"" Writer's Wanderings: New Zealand Diary - Napier, Gannets, Art Deco

Thursday, October 31, 2013

New Zealand Diary - Napier, Gannets, Art Deco

Saturday, October 12, 2013

The Mon Logis our Bed and Breakfast has a historic marker at the front entry we hadn’t seen last night. It was first built as a terrace house in the late 1860s. In 1913 it was enlarged in the back to become the Capeview Private Hotel in 1915. It survived the huge earthquake that level a good bit of Napier in 1931 and was renovated later when it became the Mon Logis.

This morning we’ve decided to take a walk along the path that follows the beachfront into the city center. There is an information center there that we’ve already explored. Since the Hawkes Bay Scenic Train is not in season yet, we are off to the I Center to pick up a map of the self-guided Art Deco walk.
As we stroll the boardwalk, we suddenly discover a pod of dolphin frolicking near the shore. We stop and watch for a while. It appears they are feeding and kicking up extra food for the seagulls to feed off of. When they swim further down the beach, we turn to find a lady behind us watching them as well. Another friendly Kiwi encounter. She had just moved to Napier and was excited about the dolphins as well.
At the Information Center, we pick up the map we need. It costs less than half of what a guided tour would be per person and this way we can be on our own time schedule. We find the starting point and Bob begins to read about the art deco buildings as we walk. Basically, much of the town was rebuilt or restored during the 1930s after the big earthquake of 1931. Some of the buildings in between are much more modern but if you think Gatsby, you have a good idea of the atmosphere that is created by the art deco rage. Frank Lloyd Wright is mentioned often as having a big influence on the architecture of the time.

When we stop for tea and a rest, we discover in our conversation with the ladies there that a festival is held in February that lasts a week. Everyone dresses ala the period, Gatsby style, and the old cars come out and are paraded around. It’s great fun, we are told, and it certainly explains all the vintage clothing stores we’ve seen on our walk. There is one particular young woman at our church I think of who would absolutely love to attend that festival.

About 11:30 we start back to the Mon Logis to pick up our car. We need to be at a place call Cape Kidnappers by 1:15 for a special tour we’ve booked. Our drive out to the meeting point does not yield any good places to eat. We stop at what we fear might be the last takeaway place and order two hot dogs which are wannabe corn dogs without the cornmeal. The coating is more like a beer batter and the hot dogs inside have a red skin. The salt is enough to make us pucker. We eat enough to satisfy hunger, pitch the rest and continue on our way.

At the meeting place for the Gannet Safari Tour, we join four students from Germany and our guide who is just a delight. Jo drives us through a huge farm full of sheep and cattle and a golf course. Yes, a golf course. This farm, or station, is so large that the current owner decided to allot a part of it to a lodge and a golf course.

The further we go, the narrower the road until finally after passing through a couple of gates, we are on a graveled road winding up a precipice that overlooks the shore line and a valley full of sheep and cattle. Jo begins to explain that there are four colonies of Gannets here. Gannets are birds that look like a cross between seagulls and albatross but are actually related to the Booby family. Their wing span is about six feet, a bit smaller than the albatross.
This is nest building time and the males are appointed this task. Unfortunately they are not terribly good at it. They fly out to the shoreline and pick up seaweed and then try to get it all the way back to where the nest is to be built. Often they lose it on the way or when they land and drop it, it blows away.
The birds look so graceful in the air but a bit clumsy as they try to land in the middle of the colony with the wind whipping them around. I watch as some of them are rubbing heads and beaks, a type of courting move and then I see two who look like perhaps they are quarreling over a female. You can’t tell the males from the females by looking at them. They all look alike. But I guess they know the difference and that’s all that counts.

Jo tells us that the young Gannets make a flight over to the Australian coast and stay for a bit before returning. No one understands why they do it and why a few of them choose to stay in Australia. Most return to NZ though to stay and reproduce.
We gratefully sip on hot coffee while the birds entertain us with their flights and fights and merrymaking. It is a noisy bunch. This colony is on a high point but the other three are on lower levels including one colony along the beach.
On our way back Jo, who was once a farmer, tells us of some of the things she and her husband learned from raising cattle and sheep. She explains why it is best to put them together on a field. The cattle eat the higher grass and the sheep trim the lower grass keeping the fields looking as good as a golf course—provided you watch your step.
This farm we are driving through is also a bird sanctuary. Current and previous owners have gone to great lengths to rid the land of the predators, the stoats and weasels that prey on the kiwi and other birds of New Zealand. The kiwi population is growing on the farm.
The tour is three hours long but the time passes quickly and we’ve had such a great time, it is sad to see it come to an end. When we arrive back at our starting point, Jo gives us a map that shows us how we can get to the top of Te Mata, the ridge of stone we’ve seen across the valley. We follow her instructions and find our way to the top of a very windy lookout with an astounding view.
There is one more thing on our list to do before we can call it a day. We want to see the National Tobacco Company building which is supposed to be the iconic Art Deco building in Napier. We find it without any problem, do a Chevy Chase nod—seen it—and take off to find dinner. On the desired menu: lamb shank.

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