Summer Roadtrip 2019

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Northwards Bound

Day 1: Travelling North

Destination: Dargaville

Detours: purchase of raspberries at a roadside stall 

Arrival: 5pm-ish after 5 hours on the road. 

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I like Dargaville. There’s something about it. Arriving on a Sunday evening, it’s a bit of a ghost town. Nothing open bar a few fast-food places. Streets empty. The buildings tell of a former bustling metropolis – grand stone/brick buildings with big windows, faux pillars, carved stone work and dates and names importantly etched but eroding now as time and the weather do their stuff. Paintwork too is flaking to reveal the natural stone and wood beneath. 

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The names of the shop owners tell of the heritage of the gum diggers who came from Dalmatia in the 19th century to seek their fortune or simply a better life. We buy chips from Matich’s fish and chip restaurant and just a few doors down is  Matich’s clothing store. Same family? Probably. I have no idea if they are related to this venerable gentleman. They are good chips for the record. We ate them down by the river on the boat jetty. We wondered what sort of boat pulls in there – it’s tall and the guiding poles are specifically positioned. Nigel did a Google search and found that there is a two day excursion from Helensville to Dargaville that retraces the old steamer and sailing ship routes.

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I remember the river from the times I have been here before. It cuts a wide swathe through the landscape of murky, muddy brownness, flowing rapidly but thickly out to sea. I seem to remember that large sea going vessels used to ply their way up it to trade which made Dargaville the important and busy place its was. Somehow, sometime the deep channel silted up and the ships can no longer navigate safely. Or maybe the nature of the ships changed, the different trading needs, the viability of gum and other local produce was compromised? 

After our chips ‘to put us on until tea time’, we drove out a bit to see if there was anywhere else to camp up for the night. The carpark was a possibility but there was still time and light to explore.

We drive past fields of kumara – this is the “Kumara Capital of NZ” after all – as well as the odd field of corn. The land is flat so we can see for ages but there are also hills in the distance.  Past small villages that remind me of the one street towns in France; houses either side of the road, a church, a couple of shops, guest houses, maybe a cafe or a garage. There is a house with a garden full of … I’m not sure what…. Piles of coloured stones and gnomes…! A run-down place with weather-beaten, lichen-encrusted signs boasting ‘natural crafts and Christian products’ – the mind boggles!  Here, there is not just one church but one for every denomination – Church of the Latter Day Saints, a Presbyterian / Methodist combined church, Anglican, Catholic and one unidentified! 

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We didn’t find anywhere to park but we enjoyed the drive and stopped on the way back at a ‘walk in park’. For the princely sum of a $2 kohl you are invited to explore Ernie’s garden. What a cornucopia of crap and quirky creations nestled in a neatly mown strip of field, planted with flowers and native trees! We had fun sitting on the ‘Gumdigger’s Bum’ and then marvelling at the piles of rusty rubbish. It made me think of the old engine parts, household appliances and farm machinery that lie rusting in farmers’ fields the world over. Instead of leaving it in a field, Ernie has carefully arranged it in not quite artistic piles, framed things in a weird and wonderful context with very definitely ‘Dad humour’ jokes and enterprisingly charges $2 for the privilege of viewing it! To be fair, some of the creations are quite clever! We particularly liked the ‘bottle trees’ made from old telegraph poles and bottles. The large kiwi woven with fabric and wooden lattice was clever. 

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The jewel in the crown, though and really the only thing really worth seeing and marvelling over was the smallest church in New Zealand. It truly is a work of art. Made of repurposed swamp kauri it has two pews that seat 4 or 5 each, an altar and a font. Its steeply vaulted roof is topped with a bell and two crosses and the gables are adorned with two beautiful, locally made stained glass windows. A white picket fence encircles the church and a rose-covered pergola arches over the gate.  Our $4 was well-spent. 

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