Thursday, 29 September 2016

William and Kate in Haida Gwaii

The abandoned villages of Haida Gwaii
The latest members of the Royal Family to visit a former colony are William and Kate, with their children in tow.  Having been to British Columbia myself just over a year ago, I do wonder how people feel about representatives of the very foreign power that dispossessed and then oppressed them, swanning in as glitzy celebrities.  The 'cultural genocide' that occurred is still too recent and too raw to be swept under the red carpet.

The royal couple are planning to visit Haida Gwaii and paddle a canoe at Skidegate, where they will be presented with a Haida paddle, specially commissioned from Haida artist Yaahl `Aadaa. I wonder if they will even begin to comprehend the special significance of the gift.  The paddle symbolises working together for a common aim.  The paddle also symbolizes the relationship and responsibilities of governments to First Nation people.  The British don't have a very good record on that, so far.

If you want to read the story of what happened in British Columbia and get a glimpse of the spectacular beauty of the country, perhaps you'd like to read 'Travelling to the Edge of the World', which can be ordered from Amazon or through Igram or i-Books. It was a life-changing experience for me, but I doubt that William and Kate will be allowed any real contact with either the people or the environment.

Travelling to the Edge of the World, with full colour photographs, is £10.95  (paperback) bought from the Book Depository, (via amazon), £3.99 on Kindle, and £18.99 as an amazon paperback.  In the USA and Canada it's available from Ingram, Nook and Barnes and Noble, as well as the i-Book platform.

Wednesday, 28 September 2016

How to Live in a Dying Town

The message that greets you in the Robert Harris coffee shop in Greymouth
Greymouth, at the mouth of the Grey River, on the West Coast at the other end of the Trans-Alpine railroad, is a town most people drive through to get to somewhere else.  But it wasn't always like that. Once it was the Gold Rush destination of New Zealand. In 1864 men were flocking to what was then known as the Greenstone Creek in search of the shiny metal, camping out and living rough, hoping to get rich.

Timber was a big business too.  On the West Coast there was an impenetrable rainforest just waiting to be logged out.  And they did, using horses to pull the big trees out of the forest.

But that was nothing to what happened when the miners discovered coal - the black variety was more profitable than the much rarer glittery stuff.  After the coal mining began, a railway was needed to connect up the mines, and a shipping port to ship it out.  All that is left of the wharves today are the cranes - made in my home-town Carlisle in the UK! - and the odd bloke fishing for whitebait.
Cranes made in Carlisle, Cumbria - a long way from home!

Dipping for Whitebait
The Grey River has a sandbar at the entrance that claimed dozens of ships.  The slightest mistake, the smallest change in the weather or the tide and ships ran aground.  It was one of the most difficult ports in New Zealand, much disliked by the Captains and pilots.
Shipwreck on the Greymouth Bar.  Photo NZ Gov encyclopaedia
Even the Harbour Board offices are closed now - the beautiful art deco building considered an earthquake risk until the money can be found to strengthen it.

A lot of the coal was shipped out across the Alps, through Arthur's Pass, by rail to the east coast port of Lyttleton, which was safer and easier.  The port at Greymouth slowly died.  The town became dependent on coal.  But the seams were as dangerous as the port - producing a lot of methane and other gases.  The  mines were fraught with accidents.  Most recently, the notorious Pike River disaster, where a series of explosions and fires rocked the mine killing everyone underground at the time. 29 men died in the tragedy and some bodies have never been recovered because it is too dangerous to go down.  
Pike River Mine - the aftermath
Twelve years ago around 800 men worked in the mining industry.  Today only two mines remain open and employ only 40 men.  Even the club, named The Coal Face, is closed.

 Greymouth feels like a town that has lost its way.  But it still has a great deal going for it.  The situation on the west coast is utterly beautiful and there are wonderful art deco buildings lining the streets. There are several big, old colonial hotels and it would be a good base to tour the area.

The Museum is an architectural gem - it has the feel of one of those fascinating antique shops that allow you to trawl through the bric-a-brac.  There are rooms full of photographs and bits of wrecked ships, personal effects, and mining equipment.

I loved the old Greymouth switchboard.

And the diving suit and boots, dating from the early days of the port when divers in lead boots were winched down to salvage the wrecks.

 I had a comfortable hotel and evening meal and thoroughly enjoyed my walk back in time through Greymouth's history.  A story summed up by the old Bank of New Zealand building (Katherine Mansfield's father was a director of the bank) which is now an art gallery with the lettering on the front blanked out to create a new message. This is A New Land.
Bank of New Zealand -   A New Land

 Now I'm heading out again, over the pass and down to the far south - the windy, wild reaches of the Catlins, looking out towards Antarctica.

Favourite thing?  This roadside bookshop with an honesty box on the shelf!

Saturday, 24 September 2016

Who was Arthur? And why did he pass?

The Alps from the Canterbury Plain
One of the routes I've never travelled in New Zealand is Arthur's Pass, so this time I decided I'd give it a go.  There are two ways to travel - a very expensive rail journey from Christchurch to Greymouth, or the West-Coast Shuttle bus.  I decided to go one way and come back the other.  The rail trip costs $159 and the bus $55.  The train goes through quite a few tunnels, the bus goes over the original pass and follows the old stage-coach road for much of the way.
The old stage-coach road along the gravel river bed.
The bus takes about the same time as the train.  You can guess which one I preferred!
It takes two locos at the front and three at the rear to get over the pass
From the Canterbury plain with its rolling green pastures, you soon get a glimpse the first glimpse of the Alps and the remnants of glacial lakes.

There are bridges and deep gorges.

and wide river crossings across braided rivers and banks of gravel that are apparently about a thousand feet deep, left behind by the glaciers.

Arthur's Pass station is over 700 metres above sea level.  It was the base for the workmen building the tunnel that takes the train under the mountain to the other side.   Arthur's Pass was named for Sir Arthur Dudley Dobson who was the intrepid surveyor who found the track (he was told about it by the Maori!) that was eventually made into the first stage-coach route through the Alps.  He had a father and a brother who were both engineers and so it was always called 'Arthur's' pass to distinguish him from his family.
Selfie opportunity!
Doing this trip by stage-coach must have been fraught with danger.   This is an old photo of one of them, passing underneath a rather rickety foot-bridge.  The sad truth of this nostalgic image was that the horses had a life-span of about 1.5 years because of the strain they were forced to endure. As a horse-lover, brought up with draught horses, it makes me very angry.

The first cars along the route had to be helped over the river-beds by horses, hopefully  better treated.

No horses were injured or exploited on this trip. I made it to the other side by engine power and then onto my waiting bus, bound for the small community at Punakaiki where, apparently, there are some spectacular rocks and beaches.

Thursday, 22 September 2016

Christchurch's Graffiti Revival

Christchurch is still a mess.  6 years on from the  September 2010 7.2 earthquake that began its destruction, it remains a jumble of demolition and construction. Where there were once streets, there are now wastelands being used as car parks. But something amazing has been going on. NZ and international artists have been painting exposed, scarred walls with graffiti art - some of it sensational. The iconic image of this street art exhibition was the Ballerina, painted on the back wall of the  restored Theatre Royal, by Owen Dippie.
The Ballerina, being painted from a crane by Owen Dippie
I've been wandering around to see how many I can spot.  I found these New Zealand birds, though I had to trespass on a building site to photograph them.


There are a number of super-realist images.

And rather spooky images peer out at you from side-streets, and the doors of boarded up shops.

Or lurking in the porta-cabins erected to protect listed facades.

There are colourful monsters

Multi-coloured car-parking


Some interesting cartoons

And the images are both inside and out.  This one is in the YMCA building that recently hosted the graffiti exhibition.

And the ballerina? She's being obliterated by a new building.  Which I suppose goes to underline the temporary nature of graffiti art.  But it seems a shame.