A Christmas Postcard. Hawkes Bay December 2016


Christmas Greetings from Hawkes Bay where I am loving my extended holiday tending my aging father and slowly unwrapping the landscape of my childhood. 

I have been thinking about landscape a lot here. I am reading The Old Ways by Robert Macfarlane, which is probably influencing me. He talks of “the substance of landscape so influencing mind that mind’s own substance is altered”.

Hawkes Bay’s golden hill, big sky landscape has always been a part of me but I am here long enough this time to feel like I am re-inhabiting it in a fresh way. Each day from where I am staying in Hastings I look up across the tops of verdant orchards and see the Havelock North hills. By that I mean the jagged back of Te Mata Peak, its slopes fanning away to the south and then the big rolling hills wrapping and tumbling over and over each other and around to the marbled folds of Mt Erin. These were the hills I used to ride my black pony Thomas Winchester over — the reins slack on his neck as I dreamed and imagined my way through adolescence. Those hills were my ‘dreaming place’.

Interestingly, just before my mother died eleven odd years ago she gave me her final instruction: to read Psalm 121 at her funeral “because you and I share a love of those Havelock Hills”. At the time it felt pretty weird standing in the Hastings Crematorium reading “I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help….” But what do I do here every day? And sometimes Mum is there too!

So it is lovely to be back here inside my history.

There is so much abundance in Hawkes Bay, in so many ways, though you do have to accept that there is a cost to the environment to produce it. (Lots of orange “horticultural spraying” signs about).

Abundance? Big boxes of juicy ripe cherries cheap as chips. Me biking down a country lane clutching a brown paper bag bulging with juicy, early apricots from the nearby organic orchard …so delicious I can’t resist stopping to eat en route. The groomed vineyards everywhere. The rows and rows of apple orchards. The fields of cultivation. The sea nearby. The bare white limestone cliffs of Cape Kidnappers hemming Hawke Bay. The blue haze of the Ruahine and Kawekas on the opposing horizon to the Havelock Hills. The three wide rivers: the Tuki Tuki, Ngaruroro and Tutaekuri – huge veins on the face of the Heretaunga Plains.  I had never really stopped to think about the geography of Hawkes Bay but I am learning that as much as it is a story of its hills, it is the story of its rivers.  A water story – but not of the campylobacter kind.

Before early settlement the three rivers flowed down from the Ruahine and Kawekas to the sea often flooding and changing course, building up a huge aquifer that is underneath the Heretaunga plains and dumping alluvium into the soils doubling their richness and fertility.  In 1897 the Ngaruroro flooded its banks near Clive, lives were lost and since then the rivers have been tamed with huge stop banks built either side and their flow trained towards fixed mouths. The 1931 earthquake altered things further lifting land up out of the Ahuriri Lagoon.  The upside of all this is that today the Heretaunga Plains are a biking paradise with tracks following the tops of the stop banks with big views across the land. In The Old Ways the chalk walkways in south England are described “as snakes in the green grass” just like the limestone bike trails of Hawkes Bay – many of which I have zoomed over while here.

And then there is the fertility of the Heretaunga Plains, which is a segue-way into another spoke of my history.  My grandfather, who came up to Hastings from Nelson after fighting in World War 1 started a grain and seed business in Hastings called A.F. Redgrave and Co. and then doubled his fortunes when he met a young man call James Wattie who invited him to invest in a burgeoning canning business.


Frank Redgrave became one of the Wattie company directors and made enough money from his shares to become an early land developer in Havelock North. One childhood memory is the boxes of free, freshly canned HB golden queen peaches and pears that would arrive at our front door every February/March.

It is also fertile ground spending a little of each day here with my 90-year-old Dad.  We drive around the streets of Havelock and Hasting and he won’t let me make one turn without saying: “This is the way. Not there!” He knows every street like the palm of his hand and doesn’t miss a beat on that score.  But this week he had his TV stolen at the Retirement Village (a first).  He’s been quite happy telling every shopkeeper and café owner we’ve dealt with, his story but he has also spent hours and hours trying to understand why he had to pay the first $250 excess before the insurance kicked in. He cannot fathom that the TV only cost $599/ not $5,999.  He just doesn’t get it. He is so sure that Joe Average TVs are worth between $5,000 - 10,000 today.  Dad who was always so sharp. Dad who is now living behind the times. He shakes his head and tries again and again to figure it out. But nope, he just can’t get it.

It is easy being with my Dad (most of the time).  I can’t help laughing at his silliness though.  He seems to cope with that.  I hope people laugh at me when I do silly things.