Fri 15 January – Day 63

Today we explore Whanganui and nearby. Firstly we traipse into Vodafone with the wet phone that has not recovered. It will not charge; indicating a temperature error message. Nothing to be done but to purchase another phone, the second in just over a week. Let’s hope it is the last. For further protection I purchase a waterproof case from across the road – this phone needs to be a keeper!

We stroll up to the Whanganui museum, enjoying the morning sun. I had read about the impressive waka on display there and wasn’t disappointed when we arrived to see its presence pride of place in the middle of the Maori gallery. The waka taua (fighting waka), Te Mata o Hoturoa, is made of totara and is the largest surviving waka in the Whanganui area. Built sometime before 1810, it was carved from a single totara tree growing near Kakahi near the confluence of the Whanganui and Whakapapa Rivers. This waka taua was one of the assault fleet of at least 2,000 warriors from coastal tribes who combined against the stronghold of Te Rauparaha at Kapiti Island in the 1820s. Te Mata o Hoturoa also took part in fighting at Puketapu and Ohautahi (1865) on the Whanganui River. Bullets and bullet holes from these conflicts can still be seen in the hull. The museum has many other fascinating objects and displays and we all found items of interest as we perused the halls. I particular enjoyed the tribute to Russian Jack, Russian Jack (1878 – 1968) was a Latvian who arrived in New Zealand in 1912 who walked around the lower North Island for over 50 years. A much loved “gentleman of the road” who carried his life in huge sacks upon his shoulders. During fruit harvest this mysterious man was welcomed onto the farms where he picked fruit into his old age. He is honoured with a statue and a wine label.

Whanganui museum
Russian Jack

From town we ventured into the countryside and found our way to the seaside place of Mowhanau/ Kai Iwi beach. It is a beautiful spot on the coast. Then on the return drive we stopped into the Bason Botanic Gardens. You can drive around the gardens but it is also worth stopping to see the glasshouses and the homestead garden. The gardens have developed since 1971 and various forms of unique architecture and art have become a feature. It includes one of the most extensive public garden orchid collections in New Zealand and heritage brick conservatory architecture. The Bason Botanic Gardens were a magnanimous gift from Stanley and Blanche Bason to the Wanganui City in 1966. Initially living off the land, this couple had a good vegetable garden, orchard, plenty of ducks, pheasants and pukeko and watercress from the creek. As their farm become more profitable following World War II, they were able to develop the Homestead and English Garden into almost an acre of camellia, roses, delphiniums, a scented garden and more. We all agreed that it was well worth the stop and visit to this botanic jewel, seemingly in the middle of nowhere.

Kai Iwi beach
Begonias at Bason Botanic Gardens
Hydrangeas at Bason Botanic Gardens
Bason Botanic gardens

Back in Whanganui we continued out drive out to the church of St Marys in Upokongaro that has a triangular steeple on a square base. This gives a false optical illusion that the steeple is leaning to one side. Then onto the Bastia Hill Water Tower. Designed to reflect the arched aqueducts and towers of the water supply networks of ancient Rome, the tower was built in 1927 to service both Bastia and Durie Hill. There are three floors – not only for access – but also to stop the outer columns from bowing outwards under the weight of the water in the top tank, because 2000 tonnes of water is fairly heavy! Bastia Hill was named by an early settler, Mr Augustine Georgetti who originally came from the town of Bastia on the island of Corsica.

St Mary’s Church, Upokongaro 1877
Bastia Hill Water Tower, 1927

Unveiled in 1925, the Durie Hill War Memorial Tower stands adjacent to the smaller Durie Hill Elevator Tower, and for those willing to climb the spiral of another 176 steps, even more impressive views can be seen from the top! The decision to build a war memorial to the fallen was made in 1919 but the location was fiercely debated by the townspeople of the time. This is the tower and memorial built from the first proposal. The alternative was to build a war memorial more central to the town and in the end both projects went ahead. The second memorial is the Cenotaph located in Queen’s Park. This tower is a real testament to the builders of the time and registered as a Category 2 Historic Place. The tower is the official Wanganui Memorial to the 513 people from the district who died in the First World War and is constructed of cemented marine sandstone containing shell fragments (simply called shellrock) from a nearby quarry. It is 33.5 metres high (104 feet) and the rock is estimated to be more than 2 million years old.

Durie Hill War Memorial Tower
View of Whanganui from Durie Hill

We also paid a visit to the Sargeant Gallery. I particularly liked the Wai exhibition and the artwork by Gregory O’Brien “Conversation with a Mid-Canterbury braided river” as if one could personify a river and have a good ole chin-wag. What would a river say? It’s a fun concept. This evening we greet arrivals off the river Kas Rob Slane Mandy and Max. Plus JoJo walks past the restaurant where we are having dinner. In fact we ate at Caroline’s Boatshed both nights we were in Whanganui.

Sargeant gallery
Sargeant Gallery – Wai exhibition
‘Conversation with a Mid-Canterbury braided river’ – Gregory O’Brien
Categories: 2020 Te Araroa

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