Seventeen months to the day, after our arrival in New Zealand, a little Toyota Corolla made its way out of an Auckland driveway and northwards along the State Highway One. It didn’t do it on its own, of course. The two front seats were amply populated by Mrs. Chips as trusty navigator and yours truly doing the steering and pedals bit. This break of five whole days was the result of some diligent saving and the fact that Mrs Chips’ annual leave had fallen due.
Another reason for the northward departure is that New Zealand, at this time of year, becomes pretty much waterlogged, leaving a couple of pine trees and a blade of grass or two to differentiate it from the surrounding seas. Like the Western Cape of South Africa, New Zealand has a predominantly winter rainfall, but is at times so heavy that farmers have been known to search their lands for lost sheep with trawlers. A lady with whom I have a nodding acquaintance (nodding, I tell you) told me she had crabs. After I hastily moved to another seat on the bus, she had to shout above the din of panic stricken commuters to tell me that they were of the ones with nippers and a few of them were playing havoc with her child’s swimming training in the garden shed.
Oh alright. I’ll concede that the previous paragraph might be a bit of an embellishment of the facts, but seriously chaps; it does rain here quite a lot in the winter; and if our journey couldn’t find us basking in a balmy climate and unending sun, at least we’d find warmer rain. Thus it was that we found ourselves staying in a cottage in the Bay of Islands. Now the Bay of Islands is said to have been named when Captain Cook arrived here in fourteen hundred and…..when he arrived here in seventeen hun….when he arrived here in his boat. My research is somewhat sketchy here and one should never believe what is written in the history books;
The nonsense all started when the ship’s cook on Cook’s ship (now there’s a thing) bellowed from the Crows Nest, ‘Land ahead!’, and the goodly Captain exclaimed with relief, “I’ll land here!”, only to find that it was not the actual mainland of New Zealand. Well this process was repeated so bally often that he complained to the ship’s cat, “This process is being repeated so bally often that I ought to call this the Bay of ‘I’ll Lands.‘” Upon hearing such horrendously incompetent punnage, the cat grabbed the helm and steered Cook’s ship towards the mainland where she fell overboard and was drowned while trying to avoid Customs. And that was the end of ‘er. [See what I did there? That was the Endeavour – Captain Cook’s ship, geddit? Oh come on, you can’t be THAT slow!]. It was soon after that when the intrepid explorers were approached by several hungry looking locals carrying an unsettlingly large cauldron. The first encounter with local tribal folk didn’t go well. Language was evidently a great barrier, unlike Cook’s earlier encounter with Australia where a…er…certain reef was a different great barrier.
The crew initially thought they were being invited for drinks on the terrace when the Chief uttered the words, ‘We wan’ see Cap’n Cook‘. It soon became alarmingly clear that, instead of an interview, the Chief had expressed the desire to actually witness the Captain stewing in his own juices, as it were. The crew arrived at the appointed hour to be met by a lively haka and the steaming cauldron of carrots, onions and celery. Seeing where this was going, Cook summoned Lieutenant Hedley Blitherington Berk who was given a quick lesson in the British meaning of the term First Mate, when the Captain said, ‘You first mate. You’re from good stock‘.
The whole occasion might have ended in tragedy for the whole crew and dyspepsia for the locals, were it not for the heroic actions of an Irish seaman who had been busy under a pile of nearby leaves. The noise of his movement momentarily diverted the attention of the locals away from the pot, thus facilitating the escape of the rest of the crew. His name was immortalised in one of the first towns in New Zealand and that’s how we came to spend our holiday in Rustle Russell. [Sorry chaps, couldn’t resist.]
Sadly, however, poor Lieutenant Hedley met his end on that day after a spell in the cauldron over a medium fire, stirring occasionally. His widow, who didn’t catch the irony, was presented with a bouquet garni in a simple ceremony a few days later when his
leftovers remains (oh that is so callous) – were buried on one of the islands. A simple inscription on a headstone marks a modest grave, ‘Here lies Lieutenant Hedley Blitherington Berk – respected by his crew mates but relished by the locals; with a soupçon of ship’s cat.‘. It was soon after that when the Treaty of Waitangi was signed, ending the practice of cannibalism and introducing the local people to KFC, Maccas, obesity and diabetes.
So much for history.