Gisborne part 2: The lady and the lake

“A Christmas carnival and the Poverty Bay rodeo on New Year’s Day are not to be missed,” urges Maurice Shadbolt, as I again consult the Shell Guide to New Zealand for something to do. As brilliant as his suggestion sounds, I was a couple of weeks too late. Maurice didn’t have any further recommended sightseeing for Gisborne, so I hired a car to travel deep into the Ureweras.

Urewera, Maurice tells me, means “burnt male organ”. I believe this comes from the tale of a Tuhoe chief who was relaxing the night before a battle by jamming on his Casiotone. He accidentally dropped a toasted marshmallow on the preset selector button, which melted so it was permanently set on samba, much to the annoyance of his neighbours. Well, unless there’s some other meaning of “burnt male organ” I don’t know of!

I’d checked out the road to Lake Waikaremoana on Google Streetview to see what driving would be like. It appeared to be a nice two-lane blacktop going through pleasant countryside, but strangely Streetview only went about halfway along the road to the lake. Oh well.

I wasn’t until I got to that halfway point along Lake Road that I realised why the Streetview car had given up and turned around: it was unsealed. And I don’t like unsealed road. I like to not have to pay too much attention to driving. I don’t like the mere act of turning a corner to become a challenge.

But I stuck it out and finally made it to the visitor’s centre at Aniwaniwa. The centre was designed by architect John Scott in 1974, but sadly it hasn’t aged well. It succumbed to leaks that have resulted in the top three floors being condemned, the museum closed, the McCahon mural relocated to the Auckland Art Gallery for safety, and the basement turned into a camping supplies store with a few historic items on display to keep the non-campers happy.

Heading back, I stopped by the Lake Waikaremoana Motorcamp for an ice cream and admired the lake – the giant blue lake, cleverly disappearing around a corner, not revealing its whole self. It was a sticky hot day, and the sun was blazing down, making every colour look bright and rich. Dealing with all that dusty, unsealed road was worth it.

Aw yeah

Back in Gisborne, I was being stalked by the hotel restaurant. It started off harmlessly enough – a phone call in the late afternoon asking me if I’d like to make a reservation for dinner that night. No thanks.

But then a couple of hours later, I received another call, this time asking if I’d like to order in some room service. No thanks, again.

The next day, however, not only did I get another phone call (which, thanks to caller ID, I happily ignored), but I was also amused to see a piece of paper pushed under my bedroom door. There was a tight gap between the bottom of the door and the carpet, so the person on the other side was having to really work the paper from side to side to get it through. It turned out to be a flyer advertising the restaurant.

Now, if this were a computer game, it would obviously be a clue that I was suppose to WALK TO RESTAURANT and probably ORDER SPECIAL OF THE DAY to collect the next piece of inventory to help me win Gisborne Quest IV. But as this was real life, I just ignored it all and instead had fish and chips from the local.

(And anyway, it turned out that one of the bits of fish had a key in it that let me open the secret panel on the Cook Memorial and free the dwarf, who then gave me a map to find the secret marae on Kaiti Hill!!!!)

Tick tock

Gisborne has a curious selection of quite fancy things. There’s the PAULNACHE gallery (in ALL CAPITALS with nospace), which has a Damian Hurst piece in their collection; The Winemakers Daughters cafe and bar, where I enjoyed some good scrambled eggs; Rain Dogs Books with its fine collection of second-hand books; and Muirs Bookshop, which is just a good bookshop with a good cafe.

There are cities bigger than Gisborne (and Gisborne is technically a city) that don’t have places like this. But if you live in, say, Hamilton and there’s no awesome bookshop around, you can drive to Auckland easily enough.

But Gisborne is really remote – it’s about three or four hours’ drive to get to a larger city, and even further to a metropolis. Could it be that a fancy dealer gallery manages to survive in Gisborne because, well, there’s really nowhere else around for people to go?

Two out of three

On the less fancy side was the Odeon cinema, which has a no-hoodies policy. I believe this is the only cinema I’ve been to in Aotearoa New Zealand with a no-hoodies policy.

I can understand why a shopping mall would ban hoodies, as they could help obscure the face of the shoplifter, but it seems a curious rule for a movie theatre to have.

Standing in front of me in line was a young mother and her kids who’d come in from the rain to see “Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel”. The mum was wearing a hooded sweatshirt.

“I hope you’re going to put your hood down before you go in,” the box office lady sternly said. The mother apologised, saying she’d been wearing up to protect herself from the rain.

Then the lady sighed, “If only people knew how much more attractive they look with the hoods down.”

Wait. If there’s no risk of shoplifting in a movie theatre, could it be that the Odeon’s anti-hoodie policy is purely for aesthetic purposes? Do they want their cinemas full of good looking people who don’t hide their prettiness under casualwear?

Well, If I’d known I would have brought my hair straighteners and worn a pretty frock.

Gisborne had surprised and delighted me. I’m happy to think of it as a cheerful fishing village, with bursts of city sophistication and laidback island style.

I still don’t know Gisborne well enough to call it Gizzy, but I reckon I might just call it Gisbo.


Gisborne part 1: Mystery and history

Had I been naive to think there would be an overhead locker in which to store my laptop bag on the 19-seater Beechcraft 1900D aeroplane that was clanging its way to Gisborne? I can happily do without inadequate airline coffee or those weird “veggie crisps” things that Air New Zealand serves in flight. But I guess I do have an expectation that, should I wish to take all my stuff on holiday with me, there will be space for it on the plane.

But there wasn’t, leaving me having to cram both my bags under the seat in front of me, taking up most of my leg room. Not that there was a flight attendant to check – the plane can’t fit one of those either.

Flying to Gisborne on such a small plane made it feel kind of exotic, like rather than just flying to another part of the North Island, I was journeying to a remote Pacific Island. But perhaps I was.

Leis and hi-viz vests

Having arrived, I went for a wander along Gisborne’s main street, Gladstone Road. It felt like a cross between an ordinary New Zealand town and a capital city of a Pacific Island. There were shops selling leis, people slouching down the road in bare feet, cars driving erratically; and then there was a deli, a Farmers department store, a fancy bookshop. What a curious blend.

I know that many locals call Gisborne “Gizzy”, but I didn’t feel like I knew it well enough to call it that yet. To call it Gizzy would make me feel like someone’s gran saying, “Oh, lovely to meet you Mr Boofhead.” Nicknames develop over time, and Gisborne and I weren’t there yet.

Cook Landing Memorial

I consulted my travel guide, the 1969 edition of The Shell Guide to New Zealand (ed. Maurice Shadbolt). Located at the foot of Kaiti Hill, Maurice advises, “is the point where the first known Europeans set foot in New Zealand: beside [the] monument to Captain Cook which stands there is [a] ship’s cannon reputedly from Endeavour.”

But there was no sign of the ship’s cannon. It turns out it was later discovered to not actually be from the Endeavour, and now lives in the local museum, accurately labelled “Not Cook’s cannon”.

The Historic Cook Landing Site was, at one point, right by the sea shore, gazing out to the vast Pacific Ocean. But subsequent reclamation of the waterfront means it’s now located in a little park wedged between the road and a logging depot. I was a little shocked by this – this site of national significance has essentially been destroyed just to make room for logs to be stored.

But the Department of Conservation have thoughtfully displayed a photo showing the opening of the monument in 1906. As I looked at the photo, I noticed a curious thing – while the monument currently only has text on one of its four sides, at the 1906 unveiling there was obviously text on at least two other sides. Something had been removed from the memorial at some point in history? But what? And why?

After some googling, I found a series of of letters to the editor of the Poverty Bay Herald from 1906. It appears that while funds were being raised to build the memorial, a group called the Patriotic Committee donated £150 on the condition that the monument also contain the names of the New Zealand troopers who fought in the Boer War.

This was met with fierce opposition from many people, including troopers themselves (like this letter from Colonel TW Porter). It was offensive to Cook’s memory having to share his monument with another cause, and it was offensive to the troopers to not be worthy of their own memorial.

So it seems that indeed the off-topic words were scrubbed from the memorial, leaving three blank sides and the feeling of a story not fully told.

Museum! Art Gallery

Maurice also recommended the “interesting museum”, which is otherwise known as Tairawhiti Museum. Though wouldn’t it be cool if there actually was a museum called The Interesting Museum? I would go there.

And indeed Tairawhiti Museum is interesting. It tells the tale of Gisborne from the first Maori, to Cook’s landing, right through to modern times, including all the craziness around the year 2000, what with Gisborne being THE FIRST PLACE IN THE WORLD TO SEE THE SUNRISE OF THE NEW MILLENNIUM. Here, have a plastic cup with “Gisborne 2000” printed on it.

The museum building has been expanded over the years, giving it a fun, eclectic feel, moving from room to room. Past the gift shop; through a gallery showcasing both traditional and modern Maori art; into another room with a stellar collection of work from contemporary New Zealand artists; down a stairway (which was also showing a selection of photos of Gisborne in the 1930s and ’40s by local photographer Jack Hollamby); into the maritime collection, including many fine surfboards; along a short corridor; through a door and suddenly there’s the captain’s cabin of the Star of Canada, an Edwardian boat.

It’s like visiting your friend’s uncle, who was made redundant in the ’80s and took his severance and built himself a house out of whatever bits and pieces he could talk people into giving him.

And more regional museums could learn from the ‘weird uncle’ approach. Tairawhiti Museum is almost a perfect museum and shows that you don’t need an animatronic blacksmith telling stories about ye olden days to have a good museum.

Toot toot