Wednesday, 25 December 2019

Mountain Matter for young people

I am delighted to learn of something new, especially is it is about something I had never heard before. For example, earlier this year I found out that June 3 was UN International bicycle day. And a few days later, June 17, is Iceland’s National Day celebrating Iceland’s independence from Danish rule on that day in 1944.  More recently I discovered December 11 is International Mountain Day. Adventurer and author, Greg Mortenson, shared the item on Facebook. The 2019 theme was ``Mountains matter for young people.’’
                                                                  Aoraki/ Mount Cook, New Zealand

Young people are active agents of change and will become our future leaders. They are custodians of mountains and their natural resources, which are threatened by climate change. Let young generations to take the lead, so that mountains and mountain peoples become central in development agendas, consequently receiving more attention, investments and research. We need to educate children about the role that mountains play in supporting billions up and downstream – by providing freshwater, energy, food and recreation. Life for rural youth living in the mountains can be hard. Many young people leave upland rural districts in search of a supposedly better life and employment (which) leads to abandoned agriculture, land degradation and a loss of cultural values and ancient traditions.

My early memories of travel were to Arthur’s Pass, a village surrounded by mountains in New Zealand’s South Island. I was aged five and awed. Arthur’s Pass was reached following a spectacular three-hour rail journey crossing gaping river gorges and passing high country lakes lapping the base of mountains. My father took charge of these early adventures. He belonged to a mountaineering club so we all followed including our long suffering –albeit non-complaining, mother forever struggling to carry the family holiday needs in improvised luggage carriers. One was a less than suitable retired hat box.

Arthur's Pass Devil's Punchbowl waterfall and rata

 Railways and mountains became my life’s big interest. I had to have mementos of my big interests – hence my life-long passion for photography. No wonder my great desire was to visit Switzerland. It was not until well into my 50s that I made it. Last year I made a fourth Swiss visit. I had become interested in mountaineering and mountain ``tramping,’’ as we call hiking in New Zealand. My acclaimed summits were not greatly spectacular but were immensely satisfying. Later, mega bicycle travel included mountain regions such as the French and Swiss Alps. I have cycle travelled through the Japanese Alps and those in Norway. Alpine regions have become magnets for my preferred travel destinations.

                                 Gornergrat Bahn and the Matterhorn, Switzerland

Having parents prepared to encourage an interest in mountains and the great outdoors is something I have been thankful for. I tried to interest my own children in outdoor adventures and have been delighted to be partly successful. My adult daughter has travelled to Patagonia and, in Tanzania, summited the 5875 m. Mount Kilimanjaro. No wonder I was fascinated to discover an International Mountain Day with a theme, ``mountains matter for young people.’’ Thanks to Greg Mortenson for sharing the information. I enjoyed his book, Three Cups of Tea. The web link below is worth a look.

                                   Flying high. Jungfrau backdrop, Switzerland

Top of Form
Bottom of Form

Sunday, 22 December 2019

       Daunting, beauty and tragedy on rumbling, steaming, island  

tRTragedy struck in New Zealand at 2.11 pm on December 9, 2019 when an offshore volcanic island, Whakaari (White Island) erupted when 47 people were visiting.  Two weeks later, the death toll was 19. Some were tourists from the cruise ship Ovation of the Seas berthed in Tauranga. The few who survived were rescued by helicopter pilots who arrived on the island soon after the eruption. They operated a tourist venture to Whakaari so knew the terrain intimately. That authorities prevented them from returning to the island will remain controversial. Also controversial is why people were able to visit a volcanic island in the first place. Uncertainty surrounds any resumption of island visits. I certainly put a hand up for resumption of tourist ventures having visited the island in February 2011. Being away from home, I missed a massive earthquake that robbed 185 lives in Christchurch on February 22. Missing an earthquake followed by standing on a live volcano may have been pushing luck too far? I had concluded a bicycle of East Cape in Whakatane. My relocated Scottish host, Hazel Agnew, was keen to visit White Island. Would I join her? I certainly would. Whakaari is a ``submarine volcano’’ having more than half its 750 m-height under the sea. It was named White Island by Lieutenant James Cook, who on October 31, 1769, spotted it nestling beneath a perpetual white cloud. He did not realise it was a volcano.  That discovery awaited the arrival of the Reverend Henry Williams in December 1826. A one-time naval officer, Williams landed on an island of sulphur. 

It It looks sufficiently desolate to be dubbed a moonscape. But this ``moonscape’’ punches jets of steam into an indigo sky. Rocks are stained yellowish-green. Grey mud bubbles. The ground rumbles.

 Whakaari is 16 km long and 8 km wide, but the visible landscape is a mere 2.4 km long by 2 km in breath.

 I I felt a rising anticipation as the island loomed larger during the 49 km launch trip from Whakatane. With a slender thread of white steam rising from its highest point, Whakaari was certainly enticing. We had been thoroughly briefed on the risk of landing. As with an earthquake, no-one can be sure of an impending volcanic eruption.

Heading to Whakaari

 Whakaari is a scenic reserve in private ownership. A variety of owners over the years have been involved in mining sulphur for fertiliser. In 1997 the ownership was vested in the Gwen Buckland Buttle No. 2 Trust. In the same year Peter and Jenny Tait became official guardians.

A A few years previously the couple had given up farming to develop Pee Jay Tours operating from Whakatane. On the day of my White Island visit, Peter Tait was skipper of PeeJay V, a modern 23-metre vessel built in New Zealand. Peter’s son, Isaac, was one of our guides. The voyage lasted more than an hour.

OOnly two small bays permit landing on the island and they are both exposed to a swell. Bouncing inflatable dinghies ferried us to an old concrete jetty. It’s a matter of grasping the handhold rail on a rising swell before the dinghy slumps into the next trough. Our guides shouted, ``Go, go, go.’’

On shore, standing on an active volcano, Isaac conducted further briefing. We must keep together to avoid the risk of literally stepping into hot water, or worse. We had to wear hard hats, and carry gas masks to use if the sulphur became overpowering.

Amazing rumbling environment

OOur surrounds were both spectacular and threatening. I was delighted we could get within an arm’s length of hot steaming vents such as Donald Duck Crater and Peelay Crater. (Craters have names for scientific identification)

EWe walked through the base of a former crater to a high point on the rim and peer into the steaming cauldron of Main Crater.

SSulphur mining on White Island started in 1885. Disasters temporarily closed operations. Soon after re-opening in 1914 12 lives were lost when part of the main crater rim collapsed sending a lahar to demolish the mining facilities.

reRescuers digging through steaming debris found no trace of men or buildings. Some wreckage was later washed up at Tauranga.  

As a workplace, White Island had a deservedly tarnished reputation.  For all that there was no shortage of applicants during the 1930s depression. Many sighting the steaming, desolate, landscape remained on the ssship.

Hazel Agnew

Whakaari is the northernmost volcano in Taupo Volcanic Zone, sitting on the line where the Pacific Plate and Indian-Australian Plate meet.   These days the island is of particular interest to those working for the Institute of Geological and Nuclear Sciences located at Wairakei. Staff visit the island every two months to record surface deformation, and their solar-powered seismograph continually measures earthquake and volcanic tremors.

DDaily guided tours also assisted in gathering valuable information. Our guide told us of the visible changes to the island after the previous big eruption in July 2000.  

``Wet ash made the surface slippery and restricted access. When it dried the surface was like deep powder snow. The main crater had been relocated into a new indent 150 metres across. Cleaning ash from gear, including the boat, was our constant chore.’’

DDespite the risks, White Island tours, offering the rare opportunity to walk on an active volcano, have been in great demand.  Prior to December 9, 2019, no-one had suffered serious injury during guided visits.

 We walked on the island for two hours, ending at the remnants of the Crater Bay sulphur factory. It exists as an involuntary laboratory to observe the corrosive ability of the island’s gases. A Fordson tractor has all but disintegrated, but its bald rubber tyres were intact. Sulphur mining ceased permanently in 1933. The resulting fertiliser was said to be ineffective anyway. It burned the soil. Throughout the stay on Whakaari I felt remarkably safe and well guided.

Steaming wonderland
















Saturday, 9 November 2019

Musical talent abounds for young and old
Last Sunday afternoon I was invited to Antonio’s house for a music party. I will point out Antonio is Japanese. When he arrived in Christchurch 27 years ago he didn’t think the locals could pronounce his Japanese name, Ryozo.  ``Antonio’’ is from his interest in Spanish Flamingo dancing. He thought ``Antonio’ ‘would be a familiar moniker for a Western country.

                              Antonio playing for his 70th birthday concert

When aged 57 he decided to learn the piano.  ``It’s never too late to start something new,’’ became his catch cry. Persistence was rewarded. He preferred music that pleased. Easy of difficult was not the issue. He became an accomplished pianist finally purchasing grand piano made by Japanese piano maker, Shigeru Kawai. It replaced his previous instrument with discoloured, even missing, keys. His music interest attracted many musical friends. They were soon joining Antonio’s concerts such as one I attended for Antonio’s 70th birthday. Antonio, having previously been a chef, was the ideal host. Over time, I have got to meet Antonio’s musical friends. Last Sunday I met Fumiko Yamazaki, a professional vibraphone player. Another professional trombone player had performed with Christchurch Symphony Orchestra. 

Fumiko Yamazaki on the vibraphone

Keina, cello player 

What astounded me were the youngsters performing. Keina managed the cello. Other young musicians managed the piano, the trumpet, exceedingly well. I was awestruck by the raw talent. But it aroused a regret. I have done many things in my 76 years. One thing I never did was to learn a musical instrument. Had I have done so, what would I have arrived at for Antonio’s music party?  Maybe the bagpipes? That might have been interesting. Anyway, I have an ambition for another lifetime.

Tuesday, 22 October 2019

Art in the forest
A ditty we sang as kids went;
``If you go down to the woods today
you’re sure of a big surprise.
 If you go down to the woods today
you’d better go in disguise’’
It was, of course, The Teddy Bears’ Picnic. The lyrics were written in 1932 by songwriter, Jimmy Kennedy. The lyrics take on a new significance if one goes down to the woods in Hanmer Forest. A series of creatures and critters are found along the one-kilometre Forest Amble walk.  They are the work of Andrew Lyons of Heathcotte Valley in Christchurch. Lyons describes himself as a ``shape maker’’ rather than an artist or sculpture. His forest Images are realistic.

 They include a Labrador dog that sends real dogs into a barking frenzy, a giant falcon, tree huger extraordinary, tree-climbing possums and a fantail.

 Lyons carved his images from a giant redwood necessarily removed from the Hanmer Springs thermal pools complex. The tree was taken over by the Hanmer Heritage Forest Trust. Funding was sourced from Pub Charity and the project was supported by stakeholders, Ngai Tahu and Rayonier 
Matariki Forests.

                                                         Andrew Lyons

Lyons ably used the redwood’s natural colours and grain to enhance his creations. ``Forest Amble’’ describes the walk perfectly. It is ideal for all ages and families. The trail meanders amongst a variety of pine trees, European alder, Norway spruce, European larch (delightful in
 autumn) and macrocarpa. Much of the forest was planted during the early 1900s as experimental trials. Hanmer Heritage Forest is protected under a Crown Covenant to preserve its special character. Hanmer Heritage Forest Trust also ensures public access to the woods.   
The circular Forest Amble walk takes about 30 minutes to complete. It is likely to take longer when pausing to appreciate the work of Andrew Lyons. He has included several sculptured mushrooms that are ideal to sit upon when resting. The final sculpture is a striking fantail. Many people miss this one.

 A chorus from abundant bird life provides a pleasing accompaniment while walking or resting. Forest Amble and connecting trails are also poplar with mountain bikers. Andrew Lyons has had many jobs –from a postie to TVNZ set builder. He describes himself as ``a fiddler.’’ He needs to be creative.   When younger (he is in his late 60s) he would walk through Banks Peninsula sourcing fallen trees. Beach driftwood is also sought as raw materials. He says he would never cut down a living tree.

Tuesday, 8 October 2019

Tragedy commemorated on Oamaru plaque
Continuing from my previous blog, Oamaru is a rewarding place to photograph. The small north Otago city is identified by neatly preserved historic buildings. It is known as ``Whitestone City’’ owing to the limestone building materials quarried in nearby hills. More recently, Oamaru has become the ``Steampunk’’ capital. And not so far away is a beach strewn with the famed Moeraki Boulders.
A plaque beside the railway near the Oamaru Botanic Gardens has frequently caught my attention. It commemorates an 11-year-old girl, Norma Anne Kearns, who was killed by a southbound express train while trying to save her dog. The tragedy happened on 22 December 1950.
The plaque was erected by the Animal Lovers and Protection Society.

In an effort to find out more, I posted a photo of the plaque on New Zealand Railway Geography Facebook page. John Clark kindly responded with a link to a story in the Oamaru Mail on 23 December. Apparently, Norma Kearns had just arrived in Oamaru from Invercargill for a holiday with a family friend, Mrs E. S. Miller of 15 Hull Street. . She was accompanied by her parents. Norma took her family’s dog for a run about 4 p.m. At the Severn Street railway crossing, the dog sat in the middle of the railway track. Unaware of the approaching train, Norma went to remove her dog from the railway line. She saved her dog but not herself. The locomotive struck Norma throwing her clear of the railway. Doctors were quickly on the scene but Norma’s injuries were fatal. She died within a few minutes. In the meantime her mother was worried when her daughter did not return for tea. It was 8.30 p.m. when a neighbour advised Mrs Kearns of the tragedy. Norma’s father identified his deceased daughter and, next morning, attended an inquest.
I have always enjoyed discovering railway details. Some, as with this plaque, can be disturbingly poignant.
                                               Moeraki Boulders south of Oamaru

                                                Oamaru, the Steampunk city

Monday, 7 October 2019

Recording a passion

This past weekend was the Christchurch Model Train show. This year, about the 30th event, I did not return home empty handed. I had bought a train set – a Marklin starter set comprising a small tank loco, two wagons, some track and remote controller.

                                         Roy' new train set
 In my youth I had been a railway modelling guru. Those days I could afford little more than a Marklin catalogue. It was great bedtime reading. I settled for a less expensive brand funded by school holiday raspberry picking. It was an eight mile bicycle ride to the Yaldhurst raspberry farm. I was keen. Those days I had a friend of the same age and same railway interest. He was Neil Andrews.

Neil Andrews shows how it is done at the Train Show

 One stage we combined our model trains in a layout in his back garden shed. It was great for a while. Then one day, the last day of the 1959 May school holidays, Neil suggested we borrow (without asking) a camera from our respective absent families. I knew where my brother kept his Agfa Clack.
We set off cycling to the Linwood locomotive depot, having first called in at the local chemist to buy a roll of film. Teenage boys typically called into the chemist to buy French Letters. Our purchases did start with ``f’’. Unknown to me, buying that first roll of 120 film was the beginning of a lifelong passion – photography. The film was subsequently returned to the chemist shop for processing.
The eight 6 x 9 cm glossy prints I collected a couple of days later weren’t art pieces by any means. But they were encouraging. I soon began to think. Well model railways were an expression for my big interest in railways. Would photography do that better?  Well, yes, I concluded. The photography fledgling interest took off at a great pace. I got a summer holiday job in a camera store. The cash earned purchased my first 35 mm camera, a Kodak Retinette. Initially the camera was taken to the railway and became necessary kit for train journeys. Other subjects interested. I enjoyed the outdoors and I could photograph my occasional girlfriend. I acquired more cameras and experimented with larger formats. I worked in photo studios and eventually started my own photography business. It was mostly weddings and portraits. Looking back, the amount of toil I did- not just the photography but also the developing and printing. I should have made lots of money. Sadly I was not a gifted business person. Later I started writing, initially as an opportunity to sell photographs for magazines and books. It snowballed until I got my first scribe’s employment –on the Christchurch Press. So that was my life for most of my life. And so enjoyable.
Recently in a moment of weakness I volunteered to join the committee of the Christchurch Big Model Railway Show. I was the only non-railway modeller involved. The great thing about it was meeting up with my friend of many years ago, Neil Andrews. While I had taken on new interests, Neil had stuck to railway modelling. We reminisced about our efforts to follow our railway interest. This mostly involved cycling throughout Canterbury province in search of railway items of interest. Much of our recall had an element of truth. Maybe there was a tad of exaggeration and a lie or three. Most impressive were Neil’s stories following his model train interest throughout America and Europe. He had, for instance, been to all the great model train exhibitions and events in Germany. Amongst it all I mentioned one year I would buy some model train stuff to once again get involved. Another prompt was been elected Patron of the Christchurch Model Railway Club. This was owing to my long time railway interest. So here I am with my first ever Marklin bits and pieces. One of the train show’s long-time trade exhibitors had been importers of Marklin. Where it will all go from here is anyone’s guess. For a start, the models look great gathering dust on top of the bookcase.
                                              One of Roy's successful photographs of the 1970s

                               Kids love the model train show. Many kids are in their 70s.

                                        Railway modelling at its best. Scene at Lyttelton in 1963

Tuesday, 20 August 2019

Creative identity emerges from wreckage
I am enjoying most of the reemerging city of Christchurch where I live. The central city is taking shape following devastating earthquakes in September 2010 and February 2011. The latter cost the lives of 185 people, many of them visiting students. From the wreckage some interesting things have emerged. The most noticeable is street art that appeared on walls left blank in the wake of demolished buildings. One of the first murals to attract attention was a portrait of a model, Teresa Oman, on a brick wall bordering Quest apartments in Worcester Street. It was the work of Rone, a street artist from Melbourne.

Rone mural Worcester st
 Others followed. Murals were also adorning blank spaces of new buildings. Street art was transforming the city and providing an alternative identity. Some began while the central city was mostly cordoned off and under guard. Maybe it was an exercise in distraction from earthquake wreckage. Creativity was becoming a factor in the rejuvenation of the city. An element of comedy accompanied some of the art.  Two street art gurus, George Shaw and Shannon Webster, in 2013, founded New Zealand’s first street art festival, Oi You! Rise in co-operation with Canterbury museum. The festival roped in famous street artists internationally including Banksy. Rise won the New Zealand museum show of the year. The festival encouraged street art as something introducing a new energy to the uncrumpling city. Along with imported street mural painters, locals joined in. Owen Dippie from the North Island gave us Dancer’s last bow adorning the rear wall of the rebuilt Isaac Theatre Royal. This became a favourite. 

Dancer's last bow

Creativity knew no boundaries as demonstrated in the most recent mural I photographed. It is an eye-catching three-dimensional illusion on the Otautahi building in the SALT district. SALT is an abbreviation of bordering streets –St Asaph, Lichfield and Tuam. SALT is in Tuam Street opposite Alice Cinema. High Street lanes are integral to SALT.  The district will become an attraction on the High Street tram route extension. The Otautahi mural is the concept of Oi you! festival creators, Shaw and Webster. They wanted to continue the Street Art theme in the SALT district development.  Otautahi presented a mammoth challenge. Following a time staring at a blank wall they engaged signwriter Paul Walters and graffiti artist Guy Ellis, the latter working under the moniker DCYPHER. They finalised their three-dimensional illusion design and went to work. Five artists with buckets of house paint spent two and a half weeks to complete the mural. It was lined out with a rule and marker. No masking tape was used. Straight lines were hand painted.  Illusion it may be but it looks as real as it is spectacular.

Otautahi SALT District

Alice Cinema mural

● Christchurch is recognised as one of the world’s notable street art cities. It is included, generously, in a lavish Street Art guide by Lonely Planet.

                                       Kowhai and finch Ibis Hotel

Sunday, 11 August 2019

Journey to mateship
I am frequently invited to the annual farewell of South Island JET (Japan Education Teaching) candidates. The farewell, organised by the Japanese Consular Office, includes a generous afternoon tea, limited formalities and an opportunity to chat to candidates. JET offers a wonderful opportunity for young people to work for one year in Japan.  JET was set up by Japanese authorities in 1987 to provide grassroots international exchange between Japan and other countries. To date JET has attracted 66,000 candidates from more than 40 countries.  This year’s intake included 21 from New Zealand’s South Island. Two young women told me they were keen to try Japanese whisky. I assured them they wouldn’t be disappointed.

South Island Jet candidates 2019
Following the reception the candidates gather their luggage and board a bus to the airport. They spend a night in Auckland the next day fly to Japan aboard Air NZ. I must admit to feeling a tad regretful at JET farewell events. Not only was I born too soon but, born in 1943, I was brought up with a distaste for Japan.
I recall as a young person visiting Port Lyttelton and seeing train loads of scrap metal awaiting its loading onto a nearby ship with a strange name and registered in port called Yokohama. We thought, ``Our rubbish is good enough for Japan.’’ In our ignorance we never considered our ``rubbish’’ was going to contribute to building one of the world’s most modern and efficient nations. The rest, as they say, is history. My dislike of Japan continued. If us kids came across a vehicle in need of a clean we would write ``Made in Japan.’’ in the grime. That was a great insult. We had no idea Japan would be making motorcars that did not leak oil and were not worn out after 70,000 km.
Then my interest in photography got going. Japan started making cameras. But, of course, quality cameras were made in Germany weren’t they? I recall an early promotion for Asahi Pentax SLR (single lens reflex) cameras. Its slogan was simply ``Just hold a Pentax.’’ That was so futuristic. I picked up a Pentax S1A a camera shop employee proffered. Within a couple of minutes I was hooked and set my mind on purchasing one. Pentax was arguably the front-runner in Japanese camera brands. Pentax looked sleek compared with chunky German-made cameras.
Introducing the Pentax Spotmatic

 Nikon, also an early favourite, was initially somewhat cumbersome. Japan modernised the camera with a variety of innovations. Pentax pioneered through-the-lens metering with their Spotmatic model. Another plus was the self-returning mirror meaning the viewing was not blacked out by the mirror when an exposure was made. Also, the aperture mechanism in the lens automatically stopped down to the pre-set value before the shutter operated.
Fuji film would soon challenge those long-time stalwarts of Kodak and Agfa. So I was taking Japanese-made photography gear on board. I had several Pentax cameras before changing my preference to Nikon.
 But what about the bastards who made this stuff?
Another big interest –and the reason for photography, was railways. A mentor and doyen of railways, Gordon Troup, had a vast library of railway books. On one occasion he lent me, The Lure of Japan’s Railways by Naotaka Hirota.

 Hirota’s photography was an art form rather than just duplicating a view as he saw it. Those days he was regarded a top-notch photographer of railways. He recognised Japanese emotional response to their country’s seasonal changes. Seasons provide abundant changes and beauty in nature which Hirata worked into his photography. The book was published in 1969 by the Japan Times. That was the early days of Japan’s superexpress or Shinkansen high-speed train. I met Naotaka Hirota twice during my Japan travels. One of his ambitions with his railway photography was to build friendships through shared interests in railways and photography. To look at his railway photography is to also experience Japanese culture. He told me about 6000 railway photographs are published each month in Japan. Railway photographers are consequently recognised by the photographic industry. Naotaka was frequently being asked to try out and review new equipment.
For some years I was associated with Makoto Sugiurui an editor of a Japan railway magazine, Tetsudo Journal. Makoto enjoyed working with an English text. He placed several of my stories. Thus, some of those 6000 railway photographs published each month in Japan were my own.
Makoto and I also shared a strong interest in Alpine regions.
Seiichiro Ichikawa was an interesting friend. He was a director of Sapporo Breweries.
I became friends with photographers in Japan. One was Tatsuro Okazaki in Osaka. Tatsuro was an artist with a camera. He encouraged my developing love for Japan and its people. In 2012 I travelled to Japan to photograph the autumn with Tatsuro.

Autumn at a temple in Japan
Temple lady in Kyoto
Moon Bridge Rikugien  Gardens Tokyo
 I have a Japanese partner and have made friendships with a variety of wonderful Japanese people. In 2004 my partner and I had cycled the length of Japan following negotiations with principals in the World Peace Bell movement to have a World Peace Bell gifted to New Zealand. It has become a striking feature in Christchurch Botanic Gardens. So not only did I learn to become friends with people I was taught to dislike when growing up, I was inspired to found a New Zealand chapter of a peace movement initiated by The World Peace Bell Association with headquarters in Tokyo. Japan has offered me wonderful experiences, friendships and rewarding journeying.
● The World Peace Bell Association in Japan has ties with the United Nations. Two years ago, I was presented with a Civic Award for my efforts in bringing the World Peace Bell to enhance the city of Christchurch.

                                                     Roy and the NZ World Peace Bell

                                                               NZ World Peace Bell, Chch Botanic Gardens

Monday, 29 July 2019

Worship beside the ocean

I am attempting not to be a fraud.  I admit to being somewhat of an agnostic but I have an appreciation for places of worship along with their stories. The Continental European world offers grand cathedrals, ornately decorated and furnished. Standing in such glorious places, I feel insignificant. I also marvel that people centuries ago had the dogged faith to set about building such glorious edifices to their God.

Cathedral in Bruges, Belgium

 Half a world away, in Aotearoa-New Zealand, places of worship were also inspired by people of great faith. Their appealing churches, in many cases, were highlighted owing to their locations, delightfully tucked away in amazing natural surroundings. Many were constructed with locally sourced materials – stone or timber. One thinks of the ever-so-popular stone Church of the Good Shepherd overlooking Lake Tekapo. In Franz Josef village, St James church was famed when the glacier (since retreated) was framed in the altar window. A window above the altar of the Arthur’s Pass chapel frames Avalanche Creek waterfall.  Peel Forest has its tiny Church of the Holy Innocents semi-disguised by mature podocarp forest. In New Zealand’s North Island, my pick is the wooden Ruakokere Anglican church sitting on a promontory close to the winding road connecting small towns scattered along the East Cape SH 35. It had long been on my wish list to visit. I eventually had an opportunity during a multi-day bicycle trip, in February 2011, from Gisborne to Whakatane. It was not difficult to spot, it being alone in the landscape –a radiant landmark with its sun-drenched white exterior contrasting with a deep blue sky flecked with wind-driven clouds.

Ruakokere Anglican church, East Cape

Also known as The Church of Loaves and Fishes –a well-known bible story, the landmark church was constructed in 1894 by pioneer builder, Duncan Stirling.
Stirling worked for several years building on the East Coast. He came to the attention of Maori elders as a suitable husband for Mihi Kotukutuku, a Maori maiden. Mihi Kotukutuku and Duncan Sterling were married in the Ruakokere church in 1896. The ceremony was conducted by Bishop Leonard Williams. Duncan Stirling spoke only a little Maori. Mihi’s extended family, to ensure the marriage was a success, became Anglicans.    
Duncan Stirling built a beautiful, many-roomed home for Mihi at Raukokore. It became known locally as Stirling Castle. There, Mihi soon produced a son, the first of 10 children. Duncan continued his building business and later became a cropping farmer growing mostly maize. Maize is a cereal grain also known as ``corn.’’
Mihi became a local chief. She was entitled to the first share of fish, especially moki, caught each season at Cape Runaway. She distributed the fish amongst her people.  
She was also an expert at growing enormous kumara by traditional methods. Her kumara were also distributed locally.
I ponder the story of Duncan and his Maori wife Mihi as I explore the simple interior of Raukokore church with its rows of basic wooden pews and traditional font for infant baptisms. And I discovered one more snippet of Raukokore folklore. Being close to the ocean, in recent years a colony of penguins have made their home beneath the church. Church attendees complain the building frequently ``smelt somewhat fishy.’’

                                                   Font Ruakokere Anglican church

East Cape sunset