Sunday, 19 September 2010

Whangerei, 19th September 210, 1pm

Before you begin to read this blog, be warned; you may contract a new disease in the process, so I suggest a drink of choice and perhaps a little chocolate set down on one side in preparation may be required to stave off infection!

Whangerei has the best YHA I have ever been to. It has 4 stars on the sign but the atmosphere and the people we have met here are far greater. I am writing this blog from the comfort of a dining room chair, positioned close to the wood burner in the main communal area of the hostel. Mel is carefully studying another novel, picked from the book-swap which invitingly stands opposite the main entrance to the room and immediately to my right. The room has large windows which frame the small garden beyond the glaze which is being swamped in early spring showers as I look at it. Behind me are 2 sofas, positioned around a coffee table, they are currently hugging the figures of Nick and Ryan, Swiss and Canadian travellers and all round good eggs. The 4 of us enjoyed an evening of music, Scottish whiskey and fine ale last night which kept us going until the wee, small hours. Nick is a 21 year old thrill seeker who has bought himself a van, surf board, snow board and skate board since arriving in New Zealnad. He can speak French, German and English and has the look of a Cuban Freedom fighter about him with his powerful eyes and substantial facial hair. Ryan, also 21, is of Ukrainian and Guyanese parents. He is taking some time out from his studies and life as a prospector to fill up on a little New Zealand soul, before heading back to the snowy winter of home in a few months.

We have been here for a few days now; long enough to have a good look round and I now feel ready to give you my honest opinion of the city outside of this hostel.

I had expected much from this place, we had heard that it had a strong arts culture and so we set off in expectant search of its delights yesterday and found one of the most disappointing and soul sapping townships we have ever had the misfortune to explore. Whangerei has such a melancholic expression about it; the people in town seemed to have given up on their lives. They all seemed to be going through the motions of life, stumbling through the day with an all pervasive apathy normally reserved for middle class teenagers at that point in their lives where they start to believe that the entire world is against them. As we made our way passed the church, it was clear that this place is suffering; the billboard outside had ‘Pray for jobs’ written on it in big letters.

We stopped to eat at an Indian buffet in the hope that good curry would rekindle our own spirits enough to go on with a positive bent. Not so; it was so full of butter, cream and burned naan bread that it had ceased to be an Indian curry long before the man serving us had dolled it out into polystyrene containers with the sort of effort normally reserved for the moment you have to sign a cheque for the tax man. We ate as much as we could, which wasn’t that much, we could feel our hearts slowing with every mouthful.

We helplessly wandered those city streets yesterday. Crossing the road from one group of angry teenagers only to be caught up in a feud between a shop keeper and a thief whom he had grabbed and shaken furiously calling on all around to see the thief’s face - “Look at him, little thief. THEIF! HE STOLE MY PAPER CUPS!! You think you’re tough in your group of mates eh. THEIF!”

Filled with a renewed sense of loathing, we went in search of the art museum and fern gardens, both of which were disappointing. The art museum had an exhibition of impressionist art, one painting of which was said to have been painted by an artist who was born in 1891 and who died in 1871. And that the painting was completed in 1991. The fern garden was nice enough to have wandered through, as sequence of shaded buildings with numerous different ferns inside of them. It has the potential to be good, but the signage underneath each variety had withered and discoloured to such an extent that it was not possible to tell them all apart. Walking round, I began to have a real sense that people have stopped caring about this city and themselves. It could be so nice. Underneath the appalling exterior there is still beauty here. I liken Whangerei to the student performer who began their training with energy and enthusiasm, but has lost their spark and simply goes through the motions now, waiting for somebody to hand them a career on a plate, rather than taking the advice of their tutors to “go and get it”. After all, as I always say: “Ambition is nothing, without the hunger to succeed.” Whangerei has no hunger and even less ambition.

We were desperate not to give up and to fair, the disused Quarry which had been converted into an artist retreat and craft sale room did provide some much needed sanctuary and we even stumbled upon a drama workshop taking place in the hall of the library.  Shortly after that we thought we had found solace in a tea house, the last thing left open at 4pm on a Saturday afternoon in the central area. 2 pots of tea and dry Lamington cakes later, we felt a little better and were prepared to re-emerge again.

We walked home via a nice second hand bookshop and bottle shop, bought some wine and something to concoct a pasta sauce with, before the steep climb back to the solace of the YHA.

Dinner was followed by at night at the Irish pub with our new friends; it turned out to be just what the doctor ordered. If it weren’t for the people we have met here and the brilliant YHA – I include the staff in that by the way - we would leave this place with a newly contracted disease which could have been hard to shift. We shall simply call it; Whageritis, the symptoms of which I need not run though with you again for fear you may yourselves fall foul of a severe bout of it.

We may go for a walk to the nearby forest and waterfall today, it seems that the shower has passed. Things are looking up.

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