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Rosalea Barker: A trip Down Under in pictures

A trip Down Under in pictures

by Rosalea Barker

The US flag atop the new drilling rig next to the road to my birthplace was in tatters by the time I left town a week later, shredded by the south wind that had brought unseasonal snowfalls early in the week of my visit and dressing my beloved mountain in his finest feathery white cloak.

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Ko Taranaki taku maunga (Taranaki, my mountain)

My journey had begun waiting for a bus in the blazing California sun and 24 degrees, so the single-digit temperatures at my destination were something of a shock to the system! But the first order of the day after my arrival was to get out and about walking along bush tracks by the river that runs through the dairy farming town where I was born and grew up.

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Ko Patea taku awa (Patea, my river)

Unsurprisingly, plant species native to the Himalayas thrive in Taranaki, as this rhododendron in Hollard Gardens attests. Each year the province—which is very much off the regular tourist track—holds a rhododendron festival. In summer the province is also the venue of an annual car rally called Americarna, which will be featured on a US cable network next year, and the global music festival WOMAD.

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Rhododendron, the national flower of Nepal

Not far from my home town are the cities of Whanganui, to the south, and New Plymouth to the north. Both cities seemed to be thriving, and in my ten years’ absence had really spruced themselves up. Whanganui is at the mouth of a river of the same name, which had been a major transport route for both the indigenous Maori population and the early settlers.

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A restored paddle steamer taking tourists for a ride on the Whanganui River, as seen from the children’s playground, Kowhai Park

New Plymouth is a busy port on the Tasman Sea, and home to fantastic Puke Ariki—a combination of library, museum, and visitor centre. There’s also an art gallery, where I was alarmed to have a member of the staff come up to me and ask if I was a local. When I said, Yes, she wondered if I could identify the place and people in one of the photographs. I had to wonder how much I’ve aged in the past ten years—the photo was taken well before my time on this planet!

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My reaction to her question, or a shark exhibit at Puke Ariki?

My home town is Stratford. Apart from the main street, Broadway, all the streets in the town are named after characters in Shakespeare—except for one that is named after a former mayor’s wife. (Trust politicians to stick their oar in where it’s not wanted.) Since I last visited ten years ago, the town’s central plaza Prospero Place has added a covered walkway, an information centre, a café, and an excellent art gallery near the library that was already there. The town’s pseudy-Tudy clock tower, with its Romeo and Juliet figurines marking the hour three times a day is something of a tourist attraction, though it is an ear-and-eyesore to those who remember the simple concrete structure that was there before. It is NZ’s only glockenspiel.

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Stratford’s glockenspiel, as seen from Prospero Place

To cleanse your eyes and ears of such monstrosities, allow me to leave you with this view of Taranaki from the window of the sunroom at the backpackers lodge I stayed in at Stratford. It is dawn and nothing is heard but the song of a bird.

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