I’m house sitting with a stuffed grizzly bear in a small rural town called Katikati in the western Bay of Plenty New Zealand. I’m here for five months over the winter and spring, from June to October. I write children’s stories. I paint landscapes and I explore.
This is an exploration story.
Katikati is a town of murals, outdoor art painted on the sides of local buildings and depicting the life of the early settlers from Northern Ireland there. About 1880 they’d have sailed into Tauranga harbour, and rowed or sailed small boats to a western arm of the harbour then up the Uretara River. Where they landed is called, predictably, The Landing.
The Landing Katikati as it is now and below, on the mural.
New Zealand was covered in thick forest, or bush as we call it. To grow food and farm it, the bush had to be cleared, by felling the magnificent trees and burning the rest.
As the settlement grew and prospered in the pleasant climate beside the sea, land was purchased from the Maori people and houses went up. Before electricity, the whole world lived like the people in this kitchen:
With the huge families the Victorians had, schools were built from the materials that the bush supplied. The children often rode a horse to school, sharing the horse which was put out in the paddock next door. The paddock was also used as the footy field – a likely place where our early enthusiasm for football began.
Cars were invented and were brought out to the colony. Roads were rough and muddy.
‘Car off the Road’ It was around 1930.
‘Slithering off road was not what 28-year-old Lois Putt had in mind when she offered to drive the District Nurse and a sick patient to Tauranga Hospital in her father’s car. The dirt road was very slippery after rain, and the trio of “tiddly” men in whites (probably bowlers) who came to her rescue were plastered in mud for their trouble.’
Katikati is a bustling village with a population of about 4500, surrounded by rich farmland, kiwifruit and avocado orchards. Many people have retired here to be near the sheltered estuary. Workers in the orchards come from Fiji, Vanuatu and other Pacific Islands.
Here’s some public art:
On one side of Barry is the District Council offices and the library. A museum about the settlers is being re-settled in the old fire station is on his other side.
Marilyn is outside Babs, a retro op shop on the main street, run by one of the churches.
Katikati is a Maori word meaning nibble nibble (relating to a Maori chief’s eating of a kumara, a sweet potato), It’s time for me to follow suit.