Oh, possum!

On my last day in Napier I visited Opossum World, as recommended by an anonymous tipster. Opossum World is a store selling products made from possum fur, but out the back is what purports to be an educational display about the menace of the possum. It’s essentially a massive anti-possum propaganda exercise, and it makes me wonder if it was created to appease tourists horrified by the slaughter of innocent possums for the fur trade. I mean, if you’re coming from Australia where the possum is beloved and protected native animal, it’s going to be horrifying to find it treated like this in New Zealand.

Such is Opossum World’s contempt for the possum, they don’t even call it by its proper name, instead borrowing the name of the possum’s North American cousin, the opossum. Maybe it’s like an admonishment – “Oh, possum!” Or a troublesome drunken Irishman, O’Possum.

Here are some highlights of the strange world of Opossum World.

The Bridge of Remembrance

Bridge of Remembrance

Past the gloves, past the hats is the Bridge of Remembrance. But is it not in memory of all the dead possums. Instead it commemorates the “70,000,000 opossums consuming 21,000 tonnes of vegetation per night”. Except humans are responsible for destroying two-thirds of New Zealand’s native forest. And the current estimate of possums in New Zealand is now only 30 million. And the Bridge of Remembrance is made of wood.

It knows


This possum can see into your soul. It knows you know it is dead. It knows you know it was murdered while it was trying to get some food. It will appear as a vision to remind you of this the next time you are at McDonald’s enjoying a replica Georgie Pie pie.

The miracle of birth

The spawning

This is the extent of Opossum World’s anti-possum propaganda. This taxidermied possum is demonstrating the joy of birth. The mother possum has just given birth to the tiny possum kitten (kitten!) that is in the process of crawling into the mother’s pouch. Except the mother possum looks like there’s a demonic alien about to burst out of her stomach, whereupon it will eat all the native birds it can find and then crap on your windscreen. All that’s missing is flickering red LED lights in the possum’s eyes.

The joy of motherhood

Feeding time

On the left, a young possum rides on the back of its mother. On the right… WHAT THE HELL IS THIS? Oh, it’s a possum that is too big to live in its mother’s pouch, but can still fit its head inside to suckle from its mom’s teats. The mother looks startled and mildly annoyed and appears to be attempting to run away. This is the possum equivalent of a 20-something young adult who still lives at home.

Man alone

Lonely hunter

And here is the lonely possum hunter. He’s been out shooting at night and has some possums to gut. He’s all by himself out there in the bush, man alone. Here he is taking a break and contemplating his life, wondering if all those dead possums have all been worth it. It would be nice if, just once, the native birds would say thanks for all the hard work.

Opossum World is located at 157 Marine Parade. The next time you’re in Napier, you should go there. Better than a winery tour.


1. Napier

I’m in Napier this week for a short break. In the heart of the ’00s, I used to go travelling, find the local internet cafe in town and update my LiveJournal. Now technology has changed to the point where I can do all that from the comfort and privacy of my motel room. Or sitting on a bench down by the waterfront, squinting at my phone.

I like Napier. It’s a nice seaside town in a very English way, and New Zealand doesn’t usually do that. Probably because we like our beachy areas wild and untamed, not with long beachside boulevards with minigolf courses, aquariums and swimming pools.

Of course, it helps that Napier has all the stylish old buildings from the 1930s. Though in the spunky new MTG Hawke’s Bay (aka the museum) there was an old plan for a grand Brighton-style Marine Parade, complete with a palatial building called the Coffee Palace, right across the road from a grand church. Sadly, these plans were never realised, missing the opportunity for Snoop Dogg’s 2002 song “From tha Chuuuch to da Palace” to have a special tie to Napier.


2. Hastings

I hired a car and drove to Hastings. Somehow it’s hard-wired into my brain that Hastings is north of Napier, not south, so on the drive there I kept thinking I was driving along a thing peninsula of land because – huh – I didn’t realise there was also sea on that side, etc.

Hastings seems quite sensible compared to Napier. It makes Napier seem like a dandy flapping about, all like “Look at us! We have art deco!” while Hastings is all “Yep, we’ve got it too, and a K Mart.”

The last time I went to Hastings was on a family holiday in 1985 or so. The only thing I remember was finding a really cool nightie at Farmers, with pink and yellow geometric panels (I was 10; it was the mid-’80s). Hoping for lightning to strike twice, I went into the new Farmers. It’s just like all the other new Farmers. The sleepware section was filled with the usual boring things – those t-shirts with comedy slogans. A sheep with its wool in rollers and “dreaming of ewe”. I miss the ’80s?

3. Latte bowls


One of the things I discovered from Cafe Culture New Zealand is that some of the cafes haven’t really changed much since 2000. Cafe Ujazi in Napier is one of those. As I walked past it, I noticed an empty latte bowl sitting on an outdoor table. Lattes served in cafe au lait bowls, that very New Zealand invention, have all but vanished from the serious cafes of major metropolises, but it’s heartening that they’re not yet uncool in the provinces. And really, you haven’t lived until you’ve slurped down a giant bowl of hot chocolate, with melting marshmallows bothering your nose.

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.

Napier 1: The giant kidult scifi cross

So, I’d come back from Japan, had spend a few days relaxing at my parents’ place, but I wasn’t quite ready to return to Wellington. I wanted a nice seaside town to explore. I chose Napier, evidently unable to stay away from seismic sightseeing.

To help me with my exploring, I decided to use the assistance of ol’ Maurice Shadbolt and the Shell Guide to New Zealand. I didn’t have a copy with me, but the Napier Library had the 1976 edition, so I copied the Napier page and let Maurice be my guide.

I didn’t realise it at the time, but while the 1976 Shell Guide has exactly the same number of pages as the original 1968 edition, its Napier entry is almost 100 words longer. Only one location is dropped (the site of the battle of Omarunui), with the extra hundred words highlighting new attractions, suggesting that in an eight-year period, Napier suddenly grew into a tourism wonderland. Well, I had a few days in which to explore and see if this was still the case.

One new addition was the Waiapu Anglican Cathedral of St John the Evangelist. Consecrated in 1967, so too late for the first edition, it was described by Maurice as “interesting”. I like interesting things, so I had to pay a visit.

The original brick cathedral collapsed in the 1931 earthquake, and work didn’t start on the replacement until the late ’40s. This means it managed to escape the art deco styles of the immediate Napier rebuild and is one of the few historic buildings in Napier that isn’t art deco.

It’s a cool mid-century modern style, light and open. But here’s the thing – I have a mild claustrophobia involving large enclosed spaces, which usually means that cathedrals tend to make me feel really uncomfortable. The Napier cathedral was even worse – its interior was massive, made even larger by its almost flat roof.

I stuck to the lower edges of the building, keeping calm as I carried on around the building. I’m not sure, but if I was a regular churchgoer, I’d probably have to take a Valium every Sunday. Or perhaps God would sort me out.

Above the altar, a giant cross was suspended. It was made of wood and had a semi-opaque red centre. This was meant to symbolise the love of God, but it looked more like a prop from a 1970s sci-fi kidult TV series. I kind of expected to find a secret lever that would make the red thing start glowing, and the whole cathedral would turn into an alien spaceship, letting the stranded aliens return to their home planet after they’d crash landed in 1931.

1980s scifi kidult prop

But even though the cathedral is all clean and modern, there are remnants of the destructive past. The cathedral features a stained glass window constructed from smashed pieces of glass from the old cathedral, the bits salvaged by an eagle-eyed local woman. There’s also a cross made from old nails from the bombed Coventry Cathedral. It seems that it’s important to keep a connection with the past devastation, no matter how tempting it can feel to make it seem like nothing bad ever happened. Note well, Christchurch.

I was looking forward to visiting the Hawke’s Bay Museum and Art Gallery (it is “good”, says Maurice), but it was all closed for a massive and ambitious expansion and overhaul. Hopefully the new museum will be better than just “good”.

So with the museum off limits, I turned to Maurice for another attraction to visit. He recommended Napier’s “fine botanic garden”. I had to google it, but there it was – on the side of the rather steep Hospital Hill. I decided to start from the top and work my way down, which first meant a long slog up Chaucer Street.

About halfway up the street the suburb started to look eerily familiar. And then I realised – it was the location of the 2009 shootings. The house that gunman Jan Molenaar barricaded himself in is still there. From the street, it looks like an unremarkable suburban house. It’s only the sheet of plywood replacing one of the garage doors that suggests something unusual might have happened here. A cat contently sat on a deck railing, just like any other subrban New Zealand house.

Finally I reached the top entrance of the botanic gardens. A pictogram at the entrance seemed to indicate that there’d be mohawked punks at the gardens, but then I realised it was a likeness of a cockatoo. Exotic birds? Cool!

I made my way down through wet winding paths. Maybe if I’d had a botanical guide who could talk me through the flora on display, then I could fully appreciate the botanic wonderland. But on my own, it all just seemed like lots of plants.

Things got more interesting as the land flattened out. I came across an aviary – ah, the exotic cockatoos! Except as I walked along, it became obvious that the cages were empty. Near the end, there was a large hole in the mesh. Inside a collection of sparrows gaily played on the perches and playthings that had previously been the domain of the exotic birds.

It was like a scene from a post-apocalyptic bird movie, where all the cockatoos were dead, leaving the street sparrows to freely roam the overgrown remains of the former luxury quarters of their fallen avian foes.

Around a corner I found another aviary full of budgerigars. Australian in origin, this was confirmed by the giant mural of outback desert scenes decorating the back wall of the aviary. Apart from the fact that the desert isn’t the natural habitat of the budgie.


There was plenty of other urban fauna to enjoy – a large dovecote full of albino pigeons (apparently these are known as “doves”), and a duckpond full of ducks. There’s something quite nice about sitting in a park and watching ducks.

The botanic garden felt like it had seen much better days. And if it was worth a mention by Maurice, then it must have been rather enjoyable in its heyday.

I was intrigued by the slice of 1970s Napier that Maurice was offering, and he had more curious recommendations for me to investigate. Would the rose garden still be in bloom, and what exactly was the mysterious Lilliput village?

Napier III: Loose ends

Why, I ought to finish writing about my Napier adventure.

On Friday noon I visited the Hawke’s Bay Museum. It’s in a grand old art deco building with additions from the ’50s and the ’70s. From the sound of things, they’re going to do some restoration which will probably include pretending the ’70s never happened.

There were a lot of good exhibits crammed into the little building. I liked the 20th Century Design in the Home exhibit, where I realised that the pink ghettoblaster I had when I was 13 is probably a design classic now.

On Saturday morning I was feeling kinda lazy and wandered around the bustling downtown area. I eventually ended up in the MIA shop, where I bought a T-shirt that cost more than my total T-shirt spending in 2005. But it’s, like, a totally awesome T-shirt.

Then I went to the National Aquarium of New Zealand. I was not previously aware that Aotearoa New Zealand had a national aquarium, but indeed it does. It has lots of fish in tanks, a walkway through a tank a la Kelly Tarlton’s, and a a kiwi enclosure, because, uh, the kiwi is actually a fish-bird.

After that I had lunch in a cafe that was so art deco’d out that I would have left in disgust had the food not been good and reasonably priced. While I was waiting for my latte, I made a shocking realisation. On the wall I saw a collection of Jack Vettriano prints. It’s that kind of sentimental 1920s-inspired art that fits right in with the art deco obsession that has gripped Napier. It’s a perfect match, tragically.

It was time to do some more walking, so I walked up the big hill thing again. As I did on Friday, my journey up the hill was via a really steep flight of steps building to the side of the cliff. This sort of thing makes me feel very weak and wobbly, but the view from the top was worth it.

I eventually made my way to the Bluff Hill lookout, and admired the sparkling blue waters of Hawke’s Bay. Then I found a path down and walked along the waterfront with the Port of Napier on one side and the steep sides of Bluff Hill on the other, which also made me feel weak and wobbly. O, nature.

I discovered the Centennial Gardens, complete with a fake waterfall, and the Old Napier Prison, now a backpackers hostel (and they do tours, but I was too late!).

It is, it seems, always bittersweet saying goodbye to Napier. I found myself again at the bus station wanting to leave but not wanting to leave.

The bus ride back (seven hours) was all right. I ended up sitting next to a surly teen who was furiously texting someone the whole journey. Across the aisle from me were some young bogan parents who’d had their first romantic weekend away from their kids, and Mr Bogan wanted the lovin’ to continue on the bus. OMG gross.

My iPod used up all its juice just north of Tokoroa, so instead of the guitar pop of The Cribs, I listened to the British backpacker girl chatting with her seatmate, a fellow from Whangamata. Their chitchat got more and more flirty, as it progressed from discussing their tertiary education to how firm his muscles were. When the bus got to Auckland, I saw them get off and noticed that they were both incredibly good looking, but sadly he had family who’d come to pick him up and she had a plane to catch, so fate cruelly pried their attractiveness apart. But he did give her a copy of his comic book, so who knows.

I took a million photos, so when I’ve sorted them out, I shall upload.

The deal

The more I think about the Napier earthquake, the more it seems like the result of a voodoo spell that someone conjured up in the 1930s. Let us examine the evidence.

There’s a relatively new town, but it’s been settled on a bit of swampy land by the sea. The town is running out of land to build on. There’s been a bit of land reclaimed from the sea, but that costs money and they can’t really afford to reclaim any more. The existing town streets were designed before the invention of the motor car, so now they’re a bit narrow and not ideal. Wouldn’t it be great if a) more land became available to be built upon, and b) if the downtown area could be rebuilt to fit the needs of a modern society?

So there’s an earthquake and the area is thrust two metres above sea level, making all the swampy, lagoony land and the entire inner harbour dryish, providing more than enough space for the town to grow into a city; and most of the downtown buildings fell down, meaning that the streets could be widened and the area rebuilt with cool, modern designs.

Surely someone’s great-grandpappy sold his soul to the Devil to arrange this.

Napier II: In the Spanish Mission style

Yesterday I wandered around and looked at all the art deco buildings in the downtown* area. I could have paid some money and join a guided tour, but having walked past and seen a few families groups and old people being guided by a senior citizen with a drive-thru mic, I knew I’d make the right decision.

Right decisions, wrong decisions, and the House That Cancer Built

The thing is, Napier has so many art deco buildings that after a while they all start to look the same, and it’s the non-art-deco buildings that stand out and look interesting. There’s one neo-classical behemoth that survived the earthquake, and a bunch of modernist and brutalist civic and government buildings hiding on the periphery. Buildings without zig-zags or sunburst motifs are the interesting ones.

There seems to be a whole art deco dress-up industry. A couple of times a year Napier had these events where people dress up in 1930s costumes, giving the impression that Napier in the 1930s was mainly populated by middle-aged people who wore ratty evening wear and kept saying “I’m a flapper” as they drank their trim milk cappuccinos.

Last night I ventured over to the The Warehouse across the road and found “Insignificance” on DVD for $10, which was a) surprising, because I didn’t know it was available on DVD, b) delightful, because it’s one of my favourite films, and c) choice, because it was only $10.

Oh yes, my hotel (motel) room has an obscenely huge spa bath. It takes about half an hour to fill with water and I feel like I’m actually doing a bad thing for the environment by using that much water. But the cool thing is I can fold back a screen and watch TV, or in my case, drag my laptop over and watch episodes of Snuff Box, which feels very decadent indeed.

This morning I set out to do another art deco tour, this time of the suburb of Marewa. It wasn’t until I got about halfway around that I realised that I don’t really like art deco residential buildings. It’s something about those flat roofs and little windows that creeps me out. So I abandoned the walk and made my way** around to The House That Cancer Built, aka the National Tobacco Company building.

I could tell I was in the right area (bleak, industrial) because it smelt like tobacco – Port Royal, to be precise. According to the brochure, it was sales of roll-your-own tobacco that kept the NTC in business during the Great Depression, ensuring they had the funds to build a lavish new art deco headquarters after the Napier earthquake. The ill health of my ancestors paid for their cheerful rose detailing.

After that I wandered in the general direction of the city and ended going up the big hill thing that’s in the middle of the city. An old man helpfully told me, “You’re supposed to be going down, not up.” Yes, cheers, pops.

Ok, I think I shall visit the museum now.

* Is downtown the right word? Is Napier big enough to have a downtown?
** If this sounds like a little meander, it was actually a massive walk of several kilometres.