Monday, 28 July 2008

Hibernation – a dispatch from Otipua, South Canterbury, New Zealand

A view across the farmlands of Otipua to the Southern Alps

Ten km south-west of Timaru, is a cameo of rural New Zealand. Otipua township boasts a population of around 100 with a community hall, a primary school, a church and a war memorial. Not much different to tens of thousands of small rural townships in New Zealand. It is a township without a general store or gas station.

On a hill, in High Street, is St Marks Anglican church, built from local stone in 1893. Today there is only one service a month, at 9 am on the first Sunday every month.

St. Marks Church, Otipua

My daughter Anita, her partner Jonts and their 3 boys, Harper, Jed and Billy have bought a small farmlet here and are remodelling an old farmhouse, and an outbuilding which was the original village bakery, built crica 1890. The people who live here are a mixed bag : farmers, city workers who live here for the quality lifestyle and retirees. It is a positive community with little or no traces of criminality and where the community hold summer and winter community pot luck dinners so people get an opportunity to know each other better.

Anita and Jont’s farmlet is on the corner of Beaconsfield Flat Road and Beaconsfield Road, and at the apex of the land in prominent view, is a memorial for those soldiers from Otipua who lost their lives for New Zealand in the Great War 1914-18.

The names of those from Otipua who died during the First World War. May their names live on.

Eleven young men from this district died in Europe fighting for their Motherland, Great Britain. One was a Major who won a DSO and a Captain, who won the Military Cross. Obviously brave men who bore names from Scotland, Wales, England and Ireland.

It’s 11.30 am Monday morning. New Zealand was in mourning yesterday after Australia toppled us in the rugby test on Saturday night.

This morning I helped Jonts, Harper (4) and Jed (2) rake and pick up long grass and dead weeds on a small paddock. Moby, their large Labrador, chased sheep.The section was so overgrown when they moved in some months ago that it has taken a marathon effort to tidy it up and restore the pasture.

With Harper, my Grandson, Harper plays rugby for the Marist club and I wear his Dad's Marist jersey.

About 10 am I cycled towards the Hunter Hills freshly covered in snow and beyond, the mighty Southern Alps, with snow clouds covering the highest peaks. In the foreground paddocks dotted with sheep, neatly fenced with tall trees, providing wind breaks from the snow laden winds.

There is something sleepy about Otipua. Shakespeare would have described it more as a seasonal affliction:

“ That time of year when yellow leaves or none or few do hang.”

The last week of extreme weather conditions in New Zealand from cyclonic storms and storm surges in the North Island to heavy snow falls in the south, signals it should be a time for hibernation, not the exploration I planned for. I travelled over Arthur’s and Lewis passes last week, but the bad weather prevented me from going to Mt. Cook Region and doing small trip. With cold and sunless days I consider going into semi hibernation and reflect rather than do.
Having lived with Inuit hunters and north American Indian fur trappers inside the Arctic circle, I noted how, they go into a form of semi hibernation as darkness descends for 24 hours a day. Their biological clocks skow down and they engage in little activity apart from feeding dogs. brewing tea and cooking meals. In 1970 I wintered over at New Zealand’s long closed Vanda Station in Antarctica. At that time we were the smallest ever group to winter over in Antartica. In the dark winter months I can recall that feeling of cabin fever overcoming us as we had to fight off the temptation to withdraw and hibernate. We ignored our biological clocks and never lowered the so called standards, whose standards ? Those of Harold Lowe a dour Scot who led our team or more aptly described, was our leader. I never knew why we needed a leader as he contributed little.

It was a New Zealander who proposed the first 40 hour week, a Spaniard who invented the Siesta, and I would like to be the person who offers all New Zealanders a 3 week winter hibernation holiday which would reduce our ever increasing electricity consumption, reduce road deaths, reduce heart attacks from being over stressed, and hopefully increase our baby boom so we will have someone to pay for our pensions when we get older.

Yes, sleepy Otipua has made me examine the quality of my life and I look forward to spending more time semi-hibernating, reflecting rathet than doing for a few days while the bad waether passes.

Update: More weather warnings on Monday night and further snow in the South Island. On Tuesday 29 July, another cold wet morning. Took Anita my daughter, and Harper my Grandson to Montesorri Kindergarten in Timaru. So wonderful to see young children playing so calmly, so creatively. This is a real learning nest.

My daughter Anita with her son Harper at the table on the right at the Montesorre Kindegarten in Timaru

Montesorri education is based on the inner motivation of the child, and for the teacher's role to work with this motivation in ways that will enhance the child's process of self creation. I enjoyed my time watching children play and enjoy learning.

I am about to get the Intercity bus, the successor to the New Zealand Railways bus service, from Timaru to Christchurch. I am posting this dispatch from the Internet Cafe at the bus station. I enjoy travelling by bus where ever I am. In February and March this year I spent 3 weeks in the the Indian Himalaya and used buses to get about. Travelling by bus in NZ has many similarities as you get closer to the pulse of people, places and it offers you a chance to talk to fellow wayfarers.

Tomorrow I am looking forward to meeting a fellow blogger, Marja. Blogging shrinks the world. With the weather forecast predicting continuing rain and snow, I will be in Christchurch hibernating the next 5 days, before returning to Indonesia.


Ruahines said...

Kia ora Bob,
Hunkering down is not a bad idea in this weather. Did a bit of that in the Ruahines last week myself, picked a wild weather week to head in, but when you are prepared it adds to the experience I reckon. I have been enjoying rerading of your journey and I agree about the buses and the 3 week holiday. I spent a year hitching and bussing around the states and always met interesting folk. Enjoy the rest of your holiday Bob. Kia ora.

Bob McKerrow - Wayfarer said...

Kia Ora Robb

After yesterday's storms in the North Island and parts of the South, hibernation or hunkering down is not a bad option. Pleased to read of your trip to the Ruahines, although the weather must have been rough. Will read your blog later. Take care and let's keep in touch.


Gollum said...


I know Otipua well. We used to drive out there on Sunday afternoons when I was a kid to enjoy the scenery and buy fresh eggs at a chicken farm. My parents' are buried at the crematorium up Beaconsfield Road and the view from there across the farms to Mt Horrible is very nice.

The best swimming spot we had in Timaru apart from the Bay was at Brassel's Bridge - I see on the war memorial there is a rifleman Brassel and so there must be a connection. It was a great spot to swim and very safe but there was a huge flood some time in the late 60's that knocked it about a bit. Nowadays the kids go to Evan's Crossing for swimming and partying and every now and again one of them gets drowned up there. Such is life.

Life was very simple back then for us kids - all sport, swimming and getting about in the outdoors. Now its computer games, the internet and rampant consumerism.

Marja said...

I don't know much about Timaru and surroundings Nice to learn a little about it. Before I came to NZ I didn't know that the soldiers here faught in the worldwars. My mum had many american and english soldiers staying in her home in the war They had to go to Arnhem "bridge by Arnhem" Non of them came back
You have great plans for NZ. More children? Not for me They cost to much That goes of your pension money. 40 hour work week in NZ? I never met so many people who work more than that.
The montesori schools are really good I did relieving work there years ago (in Christchurch)
Hibernating or reflecting is good and necessary if you want to live more conciously. What ashame that you couldn't go to Mount Cook and that I couldn't have a chat with you. Hope everything turns all right with your knee.
But que sera. It was not meant to be. Maybe another time.
I wish you a great trip back to warmer places. Au revoir

Bob McKerrow - Wayfarer said...

Dear Gollum

I seem to have touched a special place in your life, Otipua. What a cooincidence that Brassel's Bridge was probably named after Rifleman Brassel on the memorial.

You made the observation and I quote "Life was very simple back then for us kids - all sport, swimming and getting about in the outdoors. Now its computer games, the internet and rampant consumerism. "

You'd be happy to know my 2 eldest grandchildren at Otipua are ouside much of the day on the small farmlet playing with shep, dogs and climbing trees or kicking a football around.

Thanks for your feedback and reflections on your childhood. You are lucky you are not back here as it is cold, wet and windy. I have had one fine day in two and a half weeks.

Take care.


Bob McKerrow - Wayfarer said...

Hi Marja

It was a shame we didn't meet but that is life or fate. Good to read your comments about 'The Bridge too far'whjich was a wonderful but tragic movie. Your comments on Montessori were interesting.

I am back in mid-November to get total knee replacements with both knees so hopefully I will be able to run up mountains next year. I hope we can meet then.

Warm regards and all the best.


Unknown said...

Hi there, next time your travelling around NZ you should travel on Nakedbus. They are way cheaper than Intercity with their prices starting at $1. Even if you don't get the $1 fare you can be sure you will always be getting a bargain.

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Anonymous said...

Don't ask me how I ended up on your page, randomly out of interest I was looking on google earth for the property my parents built and I grew up in for the first ten years of my life. I loved seeing the church again and felt a little sad to hear it's only used once a month. I use to ride my ponies around the church and pretend I was being chased by ghosts! Our property was at the bottom of the church hill on the left (looking down the hill) I have amazing memories of Otipua. We went to church most sundays,and I loved the smell in that church. My best friend Laurie Keeman and her family lived on bath street and we would all as a group of 5-10 kids bike to school together in the mornings, oldest to youngest single file. Must have made the locals driving past smile to see us all pull over for the cars to pass. I'd love to know what state the house is in now - when we owned it, it was very pretty, stained dark and with hedges, and english rose gardens - I"m sure it's changed a lot, as I'm 38 years old now. Thanks for the pics you posted, and the information. :) Liz (auckland)

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