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Springtime in "The Bay" area


Kia Ora,This is Naked in Nuhaka, a new weekly/fortnightly column exploring issues of identity, culture, and place in Aotearoa NZ in the 21st Century. This week’s article is about the Springtime, that special time between Winter and Summer; the Maori word for it is Kaonga (rebirth). Here in Nuhaka, where so little goes on at the surface, a blazing burst of nature explodes all around as this new dawn arrives. Leo Koziol Nuhaka, Aotearoa NZ 19.9.02

Springtime in The Bay area

One of the strangest parts of trans-hemispheric migration is doing the season slip. Having moved to New Zealand (NZ) last December, the last time I experienced Springtime was back in March/April 2001, distant memories of a year and a half ago. Springtime in San Francisco is a magical time; indeed, it’s one of my favourite times of the year. It kicks in around mid-February, and brings continuous soft sunshine until June, when the cooling summer fog finally starts to roll in, between small bouts of harsh heat.

Residents of San Francisco call their surrounding district, encompassing about a 150 mile radius, the Bay Area. In any given Bay Area Springtime you can see the monarch butterflies migrating through Santa Cruz, make pilgrimage to the cherry blossoms at the Japanese Tea Gardens in Golden Gate Park, and view the early bloom of California native wildflowers on the Golden Gate Headlands. Last year, in the space of a week, my Springtime adventures included a drive to the top of Mount Diablo to frolic in the snow (only half an hour from San Francisco) as well as a day sunbathing on the warm beaches of Natural Arches State Park.

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This year, in Nuhaka, I find myself with a similar range of Springtime opportunities in this less well-known Bay Area. Followed by a warm and dry Winter, with only one major storm event, the Spring has arrived in full force, with temperatures in the early 20s two weeks ago. The blossoms are out, and the first red blush of Pohutukawa has bloomed on the tree outside. Two weeks ago, I took the opportunity for an early swim at Mahia, in the Hawke’s Bay, followed by another two days later at Gisborne, in Poverty Bay.

I followed that up with a visit to Napier last Friday. I went to a tres-chic California style “Wine Country Mixer” held at Te Whare Tangaroa o Aotearoa (the National Aquarium of New Zealand). With the ocean tank stocked with shark, crays, stingrays and an array of other fish and crustaceans, I mixed it up with the hip and dynamic of Hawke’s Bay who are working to transform their district into the food and wine capital of the South Pacific. To guide them in this transformation, they have brought in guest speakers from Napa Valley – in the San Francisco Bay Area. I’ve travelled half a hemisphere away, and on my doorstep, I find once again, wine country par excellence.

At the Hawke’s Bay event, the wine was good, the food was excellent, and I left with a sense of joy and excitement for the future. On a walking tour the following day, the metamorphosis of the Art Deco City in terms of culture, food, art, and street life became quite clear. I remember Napier in the 1980s as a provincial farm town cum Blackpool Down Under. Now, there are international tourists on the street, mixing it up with the locals, giving downtown a truly cosmopolitan flavour. Cafes spill out into the sunshine, there’s over a dozen art galleries, along with a smattering of crystal stores, an appealing wine and flower shop, and numerous antique outlets.

I fell in love with a lot of the art I saw, particularly at Creative Napier and The Globe. In Creative Napier’s store, a display by a local artist displayed a quite determined subversiveness the likes of which I’d last seen in, well, San Francisco. The artist, formerly a portrait painter of local horses, had a painting on display of a horse’s head with a narrative written around it documenting the rise and fall of Western Civilization, right up to the recent events of 9.11.01. I was reminded of the painting of a bloodied severed sheep’s head at Brasserie Flipp in Wellington. “If people are shocked enough by the painting to leave, then they are not the clientele we desire,” the Maitre’d assured me when I dined there with a group of Americans back in 1999.

But the highlight by far of my visit to Napier, was waking earlier that morning and seeing a blanket of snow on the hills north towards Taupo. I reminisced on my life in San Francisco one and a half years ago. Seeing the Springtime snow on Mount Diablo, from that City by the Bay, once razed to the ground in a dramatic and soul-destroying earthquake. A quite palpable sense of deja vu settled over me, in Napier, on that day, as I gazed upwards in the soft light of a new day.


If I needed anything else – apart from all the above! – to convince me that the Nuhaka Bay Area is at the centre of an enchanting new universe, it came last week in the form of a New York Times travel article on Wairoa district and the East Coast. Luba Vangelova writes:

“The wooden sign stood out against the rolling green hills: "Wairoa — the way New Zealand used to be." Nothing on my map had indicated that my tour was to be temporal as well as geographical… At times, the two-lane highway skirted bays so closely that I felt the ocean spray blowing in through my open window; at other times it meandered inland past farms and forests. The verdant hills had an otherworldly feel. Now and then, "Bible beams" burst through the clouds and spotlighted peacefully grazing sheep and cows. It appears the crowds have yet to discover this pastoral Eden.”

I was thrilled and felt I’d found a soul-mate when I read Ms. Vangelova’s article. I recalled how a month ago I made a pilgrimage to the Young Nick’s Head / Te Kuri Maori occupation site, 40 minutes north of here. Returning to Aotearoa NZ has been a surprisingly spiritual experience for me, and as I approached Te Kuri the clouds broke and the sun poured through. As my new friends and I climbed the hill, rainbows filled the valleys north and west, my ancestor Kahukuranui (rainbow cloak) laying blessing over the land in this rebirth of Spring (Kaonga).

Luba Vangelova gets it, and the people who live here get it, but apparently our New Zealand mainstream media do not. With the usual cultural cringe of the typical kiwi journo, Bernard Carpinter in the Dominion Post this week wrote:

“Get away from it all and enjoy New Zealand the way it used to be is the message from unlikely holiday hotspot Wairoa... Remote and poor, Wairoa is not the first place that springs to mind when Kiwis plan holidays... The Wairoa district has been using the slogan "NZ the way it used to be" and - though some city slickers might be unimpressed - it is a shrewd choice. A big part of the region's appeal is its naturalness, its unpretentiousness, its away-from-it-allness. You cannot even be pestered by people ringing your cellphone because coverage is patchy.”

Though the article is generally positive, Mr. Carpinter comes across as having taken a tour he was simply not interested in being on. His muted coverage of the town of Wairoa and its surrounding district pales when compared to Ms. Vangelova’s glowing review:

“Longing for an antidote to a bad dose of urbanitis, I was glad to discover, upon reaching Wairoa, capital of the Wairoa district, that even town life in these parts was a journey back in time. At the heart of this tidy farming services community of 5,200 were several blocks of mom-and-pop stores parallel to a park-lined riverbank.”


By far the best quote for me in the Dominion Post article was from one of the local tour operators, which went as follows: "Really there's nothing to do and that's part of the attraction," said an operator from Mahia. "It's unspoilt and noncommercial. There are no jet skis to hire, no merry-go-rounds, no nightclubs, no Ibiza-type facilities. People can blob out."

It made me think. How Seinfeld made close to ten years of television about nothing the most successful thing around. It’s finale in 1998 was a national event in the U.S., and I listened to it live over the radio as I drove through the swamps of Mississippi. In the darkness of that swamp, on an endless freeway, I was quite happy to laugh about nothing in the middle of nowhere. Here in Nuhaka, four years later, I’m so busy thinking about nothing, that I just don’t know how I find the time.

ONLINE RESOURCES “Along A Remote Coastal Highway”, Luba Vangelova, New York Times, 8 September 2002. http://www.nytimes.com/2002/09/08/travel/ZEAL.html

“Leaving the Rat Race Behind”, Bernard Carpinter, NZ Dominion Post, 17 September 2002. http://www.stuff.co.nz/stuff/dominionpost/hawkesbay/0,2106,2051867a6012,00.html

PAST COLUMNS Naked in Nuhaka #1 http://www.scoop.co.nz/mason/stories/HL0209/S00052.htm

CORRECTIONS In reference to last week’s article, the nuclear weapons silos are located in Concord and Pleasant Hill, not Livermore and Pleasanton as stated; the latter only has the honour of hosting nuclear labs – hence the confusion.

All content (c) Leo Koziol & Rautaki Group Consultants 2002. The author can be contacted at email: mailto:oshie1000@hotmail.com.

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