Corner shop

I happened upon a 1967 photo of the National Bank building in Wainuiomata and was delighted to discover that the Google Street View image from 2009 is taken from pretty much the same angle. Let’s compare and contrast life at 15 Queen Street, Wainuiomata:

National Bank building, Wainuiomata, Lower Hutt. Winder, Duncan, 1919-1970 : Architectural photographs. Ref: DW-3001-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.
National Bank, 2008
National Bank, 2008

Spot the difference

1. The entrance has been moved. Instead of a bold corner opening, the door has been shuffled around the corner. I suspect the move happened to make the bank accessible for oldies, people with disabilities and parents with prams – none of which would have been a huge concern for a bank in the 1960s. I’ve seen Mad Men. I know how things were.

2. But all the young mums, seniors and disabled shoppers could have got inside Diana’s Coffee Lounge, which appears to have previously taken up two-fifths of the building before being kicked out to make the new street-level entrance. It looks like a proper old fashioned coffee lounge, complete with net curtains to give the diner a bit of privacy. I mean, you don’t want people to look at you when you’re trying to enjoy your ham sandwich and drip filter coffee. I bet it also had racks to slide your tray along and those flip compartments with the sandwiches in them.

3. The “National Bank” sign on the building is gone. This was probably removed at some point because it didn’t fit with the current branding of the bank. But if you look at the bank’s name on the awning signs, written in a jaunty script, that didn’t match the name on the building either. It was just a building name – an appropriate building name. But if the National Bank hadn’t removed it, the ANZ would have been up there with a crowbar soon enough.

4. In 1967 the bank was on the corner of a gravelly street with nothing much happening. Today the bank is on the corner of a pedestrian street that’s part of the Wainuiomata Shopping Centre and slightly more is happening. Whereas the original shops were an emulation of an ordinary high street, eventually the call of the mall was heard and the next expansion was a great big enclosed shopping mall. It has a ‘W’ shaped awning because it is in Wainuiomata.

5. Next door is Eddy and Gray Furnishings Ltd, no doubt providing giant brown furniture for the postwar young families making Wainuiomata their home. It’s now gone but the name lives on as Eddy’s On Queen Street Bar and Cafe. Well, that’s a substitute for Diana’s Coffee Lounge. I bet they do a good nachos.


ANZ’s crowbar has come and done its business.

National Bank 2013

Nick Cave dolls

I was in Wellington, my first time back since I left in April, and I was furiously catching up on things. I got the bus out to the Hutt and visited the Dowse Art Museum.

It was choice, but as I left the gallery, I spied something much more intriguing across the square. Over at the Horticultural Hall, a banner advertised a show of the Wellington Porcelain Dollmakers Club. A doll show!

I’ve always wanted to go to a doll show, that secret world of ladies and fake babies, so I excitedly went inside. The lady at the door looked at me like she knew I was an outsider, a person without dolls. But my money was still good. She took my $5 and I entered the world of dolls.


I was expecting one specific thing – uncanny valley baby dolls. The show did not let me down. There’d been a competition so the best baby dolls of the region were on display. Some looked impressively real, though with an eerie stillness; others looked a bit odd. I mean, if an infant doll looks more like the Dowager Countess of Grantham, something hasn’t quite gone right.

There were also people selling old dolls, the sort of dreadlocked orphans that normally languish in the 50c bin of an op shop. But unlike the op shop dolls, these ones won’t end up part of an art student’s subversive recontexualising of women’s roles in society. The doll show is an irony-free zone. Dolls are just dolls and if one has chipped face paint, you skilfully repaint it. If the hair is matted, you replaced it with silken locks.

But there was a strangely gothic feeling to it all. I came to realise this when found an actual goth doll, “Rose Red: a gothic ballerina”. Somehow this dramatic pale-skinned, eyeliner-wearing young lady seemed more ordinary and lively than the corpse-like baby dolls.

This is a subculture that specialises in taking arms and legs and scalps and eyeballs and putting them all together to make a baby, a girl or a woman. It’s way more goth than anything a black-clad suburban teen could come up with for their art portfolio.


Back in the city, I stopped by Deluxe cafe. Deluxe is a cute little cafe that has been around since the late ’80s. It hasn’t changed much and is oddly starting to feel like a ’90s theme cafe.

As I sat with my lunch, I realised that a Nick Cave CD was playing (I googled it – it was the 1998 best-of.) And I sat there thinking that in the ’90s, this would have been a very cool experience. Sitting in a cafe, listening to Nick Cave, drinking spirulina smoothies or mochaccinos, feeling cool.

But things are different now. I’ve been to the doll show. I’ve seen the dark side. I’ve seen the scalps, the arms, the torsos. I have seen the baby with scraggly orange fluffy hair pulled into two pigtails, in an attempt to make the hair look cute and not like a Scotsman’s pubes.

Maybe the goth pop of Nick Cave has to exist to have something that’s obviously dark and alternative. Something that exists so that the ladies painting eyeballs in their spare rooms don’t feel like weirdos. Something that makes a lady in her 30s sitting in a coffee bar feel edgy and cool.


The mallification of Hamilton

The city centre of Hamilton, my sweet home town, is dying. Since the 1980s, businesses have progressively moved to the edges of town and two massive malls on the northern fringe have sucked all the retail life out of the city centre.

There’s been a lot of talk about how to revitalise the downtown area. The current solution seems to be fighting the lure of the malls with another mall. The Centre Place mini-malls (part of my life since 1985) is being expanded with another two-storey wing. Farmers is moving in as a key tenant and Ward Street is closing to be part of the outdoor mall experience.


But, ugh, I think the focus is all wrong. Instead of replicating the suburban mall experience – which will never quite work because the central city can never offer free parking – the central city should focus on the cool things it has that the malls could never match. Namely the river, cool old buildings, the atmosphere of places like Ward Street, Alexander Street, a few laneways that are yet to be created, and Garden-sodding-Place. In other words, give people a reason to exit the giant Centre Place megamall. Give them a reason to go outside and walk the city streets and feel elated, not a bit glum.

Above are two artists’ impressions of the mega mall. There aren’t many people, especially compared with the usual bustle of a busy mall. This might seem like a deliberate move, not wanting the ghost people to obscure the buildings, but that’s what Hamilton looks like. There aren’t many people around the city centre any more. It’s all a bit like a ghost town and I’m not sure if the best intentions of a property investment firm can undo that.


A good day

In account of Ice Cube’s “good day” being scientifically determined to be January 20 1992, I dug out my diary from that year and realised that that day was also a good day for me – I went to Surfer’s Paradise for a family holiday:

7.10am I’m getting ready to leave at 7.45. How unexciting!

I’ve always time-logged notes like this on holiday, starting on a family holiday to Napier when I was 10.

9.31am In the car park at Manukau city. Mark & Kim on the Radio.

Mark and Kim were the breakfast DJs on some Auckland radio station. I was utterly obsessed with Auckland radio, so this was a big deal for me.

12.32pm (Oz time) I’m flying over the Pacific/Tasman sea. Wow! 540mph, 39,000 feet or 868km/h, 11,890 metres.

The “wow!” – that’s sarcasm. I’m appalled at how much sarcasm I used when I was a teen.

2.50pm Going to Surfers. If we need a comfort stop he’ll “pull into a servo”. Right on.

This was the driver of the shuttle taking us from the airport to the hotel. I was tickled by his use of the Australian diminutive “servo” for service station. Also the “right on” is more sarcasm.

4.20pm I’m in our room. It’s pretty ok. More details later!

From memory, it was a two- or maybe even three-bedroom apartment. The decor was a bit old, but it was in a good location and very spacious. When I said “more details later”, I obviously meant 20 years later.

8.00pm We went to McD’s then to Ripley’s Believe It Or Not Odditorium. It was v. good. The see-through tongue rolling mirror and the “rocking” tunnel was the best. Now I’m watching TOTALLY HIDDEN VIDEO (sux sh*t!)

I’m not sure what Surfers Paradise is like now, but back then it felt a little faded, like somewhere that had been glorious 10 years ago and now needed a lick of paint. Also note how late it was – all the attractions were open at night, on a Monday. We were very close to the Grundy’s Entertainment Centre, where I played a lot of skeeball.

Also, note the capitals for the TV show “Totally Hidden Video”. Back then for a few months I capitalised all titles, like one of those film geeks on Twitter.

10.53pm Me and Rick have just gone swimming and we now have gone to separate bed. It’s pretty good here BUT my feet are SO sore. I wonder what we will to TOMORROW. My hair will look thoroughly shitless.

Lolz, once there was a time when I went swimming! Also note that I went to “separate bed” with my brother. Obviously I anticipated a time in the future when a stranger would be reading this and therefore did not want to give the impression that any weird incesty stuff was happening.

I’m not sure what I meant by my hair looking “shitless”, but I think this meant good – the opposite of shitty. I used to tie my hair back when it was wet so it would dry straight (kids, this was a time before GHDs). I had recently put some golden sunshine bleachy spray in my hair in an attempt to look like Kelly from Beverley Hills 90210, and a couple of days into this holiday I was shocked to notice roots growing through. I had no idea bleachy spray was that powerful.

Also, I didn’t even have to use my AK.

All shook down

Inner-city Christchurch feels like the set of a 1980s apocalyptic action film. Walking down Barbadoes Street, there was so much rubble and so few people, it felt like the only person I’d be likely to encounter was a Bruno Lawrence type, who’d show up in a ute, holler “Get in”, and we’d drive off into the hills to have last-people-on-earth erotic adventures.

Instead my lone encounter was with an old man who yelled at me not to graffiti a colourful wall that I was only photographing. There were no erotic adventures; just the realisation that the Christchurch I had known was gone. Post-earthquake Christchurch is a different city.


After the destructive quake in February, I’d vowed to return to the shaky town. I expected things would be different, but wasn’t sure how different they would be.

My worst fears were realised when I arrived at my motel in early December and discovered a construction site, swarming with diggers and trucks. I panicked – what if after I booked the room, the motel had been condemned? Where would I sleep? Maybe I could squat in the plywood-boarded house next door, or join the Occupy Christchurch camp in Hagley Park. But it turned out that the motel car park was just being resealed. “You get used to things looking like this,” said my taxi driver.

If Christchurch isn’t looking like a construction site or a futuristic action film, it’s looking like a 1980s music video, complete with mangled cars, giant fields of rubble, and frayed curtains miserably flapping out of broken windows. And like a music video shoot, there’s always a food truck around the corner, catering to the masses amongst the broken bricks.

I was surprised at how quickly I got used to it all. Walking down the road, I became adept at avoiding potholes, cracks and giant gaps. Everything felt a little bit broken, but yet somehow normal.

But there were signs of civilisation returning to the CBD. Cashel Mall had finally reopened. Most of the shops have been demolished, replaced by clever configurations of fancied-up shipping containers. It’s all high-end retail to draw in the tourists, but if you need some “Keep Calm and Carry On” merchandise, there is plenty.


At the end of Cashel Mall is the Red Zone walkway, a fenced off area taking visitors along Colombo Street to Cathedral Square. Many of the buildings on Colombo Street have been or will be demolished, but a sign informed visitors that the very ordinary McDonald’s building is ok. This makes me wonder if, in years to come, the McDonald’s will get a historic listing and people will take their grandchildren along to see a beautifully restored antique McNugget fryer.

Cathedral Square is a bit freaky. It seems that every building around the square has something wrong with it. But no one’s looking at the cracked pavers outside the Starbucks. They’re looking at the cathedral.

Perhaps World War II photography has prepared me for the sight of a smashed, collapsed broken cathedral. But while it’s awful, there is also something strangely poetic about the cathedral. Even though ChristChurch Cathedral has been deconsecrated, the building is still doing its job as a icon of the city.

I also took the Red Zone bus tour, the only way for civilians to experience most of the out-of-bounds areas. Passengers were warned that due to the instability of the buildings along the tour route, in the event of another major earthquake “you might not survive”. This sounded alarming, but then I realised that this caveat can pretty much apply to life in general. Onwards!

I was expecting the Red Zone bus tour to be a sombre, emotional journey but it was much more ordinary than that. As the bus passed the military cordon and toodled along Oxford Terrace, I saw a battered mannequin lying by the side of the road. It had a target painted on its bottom. Moments later the bus stopped across the river from the site of the PGC building collapse. It was a scheduled moment of reflection, but all I could think about was the mannequin. How did it get there? Who painted the target on its bottom? Oh, what does it all mean?

And that’s what the bus tour was like. One moment it’s the site of the tragic CTV building collapse, the next moment I’m feeling sad that the Japanese/Korean restaurant where I twice had disappointing vegetable tempura was being demolished.

I realised that most of my previous Christchurch experiences involve places that don’t exist any more. My favourite hotel sits dormant and doomed, cursed by its neighbour the Grand Chancellor. The cafe that did the really amazing scrambled eggs is now rubble. I even found myself missing the incredibly annoying bad classical music played to stop youth loitering at the High Street pedestrian mall.


But beyond the rubble, there were new things to do, new places to explore. A random tweet threw me in the direction of Black Betty cafe, a new tenant of a strong old building. They do good eggs, and I even saw a staffer take a photo of some eggs he was particularly proud of.

I found the new home of C4 Coffee, nestled in the corner of their coffee warehouse, across the road from a giant field of rubble. And across that rubble – past felled power poles, a spectacularly smashed car and a sleepy guard dog – was The National, a gallery forced to turn its back door into a front door. Its exhibition of the grungy, grotesque rings by jeweller Karl Fritsch seemed a perfect match for their new surroundings. It left me wondering if I could make my own jewellery using Red Zone rubble.

Being in an earthquake town colours every experience in some way. I stopped by the Book Fridge and picked up a Mills and Boon. I figured it would be a light and amusing read. Except the heroine – on an archeological dig with her estranged husband who she still secretly loved – encountered an earthquake, which came complete with one (1) aftershock. It all seemed a little loathsome after that. I didn’t have time to return the book before I left, but I figured it might be better to take it out of circulation, or at least put a warning on the cover: “CONTAINS BADLY WRITTEN EARTHQUAKE SCENARIOS”.

There were no aftershocks during my three days in Christchurch. I was a little twitchy having just experienced an unusually strong quake in Wellington that had sent books flying off my shelves. But by the time I left Christchurch, it seemed quite reasonable to think that the worst of the aftershocks were history. Except that wasn’t the case, and a couple of weeks later, things have again been undone and shaken up a bit.

I’ve realised that the Christchurch I had known no longer exists. There’s a totally new city there, slowly figuring out its new identity. Part of Christchurch seems determined to to cling on to its England-of-the-South-Seas past, but there’s a new Christchurch coming through. This is a shaky, swampy city now.

Cures all ills

The secret life of pocket parks


You know when there are plans to put in new roads, the roading authorities or the city council or whoever issue sketches showing how awesome it will look when its made? And maybe they’ll illustrate this with lots of greenery and people sitting and relaxing in little triangle parks between motorways?

Well, in 1973 the government released a booklet about the new Wellington motorway system that showed one of these triangle parks actually in use. Look, there’s a middle-aged woman sitting and reading a book on a sunny day, next to a lovely plant.

But look what that corner has become, nearly 40 years later. It’s a noisy part of Wellington’s central transport corridor, sandwiched between the main trunk railway line and a motorway onramp, with the motorway whooshing past overhead. The tree has become old and craggy. Not only that, but it’s not even the sort of place anyone would be passing by and think “Hmm, this is a good place to finish Twilight.” Maybe if you were waiting for someone at the ferry terminal and the ferry had been delayed, so you decided to go for a walk. And you were insane. Maybe.

Update: here’s a more recent photo from Google Street View (2009; the original would have been from 2007 or earlier). Here we see the pocket park being used for its intended use, as a pleasant place for relaxing on a sunny day. Only here it’s car rather than a person who’s using it. Er…


Here’s a more recent pic from the October 2013 drive-by. The car has gone. I’m going to keep checking up on this little corner.


Napier 5: In the big house

Napier Prison most definitely wasn’t a tourist attraction back in 1973. Back then it was, well, the local prison, full of local criminals. But with the Hawke’s Bay Regional Prison opening in 1989, Napier Prison eventually closed soon after, before reopening in 2002 as a backpackers hostel.

The hostel facilities have now closed (well, it wouldn’t have been particularly pleasant staying there in winter), but both guided and audio tours are available in the old prison.

As it happens, I’ve been to a few old prisons around the world – the majestic ruins of Port Arthur in Tasmania, Old Melbourne Gaol’s anti-self-pleasure gloves and Ned Kelly death mask, and the tragic history of Kilmainham Gaol in Dublin. What penal delights would Napier Prison have for me?

From the outside, Napier Prison looks like a mighty prison indeed. A giant stone wall surrounds it, and from a distance it looked like it might be bluestone, but as I got closer I realised it was just dirty old stones. Nonetheless, it is an impressive stonework, and deserving of its heritage listing.

But inside the prison, the stonework ends. The prison buildings themselves are wood and concrete, looking more like a rundown school camp than a prison for ruthless criminal gangsta villains. I was almost expecting to be offered a watery mug of Milo.

As I wandered around the prison, going from location to location on the audio tour, I was followed around by Basil, the prison’s resident cat. Actually, he didn’t so much follow me as show me the way. I assume he’s so used to the path of the tour that he knows exactly where the humans will go. Aptly enough, there was a bowl of cat food waiting for Basil in the mess hall.

Basil in the mess hall

Basil led me into one of the old cell blocks. One cell had a collection of bed bases that had been doodled upon by various inmates, reinforcing the brand identity of their affiliated gangs. Since the prison closed, some of the former inmates have tried to retrieve their handiwork. I suppose some would like to show their grandchildren the really awesome likeness of the Zig-Zag man they did that time.

I noticed Basil duck off into another cell and so I followed him in there. There he was sitting next to a dead body – oh, wait – a mannequin made up to look like a dead body. It actually gave me a fright, but Basil was so nonchalant about the faux corpse, merrily licking his cat bits, that I couldn’t stay frightened for long.

There were plenty of spooky corridors, especially when the buildings are eerily quiet, not brightly lit and empty of other tourists in the early morning. But around a corner I found a most intriguing place.

In 2006, TVNZ screened a series called “Redemption Hill”, a cross between “Scared Straight” and “Maggie’s Garden Show”. A typical ’00s reality series, it took 10 troubled teens and sent them to old Napier prison where they were yelled at and given a group task of revamping a little corner garden.

So the “Redemption Hill” garden is still there. It’s cleverly designed to have lots of different visual features but with little needing mowing or weeding. A central pathway area is laid with paving stones, each hand decorated, no doubt by the troubled teens.

Five years on, the garden feels very much a product of the ’00s and slowly on its way to looking a bit naff (the way that things a few years out of fashion do). The little shrubs edging the pathway are starting to grow out a bit, but I guess the troubled teens aren’t around any more to maintain it. Wikipedia notes that two of the teens have since died in separate car crashes.

Redemption Hill garden

And from the Redemption Hill garden it was on to the small burial area and the hanging yard. And I was standing there listening to the tour commentary trying to strike a balance between ye-olde-comedy clanky-chains drama-voice prison tour and the reality that people were killed here and people are buried here.

It was an awkward tone to end on and I didn’t feel like standing around in the hanging yard, listening to the audio tour any longer. So I bid farewell to Basil the cat and made my way out.

Napier Prison feels quite low-key compared to the other old prison tours I’ve visited. Perhaps it’s because the prison was never very large or elaborate, and that it’s been out of use for less than 20 years. I’m sure there have been some fearsome inmates, but it’s hard to find it all that scary when there’s a peeling, crudely drawn mural depicting a topless wahine (Pania, perhaps) lazing about in the ocean.

A mural in prison

I left the prison and realised I’d gone back to doing something Maurice had done – I admired “fine views of Hawke’s Bay from Bluff Hill”.

That’s what I like about using the Shell Guide to New Zealand – whether I follow it precisely or just let it generally guide me in particular direction, it always ends up an interesting experience. It’s an insight to the way things used to be and the way things are now. And a reminder that sometimes it’s just nice to have a little sit-down in a rose garden.

Napier 4: Hedge fun

Hawke’s Bay is wine country, and Maurice notes that “vineyard visiting [is] a pleasure here – some of country’s best wines [are] available for sampling.” I like to imagine Maurice having a bit of a “Sideways” adventure. Out in Napier making notes for the third edition of the Shell Guide, he finds himself and/or gets sloshed in the region’s tasting rooms.

In particular Maurice singles out the Mission Vineyards, “begun in mid-19th century by French priests, and [is the] oldest wine-making enterprise in the country.” But it’s not all booze and priests. The winery is “set among hedges, shrines and large old trees [and] is extremely picturesque.”

These sounded like good footsteps to retrace, so I got the bus out to Greenmeadows and made my way up the Mission Estate Winery’s long, tree-lined driveway.

I’d scheduled my visit so I would arrive in time for the daily 2pm tour of the winery, but the sole pourer at the bar explained that she was the only person working that day, so the tour was off. Selling wine obviously took precedence. Instead I was welcome to have a wander around the old seminary building and grounds.


In a side room, a large television played a DVD of Cliff Richard’s 2003 concert at the estate. Every year the Mission holds a big ol’ outdoor concert where baby boomers bring along camping chairs and get boozed up on wine while they politely bop along to such artists as Chris de Burgh, Tom Jones, Olivia Newton John and Dave Dobbyn. A cabinet displayed the special wines bottled for the occasion. Hey, let’s crack open the Dionne Warwick and drown our sorrows as we listen to “Walk on By”.

The tasting bar was crowded with tourists, all wanting to get their specially discounted airport-compliant three-pack of wine, so I wandered into the gift shop. It turned out to be full of insane crafts, the tail end of the 1970s fashion for twee handmade crafts, with little acknowledgement of the modern craft resurgence. Things like little pottery plaques with handwritten mottos on such topics as doing the dishes, turning 40, having a messy home and how getting older is (somehow) like a tree. And because it was a Catholic craft shop, there were lots of crosses – wonky, consciously handmade crosses. For the Catholic who enjoys a shabby chic aesthetic.

I was excited by Maurice’s observation of shrines, but I didn’t find any. There was one room with information on the history of the Marist order, but most of the seminary building didn’t feel particularly Catholic. I guess there’s a balance between having a serious-money tourist attraction and a religious centre.

Outside there were splendid views of Napier, stretching all the way to the sea, with long rows of grapes extending out in front. The gardens were immaculate, in a “oh, this would be a nice place to have our wedding, darling” way, and I was happy to spot a neat little hedge, just like Maurice did. It was, indeed, picturesque.


There’s a photo in the Shell Guide showing a priest in a long black cassock, cigarette in hand, sharing a joke with a vineyard worker. The trainee priests are now all in Auckland, and the Mission Estate feels like a fancy winery with a sideline in fine Catholic souvenirs.

I had to leave to catch the hourly bus, so I didn’t have the chance to further search for secret shrines. Wait, secret shrines? That sounds like something out of “The Da Vinci Code”. Actually, that would be quite cool – killer wine-making monks in Napier. Maybe they could switch to that if the whole pop-concert thing doesn’t work out.

Back in town, it was time for one last adventure, but I didn’t feel like following Maurice’s directions any more. It was time to go off-book and head straight to prison.

Napier 3: Digging in the dirt

When Maurice visited Napier, his described Marine Parade like this: “Marine Parade, lined with Norfolk pines, has three km of seafront attractions including an illuminated fountain, war memorial hall, dolphin pool, soundshell, skating rink, boating lake and putting green.” This is a fairly thorough list, so I decided to compare this with the Marine Parade of today.

I don’t know where that 3km comes from (or indeed the even longer 2 miles in the earlier pre-metric editions). At a stretch, it could be a little over 2km, unless perhaps Maurice was so taken by the stretch of barren coast further south that he just had to include that too.

The Norfolk pines are still there, running along both the central median strip of the road as well the beachfront areas. It seems like a clever trick – the wintery pines always make the sunny Hawke’s Bay weather seem much more summery than it really is.

The illuminated fountain is still there, along with the neighbouring Pania of the Reef statue. Pania was unveiled in 1954, but evidently she wasn’t considered significant enough for Maurice to give her a mention in any edition of the Shell Guide. Perhaps her patina wasn’t green enough.

The war memorial hall is still there, only it’s been expanded and renamed. It’s now the Napier War Memorial Conference Centre. Yes.

War Memorial Conference Centre

After the World War I, most New Zealand towns erected war memorials to honour the dead – these were typically cenotaphs. After World War II, war memorials tended to be community buildings, typically war memorial halls, but also things like Lower Hutt’s war memorial library.

So while a war memorial conference centre isn’t entirely out of place, it just seems a bit sad. Is this how we honour Napier’s war dead – with bowls of individually wrapped mints, flip charts and breakaway brainstorming groups? Well, I guess our forefathers fought for freedom for all and you have to take the dull with the good.

The soundshell is still there, though the concrete in front of the stage is a bit cracked. While I was there, a number of maintenance workers were discussing the different shapes of their poo. I’m sure it all comes alive on Art Deco Weekend, though.

As for the putting green, from what I can tell it used to be a large grassed area, but now it’s been divided off into the information centre and a minigolf course. Minigolf is so much more fun than a putting green, though I’d easily recommend the Shell Guide over a fistful of brochures from the information centre.

The skating rink is still there, with little structurally changed from Maurice’s time. The big difference is that the concrete rink is now covered in ramps and the is now open to all sorts of wheels – rollerskates, rollerblades, skateboards, scooters and bikes. It seems that no matter the era, there’ll always be something with wheels on it that the kids want to ride, so the rink just tweaks itself to accommodate the radical-dude-action needs of the day.


Maurice’s dolphin pool is, of course, sad old Marineland. The idea of dolphins being held in captivity and being forced to perform tricks in exchange for food now seems so archaic, though there are still people who’d like to see the dolphins return to Marineland.

But we’ve seen The Cove, we know that dolphins are smart, that it’s not so great for them to be kept in small pools instead of the endless ocean. So it’s unlikely that Marineland will reopen as a marine amusement centre.

But the closure of Marineland has created a vast expanse of nothing along Marine Parade. Between the skating rink and the National Aquarium, there’s almost one kilometre of emptiness.

The park across the road from my motel was mostly empty, apart from some public art and a few Norfolk pines. At one stage some tents were erected in the park and I got all excited thinking some gypsies had come to town, but disappointingly it turned out to be a one-day trade show for painting supplies.

I was intrigued by Maurice’s mention of a boating lake because despite walking along Marine Parade many times, I couldn’t find anything that looked like a boating lake.

So back at my motel, I hit the googles. It turns out that indeed there used to be a little boating lake. It was kidney-shaped with a mini lighthouse in the indent. People could hire little pedalo boats and go for a hoon around the lake. It actually looked like fun, and if it was still around, I’d have gladly hired a boat.

But what happened to it? Well, by the ’90s it was all a bit run down and probably all the grunge kids of Napier were like, “Ugh, that’s so lame.” Unloved, it was pulled out, along with a few similarly naff amusements nearby.

I was surprised to realise that the boating lake would have just across the road from my motel – the loss of the boating lake meant the gain of uninterrupted sea views for the motels of Marine Parade. There’s a slight indentation where the boating lake used to be, a ghostly reminder of leisure time past.

1990s screen saver

Something that didn’t make it into the Shell Guide was the National Aquarium of New Zealand, first opened in 1976. It’s a decent enough aquarium, complete with a conveyor-belt walk-through acrylic tunnel.

But despite all the fish and other marine life there, I found myself more captivated by the kiwi house. One kiwi was scratching around by the window at the front of his enclosure. He poked around with his long beak, running it along the join between the bottom of the glass and the floor of the enclosure. It was as if he was on the verge of having a “Truman Show” moment, where he was about to realise that his reality of a bushland habitat was actually totally fake; that not even the sun in the sky was real.

But he gave up and went up the back where a female kiwi was rooting around in the dirt. The male did similar and seemed to accidentally bump into her. They both quickly moved away from each other, doing the old “Oh, I’m not even all that interested in you” move. But, of course, secretly they were both hot for each other and within seconds they were engaged in a different kind of rooting.

I stood there watching the two kiwis going at it and I felt quite proud to be a New Zealander.

But still I had to follow another of Maurice’s recommendations – and this time he was nudging me in the direction of wine country.

Napier 2: Inside the trainroom

The last time I visited Napier, I wondered if someone’s great-grandpops had make a Faustian pact – a devastating earthquake in exchange for turning the swampy land surrounding the growing city into habitable suburbs, and the opportunity to rebuild the town centre to meet the needs of a modern, expanding population.

Maurice notes that after the earthquake, “Napier gained 3200 ha of new ground in earthquake, which gave new suburbs such as Marewa (‘raised from the sea’).”

Marewa prides itself on being Napier’s “art deco suburb”, to the point where even non-art-deco buildings are being decofied to fit the script.

An electrical substation, built in 1951 in a plain New Zealand government style, has had some triangles and deco-themed edging glued on to the building, along with trompe l’oeil painted stonework. Somewhere, someone approves of this and thinks it raises the character of Marewa.

Genuine faux deco

It’s worth nothing that none of the three editions of the Shell Guide mention Marewa’s or Napier’s art deco character. Back then, the style was only 30 to 40 years old and it would be another couple of decades before art deco became fashionable again. When Maurice visited, the art deco buildings were probably just seen as slightly shabby, naff old buildings.

Because Marewa was “raised from the sea”, it has a slightly swampy feel to it. The suburb is bisected by long drainage ditches, which no one seems to have tried to disguise as streams. Or art deco streams.

Maurice has one specific Marewa recommendation: the “superb Kennedy Park Rose Gardens”.

Kennedy Park is mostly occupied by a campground, but the eastern edge of the park is home to the rose garden. It opened in 1951, but didn’t make it into the first edition of the Shell. But by 1976, Maurice had visited it and it must have made quite an impression for him to call it “superb” (compare with the “interesting” cathedral).

I’m not sure I feel the same. Well, yes, they were nice enough rose gardens, and there were still plenty of blooms, looking vibrant in the bright autumn sun. But there are better rose gardens in New Zealand.

I grew up with the Hamilton rose garden, and there is the Parnell rose garden in Auckland and the Lady Norwood rose garden in Wellington. Not to mention Te Awamutu the [alleged, so-called] rose town of New Zealand.

But then maybe things were different back in the ’70s. Perhaps Maurice visited on a sunny November morning and enjoyed the roses in full bloom. And perhaps he enjoyed some sandwiches on the lawn, watching the sparrows splash about in the fountain. Perhaps, after long days on the road researching the book, it was a welcome break in a tranquil little corner of New Zealand. That really would have been superb.

Splish splash

In the same sentence as his rose gardens recommendation, Maurice also puts in a word for the “Lilliput village and model railway”. I was intrigued by this, and didn’t even know if it still existed. So I turned to my semi-broken iPhone and googled it hard.

From what I could find out, the Lilliput model railway story goes like this – it was first housed in a building at the Hawke’s Bay Museum, before being evicted in 1988 when the museum needed more space. It then moved to Marineland, but was again kicked out in 2008 when Marineland needed more space. I discovered its new home was a place called Trainworld, conveniently located in central Napier, and apparently not in need of more space.

I was a little nervous making my way up the flight of stairs that took visitors to the first-floor Trainworld (and second-hand bookshop). My fears were realised when I came face to face with a whole lot of model railways.

This isn’t just a lone Thomas the Tank Engine looping around a plastic house. These are are complex model railway systems and miniature villages that men spend hours and hours perfecting in their trainrooms (what your uncle renames your cousin’s bedroom when she leaves home).

Trainworld was run by an elderly couple, and the man confessed to me that he liked the technical side of constructing and running tracks, and is less fussed by the modelling side of things.


There were several large tracks, including one with a tiny illuminated sign for Maurice’s sponsor, Shell. But I was only there to see one – the oldest one, Lilliput.

Work on the Lilliput model village and railway started in 1948 by Mr Bill Knapp of Napier. He worked on it for 25 years, taking it to Wellington for show every Christmas. Napier’s mayor was so impressed by Lilliput that he bought it and gifted it to the city in 1970. I wonder what that council meeting would have been like…

Councillor: Kia ora, Your Worship. How was your holiday in Nelson?
The Mayor: OMG, it was so amazing. I saw this awesome model railway.
Councillor: Oh, true?
The Mayor: Hells yeah. In fact, it was so awse that I totally bought it and am gifting it to the city! Cos that’s just the kind of dude I am! Sharing the love!
Councillor: [cries]

But poor old Lilliput. 18 years at the museum, 10 years at Marineland. Has it found a permanent home at Trainworld?

Lilliput itself is quite fun, though obviously constructed with American model train kitset pieces. It’s a time capsule of post-war Americana. There’s a drive-in (complete with naughtily rocking cars), a collection of modernist ranch houses, but also a few Napier touches, including a decent enough replica of the T&G building.


It’s a rather eccentric little tourist attraction. I suspect that because it’s not overtly New Zealandic, it doesn’t yet have the same sense of importance as other elaborate, homemade, 60-year-old craft objects would.

But in a way, finding Lilliput in a corner of nerdy old Trainworld seems apt. It’s the sort of thing that little boys go mental for, but I also think it has appeal for older boys, like Maurice.

Yes, back to Maurice. His next recommendation was a classic Napier tourist attraction – a stroll along Marine Parade.