Monthly Archives: April 2015

Do you have a flag? Actually we have three!

Up until the 1830’s the growing colony of New Zealand did not have it’s own flag. It was only when New Zealand began trading with neighbouring Australia did this become an issue. In accordance with international sea laws a ship had to have a flag flying to designate it’s country of origin. When the first trade ship arrived in Sydney harbour with Sir George Murray at the helm it was seized along with all it’s goods for having no flag and the crew were all arrested as pirates.

Clearly a flag was needed to prevent any more confusion and in 1834 James Busby came up with three designs for the local Maori chiefs to choose from to bring about unity, denote a collective government and denote an independent nation in what were turbulent times. The Flag of the United Tribes of New Zealand was selected.

Following the Treaty of Waitangi (in which James Busby was also involved) and New Zealand becoming a colony of the United Kingdom it was the Union Flag which became the recognised flag of New Zealand despite it being burnt down four times when flown over Russell.

The current flag was adopted in 1902 with a rise in patriotism following New Zealand’s involvement in the Boer War.

Today there has been a call for a new flag in a show of patriotism and a move away from a colonial past. This move has been muted as a distraction from more serious political issues.

So there it is. When asked ‘Do you have a flag?’ New Zealand can proudly claim to have three as all are still recognised and fly proudly over the Treaty Grounds at Waitangi.



Whakatane is the kind of place where people out walking along the river greet you and when the fire siren sounds everyone stops, looks at each other and scans the skyline quizzically. It has only one ‘dollar’ shop (which is having a sale) but more coffee shops, hair and beauty salons and clothes shops on it’s high street than I have seen in a very long time.

According to Maori oral legend the area around Whakatane has been a fortified village since the first Polynesian settlers arrived around 1200. It was an incident which happened some 200 years after these first settlers arrived which gave the settlement it’s name. When the Mataatua waka (sea faring canoe) arrived bearing the first kumara the canoe was left on the shoreline but began to drift in the changing tide. One of the village woman had gone against tradition and lead the other woman folk in paddling the canoe to safety calling out ‘Kai whakatane au i ahua’ – I will act like a man.

After European settlers arrived Whakatane became an important centre for ship building and trade in the 1880’s. In the 1930’s a paper mill opened which along with beer production is still part of the local economy alongside agriculture, forestry and tourism.

In the 1990’s a few North Island brown kiwis were found in the scenic reserve on the hill. The Kiwi Project was set up to protect these endangered birds leading to Whakatane being more recently known as the Kiwi Capital of the World.

I have only just got the smell of sulphur out!

Perhaps there is a clause in microscopic sized lettering at the bottom of every travel insurance document which invalidates it whenever you enter the air space of New Zealand in the assumption that the majority of people who come here will do something which has an element of danger – is there something in the air? It is after all the home of bungy jumping and a myriad of other gravity and nerve defying outdoor pursuits in some pretty rigid countryside. I may not have thrown myself off a bridge or a plane but I have done some things which may have pushed that some may argue are on the boundary of danger: kayaked to the Tasmin Sea on Milford Sound, driven up the West Coast, stayed in Wairoa, driven the Pacific Coast Highway and stopped en route, freedom camped. Tomorrow’s trip does come into the ‘edge of danger’ and ‘slightly mad’ category in anyone’s books – walking into the crater of an active volcano amongst roaring fumaroles, glittering crystals, bubbling pits of mud (oh no, not more bubbling mud!) and hot thermal streams. From the large and expensive boats the company I am going with operates this is clearly a popular trip and that they do have a more ‘formal’ approach to safety. Their advert does say that all safety equipment including oxygen masks are included – and lunch. I have been waiting two days for the trip to run due to high swells and gale force winds making leaving the safe harbour of Whakatane and it’s infamous sand bar too difficult and landing on White Island itself impossible. Not least of all a rather uncomfortable ride for those on board.  However, tomorrow is looking much calmer so we are good to go! White Island here I come.

Known by the local Maori peoples as Te Puia O Whakaari (Dramatic Volcano) and named by Captain Cook as White Island (he did not realise it was a volcano, just an island with its head in a cloud) has been documented as smoking since 1769 and must have been doing so long before that as its been building for the past 15,000 years. It is New Zealand’s only active marine volcano and is part of the Taupo Volcanic Zone which I have been driving through. The volcano is a classic conical shape with only 300m of it’s 1600m showing above the waters of the the Bay of Plenty just 48km off shore. Its last major eruptions which decimated the pohutukawa forrest and changed the landscape were in the early 80’s although there have been many minor eruptions since then. The easy accessibility of this active volcano ensures that there is a steady stream of volcanologists monitoring it’s every tremble, bubble and puff of steam. Of course this ease of accessibility also means that those who have a desire to see the Earth’s innards at close range can visit too – weather permitting!

Those who know me will testify that boats are not my favourite mode of transport but in this case a necessary evil to get to this unique island. Hopefully I will not need the sea sickness pills – I survived a recent fishing trip on Lake Taupo and a very rough whale watching trip off Icelancd so perhaps the desire to get there will be the cure in itself?