“A Christmas carnival and the Poverty Bay rodeo on New Year’s Day are not to be missed,” urges Maurice Shadbolt, as I again consult the Shell Guide to New Zealand for something to do. As brilliant as his suggestion sounds, I was a couple of weeks too late. Maurice didn’t have any further recommended sightseeing for Gisborne, so I hired a car to travel deep into the Ureweras.
Urewera, Maurice tells me, means “burnt male organ”. I believe this comes from the tale of a Tuhoe chief who was relaxing the night before a battle by jamming on his Casiotone. He accidentally dropped a toasted marshmallow on the preset selector button, which melted so it was permanently set on samba, much to the annoyance of his neighbours. Well, unless there’s some other meaning of “burnt male organ” I don’t know of!
I’d checked out the road to Lake Waikaremoana on Google Streetview to see what driving would be like. It appeared to be a nice two-lane blacktop going through pleasant countryside, but strangely Streetview only went about halfway along the road to the lake. Oh well.
I wasn’t until I got to that halfway point along Lake Road that I realised why the Streetview car had given up and turned around: it was unsealed. And I don’t like unsealed road. I like to not have to pay too much attention to driving. I don’t like the mere act of turning a corner to become a challenge.
But I stuck it out and finally made it to the visitor’s centre at Aniwaniwa. The centre was designed by architect John Scott in 1974, but sadly it hasn’t aged well. It succumbed to leaks that have resulted in the top three floors being condemned, the museum closed, the McCahon mural relocated to the Auckland Art Gallery for safety, and the basement turned into a camping supplies store with a few historic items on display to keep the non-campers happy.
Heading back, I stopped by the Lake Waikaremoana Motorcamp for an ice cream and admired the lake – the giant blue lake, cleverly disappearing around a corner, not revealing its whole self. It was a sticky hot day, and the sun was blazing down, making every colour look bright and rich. Dealing with all that dusty, unsealed road was worth it.
Back in Gisborne, I was being stalked by the hotel restaurant. It started off harmlessly enough – a phone call in the late afternoon asking me if I’d like to make a reservation for dinner that night. No thanks.
But then a couple of hours later, I received another call, this time asking if I’d like to order in some room service. No thanks, again.
The next day, however, not only did I get another phone call (which, thanks to caller ID, I happily ignored), but I was also amused to see a piece of paper pushed under my bedroom door. There was a tight gap between the bottom of the door and the carpet, so the person on the other side was having to really work the paper from side to side to get it through. It turned out to be a flyer advertising the restaurant.
Now, if this were a computer game, it would obviously be a clue that I was suppose to WALK TO RESTAURANT and probably ORDER SPECIAL OF THE DAY to collect the next piece of inventory to help me win Gisborne Quest IV. But as this was real life, I just ignored it all and instead had fish and chips from the local.
(And anyway, it turned out that one of the bits of fish had a key in it that let me open the secret panel on the Cook Memorial and free the dwarf, who then gave me a map to find the secret marae on Kaiti Hill!!!!)
Gisborne has a curious selection of quite fancy things. There’s the PAULNACHE gallery (in ALL CAPITALS with nospace), which has a Damian Hurst piece in their collection; The Winemakers Daughters cafe and bar, where I enjoyed some good scrambled eggs; Rain Dogs Books with its fine collection of second-hand books; and Muirs Bookshop, which is just a good bookshop with a good cafe.
There are cities bigger than Gisborne (and Gisborne is technically a city) that don’t have places like this. But if you live in, say, Hamilton and there’s no awesome bookshop around, you can drive to Auckland easily enough.
But Gisborne is really remote – it’s about three or four hours’ drive to get to a larger city, and even further to a metropolis. Could it be that a fancy dealer gallery manages to survive in Gisborne because, well, there’s really nowhere else around for people to go?
On the less fancy side was the Odeon cinema, which has a no-hoodies policy. I believe this is the only cinema I’ve been to in Aotearoa New Zealand with a no-hoodies policy.
I can understand why a shopping mall would ban hoodies, as they could help obscure the face of the shoplifter, but it seems a curious rule for a movie theatre to have.
Standing in front of me in line was a young mother and her kids who’d come in from the rain to see “Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel”. The mum was wearing a hooded sweatshirt.
“I hope you’re going to put your hood down before you go in,” the box office lady sternly said. The mother apologised, saying she’d been wearing up to protect herself from the rain.
Then the lady sighed, “If only people knew how much more attractive they look with the hoods down.”
Wait. If there’s no risk of shoplifting in a movie theatre, could it be that the Odeon’s anti-hoodie policy is purely for aesthetic purposes? Do they want their cinemas full of good looking people who don’t hide their prettiness under casualwear?
Well, If I’d known I would have brought my hair straighteners and worn a pretty frock.
Gisborne had surprised and delighted me. I’m happy to think of it as a cheerful fishing village, with bursts of city sophistication and laidback island style.
I still don’t know Gisborne well enough to call it Gizzy, but I reckon I might just call it Gisbo.