Time for a summer holiday: somewhere with a balmy climate, even temperatures, and light zephyrs from the sea... New Plymouth fits the bill though it does have a frisson of risk... a dormant volcano; Mt Taranaki stands guardian over this rich farmland and gardeners' paradise.
Gardening and Morris Dancing - two of my favourite things!
This year the New Zealand annual Morris dancing gathering was based in New Plymouth and during the week of 4th - 10th January. It was hosted by Phoenix Morris who took more than eighty participants out and about around Taranaki.
What better way to start the week than with dance workshops. Here dancers learn a new dance from homesick Helen called 'Kiwis Fly Home.'
But our Tour organisers, keeping in mind that we were on holiday and also had a big evening gig ahead of us, had programmed a Monday afternoon of idyllic excess at Tupare Gardens.
We could stroll in the magnificent
public gardens and tour the beautifully conceived and crafted Chapman Taylor house. The Arts and Crafts house and the landscaped grounds were a dream realised of asphalt baron, Russell Matthews and his wife Mary. How remarkable that this garden and its house offer free entry to the public. A personal highlight for me was meeting a young American volunteer gardener. This botany student from Boston is also a great grandson of Russell and Mary!
As our first day drew to a close it was time for our first public appearance as Morris dancers. The group made a heady entrance along a wooded path into a performance area, where a large crowd had settled in for an evening of entertainment. We were a booked act for the evening during New Plymouth's Festival of Light at Pukekura Park.
Many of us quail a bit at the thought of stage and formal performance. We are drawn rather to the spontaneity of street performance, the opportunity to banter with one another, to interact with the audience, and to be able to get away with muddling through at times.
Water is very evident in Pukekura Park: waterfalls, lakes and rivulets were all dressed with light - from the colourful lanterns that were really rowing boats bobbing on water, to this eye catching sculpture of rain drops and birds' nests suspended above the Poet's Bridge. I was entranced too by the native forest giants with their lofty canopy uplit: ethereal.
Back to reality and dancing in the street the following day - Tuesday...
At Hawera, east of the mountain, where along with modern public spaces, there are also varied shop façades spanning the past 120 years or so.
I particularly notice these street frontages when I'm away from Canterbury as so many of them fell in the earthquakes or have been demolished since. But Hawera's outstanding architectural gem is the 100 year old concrete water tower!
That home-baked morning tea was waiting for us on the platform at Tahora Station, on the Waitara Railway Preservation Society's historic line - a trip back in time.
But Taranaki's history is not just dairy cows and picture postcard scenes. It is ravaged by the repeated volcanic eruptions, brutal inter-tribal warfare, the Musket Wars, British subjugation and confiscation of Maori land.
In the afternoon we were received as guests at Owae Marae. As a group we had prepared a response song Te Aroha, for the welcome ceremony, proving that we can sing more than just traditional English ditties! Our massed voices sounded fantastic in this beautiful Wharenui, with its rich carvings representing all the Maori tribes of New Zealand. To me it felt like a perfect complement to the very English house at Tupare as this meeting house was designed a little earlier in the twentieth century by Sir Apirana Ngata who brought together the best of Maori and British culture in his work. Here at Owae Marae we also danced barefoot in the meeting house, and were feted in the Wharekai or dining hall with more home prepared food. We lunched on four varieties of fish caught for the occasion, served with fresh salads and tender cooked vegetables. The dish I couldn't get enough of wasn't quite the crayfish (lobster) salad but the marinated raw sea trout. Our hosts told us that it is possible to book accommodation at Owae Marae. If I were to stay - along with a sense of peace - I'd also be searching for a lesson on how to prepare that dish!
and dancing there, and outside Puke Ariki, New Plymouth's museum and gallery space on its ancient fortification site.
along with the realisation that I had next to no photos of me on Tour! A fellow feaster took this one of Kitty and me.
But do you think we could stop there. Quite a few of us hung around the next day... Kitty took me rowing on the lake... while others danced in Pukekura Park, and danced and swam at Tupare Gardens again.
For me this has been the best New Zealand tour yet, with its balance of relaxation and dancing, its strong of sense of place, and just the right number of participants to keep the family feel that I enjoy so much when NZ Morris dancers and some of our regular Australian and English fans get together. Well done to this year's organisers of the Way Out West Tour... and thank you Janet, Aaron, Glenda, Richard and Peter. Next year 2016? Watch out for the Shake A Leg Tour around Christchurch!
Jeneane dancing in Pukekura Park, Photo by Yvonne Holmes
Kitty and Jeneane at the Feast, Photo by Barbara Riach