November, 2002

So where are we now? We are in Christchurch with Keith & Lyn and are experiencing our first storm.

Horizontal rain, a touch of sleet, winds that rattle the windows and the occasional gust that is strong enough to make you check that you have applied extra glue to your hairpiece before venturing out.

Wakatu (Maori for “dump of broken canoes”) was quickly changed to that of the hero of Trafalgar and Nelson became New Zealand’s first-named city by decree of Queen Victoria in 1858. Naval names were adopted for streets and parks and the first settlers’ ships are remembered this way. Fifeshire, Mary Ann and Lord Auckland to name the famous three. Curiously, there was a fourth, the Lloyds – but they didn’t celebrate the arrival of that one. The ship carried the wives and children of the men in the advance party. During the voyage 65 children perished and the women took up with the Captain, surgeon and crew. The official report styled it a “floating bawdy house”

South of Golden Bay, Waikoropupu Springs (the purest natural spring in the world) pumps out 14,000 litres a second and is known locally as Pupu Springs. I’m sure if the French had colonised New Zealand there would now be a vast plant bottling the product and it would just have to be called Source PuPu.

We have cruised around Picton, Blenheim and Nelson, paused to gather shellfish for dinner at Golden Bay and travelled inland via the Nelson Lakes National Park and Murchison. Let me tell you a little about Murchison. Landlocked and 130 kms southwest of Nelson, it is one of those regular New Zealand towns whose settlement began in the gold rushes of the 1860s. The town was largely the creation of the legendary swashbuckler, prospector, publican and self-styled sheriff George Fairweather Moonlight. (Now that’s a real name). In 1929 Murchison was reduced to rubble in New Zealand’s most powerful recorded earthquake. Seventeen people died, hillsides collapsed, buildings were demolished and the topography of the area was completely altered giving birth to the Maruia Falls.

These days Murchison is a tranquil township of 600 servicing the surrounding farming communities and road travellers. However, there was one other incident in Murchison’s recent past that is worth commenting on. In 1960 Gravy O’Keefe was driving his logging truck over the O’Connells River Bridge when the bridge collapsed. Gravy, (not being a swimmer) was fortunate in that his truck landed on rocks and he survived. Several sturdy hunks of wood from the bridge were recycled into seats to adorn the main street to commemorate the O’Keefe incident and as I sat on one of these benches I realised it was clearly time to move on – you had to have a slightly absurd name to make it in Murchison.


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