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Opunake Whanganui

23rd December 2011

Chill Out On Cape Egmont and Christmas Parade Celebrations

Part View of Maui Production Station      (please use scroll bar)

    Today would be a pure chill out day. I'm just killing time really. There is meant to be a Christmas parade in Opunake tonight, so it could be interesting to hang around and see the spectacle, though from the size of the town, it could all be over in five minutes. I want to be somewhere of size for Christmas, and my target is Whanganui for Christmas Day and Boxing Day. Sometime after then I will make a dash for Wellington and try to get a ferry ticket. Most tickets are already bought up, so I may be waiting for days, but I shan't complain, Wellington is a cool city to kill time in from all accounts. I purposely did not buy tickets in advance since I don't like locking myself into time frames on treks like this. The only constraint I have got is the flight out of New Zealand.
Cape Egmont Lighthouse
    I have been travelling since the 23rd November, so it is high time I burn all the photos I have taken onto CDs, and send them home. It turned out I have five CDs worth. Once they were posted, I set off north along Surf Highway 45 with no particular plan, other than visit the most westerly tip of Taranaki region.
When Britain Exported Lighthouses
    Under blazing sunshine, I tootled up the road, letting everybody else overtake me. It was lush pastureland full of sheep and cattle, and only one field with a crop of sorts growing in it. Long strips of flax occasionally separated the road from the fields, and the odd tui bird sang out to me.
    At Oaonui, I turned off to visit the Maui Production Station Visitor Centre. The Taranaki coastline has always been a place where oil and gas existed in great profusion, with the first seeps observed in 1865 on Ngamotu Beach, New Plymouth. Just under a century later, in 1959, a joint venture consisting of Shell, BP and Todd Petroleum discovered the Kapuni field in South Taranaki, followed by the Maui gas field in 1969 off the coast of Taranaki, one of the largest in the world at the time. Since then Shell Todd Oil Services Ltd, known as STOS, has played a vital role as New Zealand's premier energy operator, maturing more hydrocarbon resources than any other operator.
A Tui with His White Beard
    Two platforms operate within the field, Maui A and Maui B, which feed condensate (light oil) and gas via underwater pipelines to the Maui Production Station onshore at Oaonui, for processing before being fed into the national grid. Meanwhile the condensate is piped to a tank farm in New Plymouth, and then shipped to the Marsden Point Oil Refinery at Whangarei, where it is converted into a number of oil products such as petrol and diesel.
    While I was looking through the entire blurb in the unmanned visitor centre, which I had all to myself, one of the chaps from the station came in to check up on something. We got chatting, and I diplomatically mentioned all the concerns that the young Greenpeace canvasser had brought to my attention in Te Kuiti. Bad move, He went straight on the defensive, quoting how their safety records and environmental policies are second to none. I felt like telling him not to shoot the messenger, but he really went to town on his tirade, and with his height of 6' 6", I felt one inch tall. This guy had answers for everything, or his company rhetoric had. I just let it go. The installation was an impressive gleaming site though, humming away without a person to be seen. Perhaps he was the only guy on site and was bored. And when the resource has all dried up, he reliably told me that they will restore the plant to pristine farmland. Bully for them.
A View Inland from Cape Egmont, Just Pastureland For Miles and Miles
The Blue Tasman Sea From Cape Egmont
    I headed further north and took a turn down to Cape Egmont, the most westerly point of this region. Here proudly stood the Cape Egmont lighthouse, a cast iron construction gleaming white in what seemed to be a new lick of paint. It took command of the area, and silently watched the herds of cows chewing the cud in its shadow. It was heart-warming to see that this gentle giant had been made in Pimlico, London in 1864 before being shipped out here. Those were the days when we made things and exported them.. The white horses on the turquoise sea betrayed the strength of the wind out there; a Force 3-4 I guessed. This was a place for solitude, with just the grasses and wild flowers bending in unison to the whistling wind spilling over the cape. Far away towards the horizon, clouds were scudding across the sky, but too far off to concern me. I soaked up the sun, its warmth, the wind and salt air, and listened to a skylark high above me. But all things must come to an end, and I started off back south, popping in to the occasional surfing cove.
Cove at Opunake
Parade Pipers
    In the evening I ambled up to the town's main drag where a Christmas parade was to be held at 19:30. When I arrived, the streets were already lined by crowds, and more folk were appearing out of every nook and cranny, all greeting each other like long lost friends; perhaps they were. Young kids took advantage of the cordoned-off main street, and raced along on their scooters or bikes, showing how clever they were using no hands. And then the procession appeared, starting with a piping band; they seem to get everywhere. Then along came fire engines, ambulances, trucks, vintage cars, souped-up boy racers, go-karts, quad bikes, tractors, a combined harvester, ponies with carts - the lot. Folk on the vehicles wore all sorts of fancy garb, and of course there were umpteen Santa clones.
    As the vehicles passed by, occupants threw sweets and lollies out into the onlookers, who cheered and cajoled the procession. And when they got to the end of the main street, they turned around and came back again. This shouldn't have presented any problem, but the crowds weren't eager to step back to widen the thoroughfare. It was most comical when the returning fire engines were trying to pass the combined harvester coming up the road. It was all good fun, full of Christmas paraphernalia, but no Christmas music. I'm starting to think it doesn't exist in this country.
The Rugby Float
    When they had done, I retired with about a hundred others to a bar. The town boasts two bars, one at either end of the main street. It was literally heaving inside the large hall, with all generations chatting and laughing with each other, but it is a small town after all. I felt awkward there on my own because I wasn't part of any group which all seemed to know each other. When I first had to learn how to cope with such circumstances over eight years ago, I would often resort to a prop such as a book, or when I'm on treks like this, I'd scribble away in my notepad. This place was standing room only, and I would stick out like a sore thumb. So I just stood there sipping my beer and bravely smiled. If it had been a room full of couples, I would have just walked out, I cannot handle that at all.
    Eventually I manoeuvred my way around to a corner of the room, next to a pool table and where a large screen was showing a football match; Wellington were giving New Plymouth a sound thrashing. A few old codgers were gathered down this end of the room, so I would fit in just fine. But they appeared young at heart, one old fellow was shaking his head to the rhythm of the background music.
    A couple of young lads were playing pool, and a couple of old blokes challenged them to a game of doubles. Experience showed. They all shook hands at the end of the game, and the young pretenders retired with their tails between their legs. The winners stay on the table waiting for a new set of challengers, and pretty soon one of the old codgers and a large woman, whose face was exceedingly tanned compared with the rest of her skin, made the challenge. She was standing next to me, and knew she had never seen me in these parts before, and asked me, "Where are you from?" "Britain," I replied. "Staying here long?" she asked. "No, I'm leaving for Whanganui in the morning." She went off to take her shot, and I noticed her hands were as big as frying pans. I learned that she had Maori blood in her, and the woman strutting around with a pint of beer in her hand was her younger sister. The group now playing around the table all belonged to the Sunday Pool League, which explained their expertise. "You have to watch out for the pool sharks," she said, "they tour around and just walk away with the prize money." Each time a shot was being taken, they had to ask the mob to make space for the shot. There was never any back chat or animosity, people just did without thinking any more of it. I gathered the bar wasn't always packed like this on a Friday night, it was just the aftermath of the parade. The game was over, and all players hugged each other and shook hands. What a happy bunch these folk were.
Santa Float
    Two new challengers appeared, from Auckland I learned. The chap was a small, wiry fellow of deep coloured skin, with a quizzical smile and a fisherman's hat clamping his head. His partner was a small, muscular woman of the same complexion, who delivered complete sentences in milliseconds in an accent so thick I couldn't understand. The game commenced, and I was transfixed as I watched the small, wiry guy take his shots. Before taking a shot, he would walk around the table analysing all the angles, the usual rituals that pool players go through. But what was different about this chap was that when he got down to take his shot he would cock his head from side to side to view with a beady eye, just as a bird does when he eyes up a tasty morsel. Then, after his blackbird impression, he would take the shot and invariably pot the colour he was after. The newcomers won, perhaps they were sharks.
    I'd had enough for the day, and walked back to camp in the warm air, gazing at the constellations above. I went out like a light when my head hit the pillow.
    Now, that was one totally different birthday for me.

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Opunake Whanganui

Uploaded from Te Papa Museum Carpark, Wellington on 27th December at 21:20

Last updated 27.12.2011