March 4, 2020, Waitangi and Paihia, New Zealand
Geoff, our cab driver is from Sheffield, England and still talks with a Yorkshire accent. It is tempered enough by the other places where he has lived to make it understandable, but it is still there. Those other places include Atlanta, Georgia, where he married, Calgary, Alberta, where he took on his new citizenship, and Paihia, New Zealand, where he says he moved to escape Canadian winters and visits from his mother-in-law. In 18 years, she has only visited once.
He wears what used to be a red “Keep America Great, Trump 2020 hat.” It is now faded to a pale orange with patches approaching white. He has a second one, in black, when this one wears out. I was riding shotgun so got a chance to talk with him during the drive. I asked if he got the hat from someone visiting. No, he ordered it, paid $60 US for the pair. “Great conversation starter, that.” Well, it started a conversation with me.
He says that most Americans ignore the hat, apparently, they don’t want to get into the conversation. Kiwi’s on the other hand engage. He was thrown out of the bank where he wanted to get a document notarized. They told him he could come back, without his hat. To his mates, however, it’s something that signifies defiance, and Geoff is a defiant type of guy in a humorous sort of way. I think I may have found the town character.
When he runs us out to Haruru Falls he brings bread to feed the chickens. They are wild and they actually recognize his van. They come running when he pulls up. At the Waitangi Treaty Grounds, where the British signed the treaty with the Maori, which granted the British the land, and which is considered New Zealand’s founding document, he says “British colonialism works this way. First, they send in the missionaries to weaken their culture, then comes the army to soften them up, and finally the merchants to rob them blind. That’ how the English built their empire.” He says that there is a big celebration every Waitangi day, how big depends on the party in power. “How do you know a politician is coming? His mouth is moving.” The stone church serves both the Anglicans and Catholics “At different times of course.” But he says that soon they will be moving the services to the one remaining phone booth and put the church to better use. As I said, I found the town character.
The cab took us to the falls, the treaty grounds, the church an overlook “Mt Bledisole” for the view, and the golf course, for a nice shot of the ship at anchor. Then back to the town of Paihia, with its craft’s market, wooden shoreside buildings and boat harbor. At the craft’s market, I expected to see a lot of Maori crafts, but there were very few Maori selling crafts. There were a number of Maori but most of them were selling natural healing potions, salves and balms. At the waterfall I expected to see a lot of water. There wasn’t much. Haruru means “Big Noise” but the sound was barely a trickle. It hasn’t rained for a while. Even old Geoff has to admit that there may be something to this climate change.