, something they used to be. Ex-servicemen spring to mind.

I’m going to digress for a moment on that. Veterans, ex-servicemen or women in the current age are regarded with extraordinary reverence and will most likely be defined by that service for the rest of their lives. Without wishing to diminish their efforts, because I understand better than most having once worn a military uniform myself, I don’t like the virtual saint like status bestowed upon these people.

They applied for a job, which happened to be in the military, they chose their occupation. You’ll often hear the phrase, ‘they fought for their country’. No they didn’t. Fighting for your country is when the invading hordes are massed at the borders ready to take your property and subjugate your population. Flying in a jet transporter to do battle in someone else’s country to enforce the will of your Government upon a tyrannical regime ruling in a manner they disapprove of but who pose no actual threat to your borders or way of life, is not fighting for your country. That’s just doing your job as a salaried member of the armed forces.

But these people are regarded as though they took up arms to fight for the very survival of humanity itself. Stop it, they chose the path they followed. You may find that an objectionable view. Tough luck. The soldiers in the armies of the West weren’t forced to fight. They chose to. They are defined for life and bestowed with added value as human beings by other people because of a decision they made. They are not reluctant heroes, forced to defend a belief system. They are successful applicants for a dangerous job.

Now where was I? Yes, our worth. Everyone breathing has a value as a person, it’s the extent of that value and what they make of themselves which dictates how other people see their merit, or value and how they see their own value, or worth. Does it matter how other people value you? Or how you value yourself?

Clearly the Latter is the key as those that place any value upon your worth, will be using their own measure, which is not the one that matters. It’s how you feel about what you’ve achieved, what you do, who you are that dictates how you feel about yourself, your self worth.

What’s the difference between worth and value? You are of value when you are born; how you live your life decides your worth.

I guess my point is, if I have one. Is that your value, your worth shouldn’t measured in stuff or by other people. But you have a responsibility to yourself to make your life worthwhile, by your own measure. Don’t define yourself by the value of others around you and what they have, they are not you. You are unique. Never ever say, it’s only me, or it’s just me when you are talking to someone. You are an amazing person in your own right. Not a just, or an only you as though you are not of any consequence.

I go back to the military thing, let’s say you were doing things overseas where the wild things live and you were kidnapped and threatened with your head being cut off on the Internet. The people in charge of your country of origin would take steps to free you, successfully or most likely otherwise, because you are a person, not because of what you do for a living or who you knew with money. The fact that you are breathing means you are a person of value. What you do to make your life worth something is up to you.

So, how do we decide what we are worth? What value was our life? My family, well some of them, think that by writing stuff down like this, I’m being ‘a self indulgent prick’. Seems I’m not supposed to write my thoughts down, I’m supposed to keep them to myself. To hell with that, if you think I’m being self indulgent, don’t read it.

I’m 50; I have no assets to show for a lifetime of being quite clever and good at stuff. I have no assets because of decisions I made. I have nobody to blame but myself for the financial situation I find myself in rather than the situation many yardsticks might find acceptable for a man of 50. Many would say I’m a failure; some have because I’m this age and have few assets. These are people who measure success in life by accumulating things and financial security. Which are very important but have eluded me entirely because of decisions I have made, some good, many bad, some risky, some not so much. Nothing befell me though, I made this, I chose it.

I spent some time processing that, judging myself by the success, the assets that others my age had accrued. I should certainly have more stuff. I don’t but I’ve seen a lot of things and been a lot of places. I have some creativity and wisdom I would have not gained had I settled for the picket fence, made sound financial decisions on things and taken the sensible route. I face an uncertain future. I have another 15 years or so of statutory working life to put together some security, buy a house, make a home.

I judged myself harshly and let others tell me I was a failure, because I hadn’t met the standards of what other people felt was an acceptable showing for a life lived so far. The harshest criticism and judgement came from my own family. I have little to do with them as while being the quickest to judge, they are in no position to do so.

I’m good with the space I occupy, I contribute things that enhance people’s lives and mine has been interesting so far. I don’t have much stuff right now, but it’s not over yet.

You? Only you can know if you feel you are worthwhile, if you feel you are not, have you taken ownership of your life, or do you let the lives of others define you? Have you taken any steps to realise your dreams and be the things you wish you could be, because if you haven’t and feel unfulfilled. It’s on you. Don’t blame others for the things you can change. Don’t let others dictate your value. You decide what’s important to you, you decide your value and demonstrate your worth by what you do. Not by the association with or the judgement of others, who aren’t you. It sounds a bit Dr Seuss, but only you are you, and you choose what you do.

Put simply your value is intrinsic, you are born with it. What you do of value, which dictates your worth, your self worth, is up to you and only you get to decide the value of what matters to you. Don’t let others decide what defines you. Because you are worth it.


Filed under General views

More pictures, less words

I know the wordiness has become less and there is more photography. I actually get more joy from photography than writing. I think this is because I’m better at it, I don’t know. What I do know is that I will happily go to far greater lengths to capture a pleasing image than to construct a good sentence.

My speciality is Landscapes and New Zealand Birds. I’ve got no desire to photograph people or random things to look arty.

Since returning home from England I have got a much better sense and appreciation of the incredible natural beauty of New Zealand that is all around us, not just at the main tourist destinations. Our bird life is incredible.

So I photograph the stuff we New Zealanders see every day but often take for granted. I take my camera everywhere as I travel around the region and nationally. I’m lucky to be able to get about a bit.

Since I wrote to you last, I’ve been busy doing things with my photography. My images are now selling in a Cafe/Gallery, just mine.

I’ve entered a contest or two and set up an online shop. Oh yes, you can see where this is going already. Never mind, stick around because you don’t have to do anything. I’m just very proud of my little shop and my photographic achievements thus far so I thought I’d fill you in.

You don’t really want to be reading what I was tempted to write about anyway as it was leaning towards a sociopolitical rant and there is plenty of negativity in the media to keep you angry, you don’t need me to help.

Let me help you be cheerful instead, even if it’s just being pleased for me. I’m simply very happy with what I’ve achieved so far with my main passion. Photography.

So, this is the stuff.

I entered the annual Smithsonian Magazine contest. They get hundreds of thousands of images entered and my photograph of the incredible Rangitikei River Valley from Watershed Road was chosen as ‘Photo of the day’. Awesome!

Rangitikei River Valley – Photo of the Day

Secondly. I was selected as a contributing photographer for the highly respected New Zealand Birds Online Website.

NZ Birds Online

There is my online shop where people can buy stretched Canvases of my photography to adorn their homes should they feel inclined to do so.

Sandysviews on

So, please have a look and tell your friends. I’ve also been commissioned to create some photographic books of the local region and take photos of local properties for farmers and home owners. Photography is my passion and my hobby.

I even have a ‘thing’. Minimum Gear, maximum impact.

Oh, and there is also my photography blog. There’s a link to it up there, right at the top ^^^^

I’ve cleverly named the link, ‘My Photography blog’.  Have a look around!

I carry one camera and one lens in my little Billingham shoulder satchel. A Canon 60D and Canon EFS 18-200mm lens. When I’ve made some money I’ll upgrade the camera and lens as I feel lack the sort of resolution and clarity of image I need to go to the next level. Maybe it’s just me being fussy. But for now, I’ll be keeping an eye out for the awesome, always.


Filed under General views

Taking pictures

I know I usually string words together for the sake of amusement, entertainment, information or occasionally even inspiration, but I haven’t been feeling particularly wordy lately. What I have been doing a lot though is taking photographs of the stuff all around me. I carry my camera everywhere I go and if the saying, ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’ has any basis in reality then here are the equivalent of about 40,000 words. These are images of Central New Zealand, nowhere in particular. Mostly Rangitikei and Northern Manawatu. Everyone knows and has seen the big tourism images of all the famous places in New Zealand. There are the other places, the places most people don’t spend too much time photographing. But it’s a beautiful place. Here, I’ll show you.

See, it’s nice here.


Filed under General views

Driving south in the North Island

FullSizeRender-3I’ll get straight to the point for once. I said once upon a time that only two towns in New Zealand were worth making a special trip for. Russell and Queenstown. I’d like to revise that outdated advice. Some New Zealand towns have been giving themselves a bit of a makeover since we realised people from other counties might like to buy things other than a pie, an ice-cream and some rural supplies when they visit a township. I’m going to revisit some of the New Zealand towns I have had the good, or less good fortune to pass through since I returned home from England. This isn’t a detailed look at every town in New Zealand. I’m not writing a travel book, just a blog post, so I’m going to limit my visit and brief descriptions to the towns along New Zealand’s main road. State Highway One in the North Island.

Firstly though, there is something that has been troubling me since I got home and that is the pretty startling experience that first time or even regular visitors to New Zealand have to endure when they arrive here. Leaving Auckland and getting your holiday underway. People who come here by and large spend a decent chunk of that visit on the road. New Zealand is a road trip. Getting out of Auckland is confusing and unpleasant at best and a nightmare at worst.

When you leave the airport, if you wish to head north first, you turn left. The first signs you encounter saying ‘North’ and therefore indicating your best northward route are pointing you at the wrong road to take if you wish to head North. They would be more accurate if they said ‘Western Suburbs’. There is no obvious access to any practical route North in that direction despite what the ‘North’ sign says. I gather there is a road currently (slowly) being built which will enable people to actually head North from the airport. But it’s not there yet even though the signs have been for years. They are misleading at best.

If you ignore the incorrect signage and follow the main suburban route eventually arriving at the Epsom on-ramp to the Southern Motorway, heading north. You will find yourself at the most poorly designed motorway on and off-ramp combination in all the world. There is heavy traffic wishing to leave the Motorway for the central city just 100 metres north of where you are trying to join it.

When you successfully find yourself on the Southern Motorway, heading North, the next set of traffic lights are about 65 kilometres distant, at Warkworth. Here you will find the most poorly designed traffic intersection in all the world. If you are lucky, you didn’t sit in a queue of traffic up to 25 kilometres long to arrive at it. That actually happens in the Summer holidays. You might like to visit Warkworth while you are here. Stock up on supplies for your northern road trip. Warkworth is a pretty town with a nice river and worth a short wander to stretch your legs after your long flight and longer that you expected journey out of Auckland. I’m not going to talk about the places to the North. I’m going to focus on the New Zealand towns south of Auckland. The North should have a post of its own. I’ll get around to it. The North of New Zealand is home to our most beautiful coastline. A place of extraordinary natural beauty of the seaside variety. Like I said, I’ll get around to writing about it you but can see some images of it here though. I took these pictures. New Zealand coastal awesomeness

If you are heading South, you turn right when you leave the airport. Where you will drive along a carriageway through industrial South Auckland all the way to the Southern Motorway. The first town you come to when you leave Auckland and head down State Highway One instead of making for the Coromandel Peninsula, is Huntly. Don’t judge New Zealand by your first impression of the first town you encounter. Huntly is on the banks of the Waikato River and has a large power station on the opposite side of the river from the main road. Huntly also has a large ugly railway siding beside the road. Some unattractive run-down buildings in the centre and a small industrial estate on the south side of the town. Huntly must be New Zealand’s most unsightly settlement. New Zealand gets better after this, but not for a while. You have to get south of Hamilton to get to the good stuff.

Hamilton is one of New Zealand’s largest cities but there is no good reason to stop here. Thankfully there are a number of by-passes to choose. Choose one of them and use it.

I don’t need to talk about the Coromandel Peninsula as all the guide books discuss it at length. The Coromandel is a very beautiful place to visit.

When you’ve succeeded in avoiding Hamilton, you will most likely arrive at Cambridge unless you gave Hamilton the widest possible berth. Cambridge is very nice, leafy and expensive looking, You wonder what all the obviously rich people who live around here in huge houses do for a living. I believe they do things with horses and expensive cows.

Beyond Cambridge is a town apparently made out of Corrugated Iron. It’s called Tirau and I don’t think they make corrugated iron here but they very clearly love the stuff. They also have shops along the small main street that look to be worth having a poke about in. Expect things to be priced for the tourism market. New Zealand retailers like everyone else in the world believe tourists are easily pleased and happy to pay over the odds for poor quality useless things, mostly made in China, to remind them of their holiday. We also have the most excellent ‘antique’ shops. Really cool stuff from not all that long ago. I think ‘Retro’ shops would be a better description. They are all full of iconic items from our own childhood rather than expensive pretty things from Europe or other countries colonial furniture.

There are of course small settlements off to the left and right of the main highway, or road, to give it a more accurate description through the North Island, but they are mostly functional places full of farm machinery and rural supplies.

South of Tirau is Putaruru, which is unremarkable, then Tokoroa which exists for lumberjacks to buy whatever lumberjacks buy. You can tell it’s a timber town as there is a very large wooden sculpture of a man wielding a chainsaw beside the main street. Tokoroa is a biggish town on the edge of the Kaingaroa Forest, the largest planted forest in the Southern Hemisphere. Almost entirely pine trees. A little known fact about New Zealand is that trees grow faster here than anywhere else in the world.

After Tokoroa you drive through a small section of the giant pine forest until you get to Taupo. There is a bypass where you can avoid Taupo and head south or towards Hawkes Bay where they grow fruit and wine. It’s good to go into and through Taupo though as you’ll be ready for a stop again. Taupo is sometimes called ‘The Queenstown of the North Island’. I’m not sure who by, but I’m guessing it’s by the Taupo tourism board because Taupo is not the Queenstown of the North Island. Not even close. Taupo is a town made up almost entirely of motels along the side of the lake. Lake Taupo is actually a giant volcanic crater. One of the very few super volcanoes in the world. 2 of the 3 most cataclysmic volcanic eruptions in the last 600,000 years were right here in this crater. You’ll see the evidence in all the geothermal steam about the place. This is where the world as we know it could end at any time. Mind how you go.

Upon leaving Taupo, you drive the very scenic route alongside the Lake for half an hour or so and head up onto the Volcanic Plateau. Before you do that you pass by Turangi, which you visit if you like trout fishing as that’s what Turangi is for.

Ruapehu 26.01.15The Volcanic Plateau, where you drive the incorrectly named ‘desert road’. This is a tremendously atmospheric piece of alpine wilderness in the Central North Island rather than a desert. If you are lucky and the skies are clear you will get a great view of the three volcanoes which live here. Ruapehu, Ngauruhoe and Tongariro. They are all active.

At the end of the desert road is Waioru which is predominantly a bleak place beside an army camp, The amazing New Zealand Army museum is here and is one of the best museums in the country and one of the best army museums in the world. Definitely worth a look so you can be amazed at how such a small country with a tiny population can have such a completely epic military history.

Next stop is Taihape which for generations has been the butt of many kiwi jokes about gumboots and rural middle New Zealand. They have fully embraced their gumboot in Taihape and have installed a large one made out of corrugated iron beside the road. Taihape is full of character but small and behind you quickly as you continue south.

From here you pass through the extraordinary Rangitikei region with one of the most beautiful river valleys you’ll find anywhere. High white cliffs and big views across the jagged landscape from the beside the road. You’ll come down a big hill and see an aeroplane made into a café. An old DC3 in Mangaweka. Mangaweka is a village which serves the adventurous tourists who want to spend some time upside down in the Rangitikei River Rapids.

Hunterville is the next town/village and has the distinction of being the Huntaway Capital of the world. The Huntaway being the most iconic New Zealand sheep dog. No, not the ‘heading’ or eye dog. The big noisy one is the Huntaway.

Hunterville is also home to New Zealand’s largest General Store. This will surprise you when you go inside, it seems quite small. But you can buy everything here, from ice-creams to livestock, not pets, livestock. Sheep and cows I don’t think they carry them in stock though, you have to order them in specially. Hunterville also has a number of interesting shops and café’s. It’s a good place for a pit-stop on your road trip.

Refueled and fed you’ll get to Bulls next. Bulls is where the road turns left to continue south or right to head for Wanganui and Taranaki. For the record I think Wanganui is New Zealand’s prettiest city.

Bulls have put some clever marketing puns on all the significant buildings. Based around the word bull. I’ll let you see that for yourself. It’s unbelieve-a-bull

Once you’ve departed Bulls, crossed the river, turned right at Sanson which also has some roadside shops worth pottering about in, you start down the most boring stretch of road in New Zealand. The run from Sanson to Foxton and beyond. This is where the drive becomes a chore rather than an adventure. All the way from Foxton to the far end of the Kapiti Coast is where I lose the will to live I’m afraid. Boring towns, often heavy traffic, nothing to see here, just keep moving along please.

For me the road journey has now lost it’s joy, albeit briefly, and I don’t recapture it until I pass the old Paekakariki rail station. From here, there is much good scenery in places and the arrival view into Wellington when you round the corner at the bottom of the Ngauranga Gorge is truly magical on a clear day.

Wellington is a very scenic little city. Spend a couple of days here before catching your ferry to the South Island. The South Island is a very different world to the North Island. Did you know the two islands of New Zealand were formed by completely different geological forces? Mountain Formation in the South Island and Volcanism in the North Island. All New Zealand’s geothermal landscapes and Volcanoes are in the North Island. There are no volcanoes in the South Island.

This has been a summary of just a part of a single road. but the one most people moving down New Zealand use. There are many other roads to explore. Like I said before, New Zealand is a road trip. Enjoy your trip. Sorry about the unusually long post, I was on a roll.


Filed under New Zealand, Travel

A River runs through it

Rangitikei River Valley

Rangitikei River Valley

This is a bit of a travel post. I’m going to talk about a place plenty of people on their New Zealand holidays travel through, but not many travel to. I’d venture that most New Zealanders would struggle to point the region out on a map. So this can serve as a mini travel guide for Kiwi’s as well as those from far away who come to visit.

When people plan a trip to New Zealand, if they know anything at all about their destination, they’ll be factoring in such things as bubbling mud, Queenstown, Hobbits and Lord of the Rings destinations, some Mountains and perhaps the Bay of Islands. The visitor may be a wine fan, or keen on a fresh air and wide open spaces, clean, green, jump off a high thing, adventure in the outdoors where nothing nasty will bite you sort of holiday. Or maybe they just want to go to a beach, or ski, or see all the New Zealandness from a campervan on a road trip.

New Zealand offers all of it in spades, we all know that. Everybody knows where all the good touristy stuff is and the visitor drives keenly from one tourist attraction to the next. Wondering where everybody is and why there are so many Police cars parked on the side of the road.

Whether you are a visitor to New Zealand or a New Zealander on the move, you travel through New Zealand. The bit of New Zealand in the middle is called ‘The Heartland’. When I say the middle, I mean more in the way of a vibe than a place. The Heartland is middle New Zealand, where the New Zealanders work and live. Making sheep into roast lamb and cows into butter and steak. Growing wine and trees, being inventive or playing sport. The bit of ‘The Heartland’ I’m going to talk about is ‘The Rangitikei’. Like I said, most kiwis can’t point to it on a map.

The Rangitikei is a region, which starts at Taihape in the North and ends in Bulls in the South. It only has 5 towns. Small towns at that. Taihape as I mentioned, Mangaweka, Hunterville, Bulls and Marton which describes itself as the hub of the Rangitikei, although Marton’s best days were about 50 years ago. The glory days hinted at by the fact that two of the best schools in the country are in Marton for no currently apparent reason. This is old sheep money country though. The small towns are in slow decline as they are everywhere but the money is still here in the district. Great iconic Sheep stations are in the nearby hinterland and the families who own them still live in the area.

Valley2 10.07.14I’m not going to talk about the towns; these would be villages in any other country. They are small and ‘villagy’ but have extraordinarily interesting and diverse shops. I’m going to talk about the region, The Rangitikei. New Zealand’s main road, State Highway One runs right through the middle of the Rangitikei once you leave Taihape if you are heading south. The first thing you’ll notice is the beautiful river valley which runs alongside the road for the next half an hour or so on your journey towards Hunterville. The great high Papa (clay, pronounced paahpa) cliffs carve through the landscape in an incredibly dramatic fashion. High railway viaducts criss-cross this magnificent river valley as the New Zealand main trunk railway line also passes through this region, following the river for a while.

The Rangitikei River itself is what we call a meandering or braided river. Changing course frequently as the river rises and falls according to the rainfall in the distant mountains. This was the setting for some of the Anduin River scenes in Lord of the Rings and is popular with white water rafters and canoeists. The Rangitikei River alternates between slow gentle flow and wild rapids. All along the river are low accessible banks to camp on and high cliffs to marvel at. You can also fish or swim in it.

The mountains form the marvellous backdrop to this most scenic of river landscapes. You can see Mt Ruapehu from time to time from a remarkable distance as you drive north. On a clear day you can spot the mountain from just north of Bulls, about 150 kilometres distant. If you look in the right place, you’ll catch the odd glimpse of it along your way. To the East are the Ruahine Ranges, snow capped throughout the winter. If you turn off the main road and drive towards the Ruahine’s you’ll eventually find yourself on one of the many gravel roads which end at the edge of this wilderness, you can simply walk in to the bush, cross the ranges on foot and end up in Hawkes Bay if you are feeling adventurous.

The Rangitikei is the bit between the arable plains of the Manawatu and the alpine desolation of the Central Plateau. It’s not very big, in the big scheme of things, but the diversity of the landscape is extraordinary, there is nowhere in New Zealand quite like it. There’s not really anywhere of note to stop in the Rangitkei. There are fairly limited hotel or motel and no actual resort facilities in the region. There are a handful of spectacular unique or ’boutique’ lodges and farm stays though. There is even a proper shooting lodge or two and a couple of amazing Golf courses and camping sites. But there is no great world famous tourist attraction to bring the busloads of foreign tourists. Which is a good thing.

But there is an otherworldly attraction all of it’s own to the Rangitikei. The deep sheer sided river valleys and their white cliffs. The steep winding roads to nowhere in particular. The huge vistas across the Rangitikei river valley to the mountains in the distance. The quirky shops in the tiny towns. All of it is worth spending some time exploring, as that’s what you do here. You potter about, follow your nose, drive down a dead end road to the edge of the mountains or the banks of the river. Or walk down to the White Cliffs Boulders.

The White Cliffs Boulders would have to be the least known attraction in New Zealand. They are in the middle of nowhere, at the end of a farm track, which is several kilometres down a gravel road in the middle of the Rangitikei. There are few signs to them and even less publicity of their existence. Yet they are one of the most remarkable geological formations you are ever likely to encounter. An ethereal place of natural wonder in the middle of a clump of native bush beside a bend in a remote river. It looks like a scene from one of the Hobbit films. A collection of smooth symmetrical boulders and rocks scattered around the forest with trees growing on, in and over them. All in a mossy green. There is no sound but that of running water and bird song. Meanwhile you are standing in what looks like a film set or alien landscape.

Whitecliff Boulders14

Mt Ruapehu from Stormy Point

Mt Ruapehu from Stormy Point

The Rangitikei is where people travel through, rather than travel too in most cases. People stop there but few go there. They should. It’s not just about the river. Stop, stand and look across the Rangitikei. This is one of the world’s great-unremarked landscapes. One of the best bits of New Zealand. People should spend more time looking at it.


Filed under New Zealand, Travel