My New Zealand Adventure

by Florence Feldman-Wood

Florence and Sheep
Florence meets a star of the Agrodome show

In April of 2003 I went on the New Zealand Journey sponsored by Interweave Press, publishers of Spin-Off Magazine. Led by two well-known spinning teachers, Nola Fournier and Margaret Stove (www.artisanlace.co.nz), it was designed for people like myself who are spinners, knitters and weavers. It provided a combination of traditional historic and tourist sites, as well as places where we could purchase yarn and fiber with "reckless abandon."

Nola, Colin and Margaret
Nola, Colin (the driver) and Margaret

It was a busy sixteen days. We had a few "free days" and most of our evenings were unscheduled. It was a pleasant group of women, two were accompanied by husbands. Whenever possible in the evening we would meet in the hotel lounge or someone's room to spin or knit and show off our purchases of the day. As always with any group of spinners and knitters there was an ongoing exchange of patterns and techniques.

I am not a shopper by nature, but found myself in the middle range between the people who believe in "shop til you drop" and those making a few careful purchases. Our philosophy was if you saw something you really liked you should buy it, because you might not see it again. My approach to souvenirs was "small and flat." However that did not apply to yarn and fiber.

The accommodations were all first class. The tour bus was comfortable and the drivers knowledgeable and entertaining. Our main responsibility was having our bags outside our hotel room door at the correct time. We covered a lot of territory and usually only stayed one or two nights in each place. The stay at the Creative Fibre Festival was the exception. We were in Cromwell for four nights.

Some journeyers would spin with support spindles on the bus, and others knitted. Some were such advanced knitters that they could knit lace patterns on the bus. Mostly I sat with my nose pressed against the window, with my simple knitting forgotten in my lap. I was completely enthralled by the wonderful landscape.

I was pleased to discover that there were Internet hook-ups in many places, including hotel lobbies and libraries, so I was able to e-mail home regularly. I would have taken more e-mail addresses with me if I had realized how easy and relatively inexpensive it was. My colleagues at the library in Andover, MA, were interested to discover that the libraries in New Zealand charged for time on the Internet.


The North Island

From the Auckland airport we rode north to the Bay of Islands. It had been raining all day but stopped by the time we reached Paihia. Our hotel was on the beach. Taking pictures of the South Pacific from our hotel room I caught a beautiful rainbow. It was an auspicious beginning.

Rainbow, Paihia, Bay of Islands
Rainbow, Paihia, Bay of Islands

The next morning we went to the Waitangi Treaty Grounds where we were given a short introduction to Maori [Mow-ree] history and culture. The Bay of Islands is the area where the first Maori peoples arrived from Polynesia about 1300 on their large canoes, and also where the English settlers first landed 500 years later. The Treaty House is an English-style structure where the Treaty of Waitangi, between the Maori tribes and the British Crown, was signed in 1840. At the centennial of the Treaty in 1940 a traditional Maori meeting house was constructed nearby.

On the grounds were plantings of what is known as New Zealand flax (Phormium tenax) with its spear-shaped leaves. It is quite different from the Flax (Linum usitatissimus) of Europe and North America.

New Zealand flax - Phormium tenax
New Zealand flax - Phormium tenax

After lunch in Kerikeri we went to the Rainbow Falls. Alex, our North Island bus driver, thought he remembered a yarn shop nearby. We stopped and found a small shop that had a dye room in the back. They had lovely space-dyed yarns as well as fibers to spin. We had fun deciding what to buy. Then we went to a shop were they made chocolates by hand. We had to buy some to eat and some to keep in reserve. Next to it was a little shop with wooden objects. I bought my husband a ruler with samples of the different woods that are unique to New Zealand. This was my kind of day!

The next morning we took the tour boat around the Bay of Islands. Fortunately it was a clear, calm, and sunny day and the captain was able to take the boat through the Hole in the Rock, which was very exciting. We had lunch at the Zane Gray CafÈ in Cape Brett. I knew of Zane Gray as a writer of westerns but discovered that he was also a deep-sea fisherman and loved New Zealand.

Hole in the Rock, Bay of Islands
Hole in the Rock, Bay of Islands

In the afternoon we rode west across the North Island to Omapere. Again we stayed at a beach resort but this time it was looking out on the Tasman Sea.

Beach at Omapere
Beach at Omapere

The next morning we rode down the west coast to the Waipoua Forest to see the Kauri trees which are unique to New Zealand and on the scale of the giant Sequoias of northern California. We saw the tallest surviving Kauri tree, "Tane Mahuta - God of the Forest." The remaining Kauri trees are now protected, but when the English first arrived they saw them as perfect for ship's masts and cut them down indiscriminately. The Kauri trees also give off a gum-like resin similar to amber. Collecting the Kauri gum and making things from it developed into a separate industry. We visited the Kauri Museum in Matakohe (www.kauri-museum.com) where they had displays of the tools used in the lumbering industry and the resin industry. A wide variety of decorative objects made from Kauri wood and the gum are also exhibited.

Auckland is a large international city. Staying at the downtown Skycity Hotel was something of a shock after three days of beach resorts. My roommate and I went on the Skywalk just at sunset and that was fun. We learned an interesting lesson in energy conservation at this large hotel. To operate the hotel-room lights we had to put the key card that we used for the door into a slot next to the door. Otherwise most of the lights didn't work. It forced you to turn off the lights before you left. Since much of the electricity in New Zealand comes from hydro power they are very conscious of conservation. We found this again in the hotel in Cromwell.

The next morning after a brief stop at Mt. Eden, the volcanic crater on the edge of Auckland, we rode south towards Rotorua. Several people in the group were fans of the film of Lord of the Rings and were disappointed that we wouldn't be stopping at any of the areas where it was filmed. So Alex, our bus driver, took us a little out of the way to Matamata where they filmed Hobbiton. We only had time to stop at the sign that says "Welcome to Hobbiton" and take pictures of each other.

Sign in Matamata
Sign in Matamata

As a result we were a little late arriving at the Maori Arts and Crafts Center in Rotorua for our lesson in working with New Zealand flax. We were shown how to use the whole leaf to make a small flower. We were sitting on the floor in the weaving area. I'm not sure who in the group took this picture. Behind me is Jill Turner. Her shop is The Lady Peddler (www.ladypeddler.net).

Learning to make a flower with New Zealand flax
Learning to make a flower with New Zealand flax

Then the instructor demonstrated how to take off the outer skin with a sharp shell to expose the inner bast fiber. She gave each of us some of that fiber to try a special spinning technique. You simultaneously create two singles then ply them together in a few motions. After the class we toured the grounds in little trolleys to see the mud pools and geysers for which Rotorua is famous. In the evening we watched a performance of Maori songs and dances.

The next morning we headed for the Agrodome (www.agrodome.co.nz), arriving just as one show was ending. Before the next show we could see the stars of the show, the rams from the different breeds, waiting on a platform on the side to make their entrances. We took turns taking pictures of each other with these handsome fellows. I don't even know who in our group to thank for taking the picture of me with that good looking Corriedale ram shown at the top of this page.

In the show, as each ram came to his place, the master of ceremonies described the characteristics of his breed.

Sheep show at the Agrodome, Rotorua
Sheep show at the Agrodome, Rotorua

When all nineteen rams were in place, the m.c. gave a shearing demonstration with another sheep. At the end of the show Border Collies demonstrated their agility as sheep dogs by racing over the backs of the rams. It was great fun!


The South Island

We flew from Rotorua to Christchurch then changed planes for another flight to Queenstown. We were now on the South Island. It was definitely chillier, not unlike October in New England. Queenstown is a major ski resort, with a large lake at its center and surrounding mountains that are appropriately named "The Remarkables."

From the wharf in Queenstown
From the wharf in Queenstown

Saturday was a free day, meaning that we had to find our own ways to spend money. A few of us went to the Birdlife Park to see the Kiwi birds. Because they are nocturnal the kiwi are kept in a special enclosure with low lights, though we were still able to see them. They are very funny birds. I bought some bird guide books, and managed to identify a few of the many varieties.

Since it was the beginning of fall there were dahlias everywhere. The bus driver had mentioned a "flea market" on the wharf, which was in fact a very upscale crafts fair with lots of high quality items.

Sunday morning on the way to Cromwell we made two stops. The first was Arrowtown which is a preserved Gold Rush town from the 1860s. One area of interest was the shanty town where the Chinese workers lived. The second stop was the Gibbonston Winery. Wine making is a new industry in New Zealand and this area of Central Otago has the right climate conditions. We had a tour of the vineyard and a wine tasting. At their cafÈ we had an excellent lunch.

Cromwell was the site of the Creative Fibre Festival. Part of the town was flooded in the 1980s to create Lake Dunstan a "hydro-lake" to power a hydro-electric dam and some of the old buildings were relocated.

Creative Fibre Festival April 2003, Cromwell
Creative Fibre Festival April 2003, Cromwell

The three-day Creative Fibre festival was like most fiber conferences, a combination of classes in knitting, spinning, and weaving, with a little dyeing and fimo clay on the side. Also an opportunity to meet others who enjoyed the same activities we do. As always there were vendors, in this case referred to as "The Trades." We did our share buying some of the lovely fleeces, fibers, and yarns they had to offer. One evening a member of our group returned from The Trades with a funny comment. One of the vendors asked her if Americans only bought and wore purple!

My first class was a field trip to a Merino sheep station. Shearing with hand blades and electric blades was demonstrated. Then an explanation of how the fleeces were sorted and classed. Local spinners were on hand with examples of their fine handspun work. Some were also spinning. I was attracted to a wheel with a name on it that I recognized. The owner explained that it was made from recycled Kauri wood. Just two weeks earlier I would not have known what Kauri wood was, so was very impressed.

Spinning wheel made from recycled Kauri wood
Spinning wheel made from recycled Kauri wood

I was also told about a spinner from the Canterbury Guild who had compiled a notebook of descriptions and photographs of the spinning wheels owned by the guild members. We were able to connect and she shared her information. What a treasure trove! I'll be writing about all of this in an upcoming issue of the newsletter.

In the knitting class about finishing techniques that I attended, I was the only person using the Continental method of knitting (carrying the yarn in the left hand). But the other knitters were very fast. New Zealanders take their knitting very seriously and produce beautiful handknit garments.

What impressed me most at the conference was the National Exhibit. I am a veteran of many fiber conferences and have seen many exhibits. This one had absolutely beautiful knitting and weaving, much of it done with handspun yarns. What was equally impressive was how well it was displayed.

The next morning we headed out in damp cloudy weather to the sheep farm of Stuart and Susan Albrey (e-mail: s.s.albrey@xtra.co.nz) in Waimate. This is not a stop for regular tour buses, but a special opportunity for spinner friends of Nola and Margaret. The Albreys specialize in colored fine-wool sheep. The barn was set up with boxes of fresh fleeces more or less arranged by breed. There were also already handspun and handknitted articles for sale as well as factory spun yarn made from their wool in the natural colors. I was looking for a fine wool moorit and found one in a Corriedale. I didn't exactly push someone out of the way, but I did hold on tight to the box as I showed her where there was another of similar reddish-brown color. Since I planned to share this fleece with a friend at home I bought the whole thing which was 2 kilos. Stuart had pointed out a fleece that was a honey-color that he said was also genetically a moorit, so I decided to buy half of that. As I was waiting in line to have it weighted, I noticed half of a silver-gray fleece in a box on the ground. So I bought that one too with "reckless abandon!" Who knows how soon I would be back. They are beautiful fine long-stapled fleeces.

After a filling home-cooked lunch, we went back to the fenced area next to the barn to meet some of the first-year sheep who hadn't been sheared yet. They were waiting to be displayed at an upcoming wool festival. We could admire the fleece on the hoof as it were. I must confess I took lots of pictures of the sheep. As a Massachusetts friend who is an artist and a sheep raiser said, "You can never have too many pictures of sheep."

Stuart Albrey and some of his sheep, Waimate
Stuart Albrey and some of his sheep, Waimate

Next we rode to Fairlie where we were matched up in groups of three and four with our host families for our overnight farm stays. We had heard about deer farming, that the enterprising New Zealanders had found a market for venison, and were now raising deer on farms. Jane, our hostess, told us that many sheep raisers turn to deer farming when they retire because it is less work. Trevor, her husband, drove us around near the pastures so that we could see some of their sheep up close.

Sheep belonging to farm stay hosts, near Fairlie
Sheep belonging to farm stay hosts, near Fairlie

We had tea, and then a delicious home-cooked "company" dinner. It ended with a "pavlova," which is a cake log filled with passion fruit and kiwi. It was wonderful.

In the morning we took more pictures of the garden before Jane drove us back to the bus. Next stop was The Tin Shed in Geraldine which is heaven for the serious tourist shopper. I only bought a couple more big items and some small ones. Outside in a screened enclosure I found that they had some interesting forms of brightly colored pheasants.

In Ashburton we went to the Ashford Handcraft Centre and CafÈ. This was one of the highlights of the trip for me. Although it was Good Friday, which is a national holiday, Elizabeth and Richard Ashford and some of their staff opened up for us and even provided a tasty lunch. The group had a fine time doing what they did best - shop! Two journeyers even bought "Joy" wheels to be shipped home to them.

Ashford Handcraft Centre and CafÈ, Ashburton
Ashford Handcraft Centre and CafÈ, Ashburton

Elizabeth and Richard Ashford have been long-time subscribers and supporters of my newsletter and I have met them before at conferences. Richard was eager to show me his collection of spinning wheels in the little museum that he has upstairs.

Because it was Good Friday and there were no workers, Richard was able to show us the factory without worrying about safety issues. That was fun. I'll be reporting on the factory tour and their museum in upcoming issues of the newsletter.

Shortly after our arrival at our hotel in downtown Christchurch, we attended a performance by the storyteller Margaret Copland. She portrayed Sarah Stokes, an Englishwoman who came to New Zealand with her family in 1850. We could practically feel the boat swaying when she described the 99-day voyage. Then she took off her bonnet, pulled her shawl over her head and portrayed Rosalia Gierszewski, who came with a group of German-Polish immigrants to New Zealand in 1872. Both of these women are Margaret Copland's ancestors. It was a wonderful blend of genealogy and performance art.

Saturday morning walking around the corner from our hotel into the Cathedral Square we discovered a large 8-foot tall statue of Buddha and a banner proclaiming "Celebrate Buddha's Birthday!" Vendors were putting up little booths to sell different kinds of Asian food. We came back later to have lunch.

Buddha's Birthday celebration, Christchurch
Buddha's Birthday celebration, Christchurch

We walked over to the Arts Centre, which is located in the former college buildings, passing a weekly crafts fair that was going on (www.artscentre.org.nz). We visited the Canterbury Spinners Guild in their meeting rooms in the Arts Centre. We sat and spun with them for a while and admired the tapestry that they produced for the Millennium celebration.

In the afternoon I visited the library in Christchurch which was not far from our hotel. Since I work in the local library at home, I was curious about the library there. This library was the head of a system that has 12 branches. They provide services to a population about ten times as large as Andover. But there were some similarities, like the fish tank in the Children's Room and activity room, and many differences, including materials printed in Maori, Japanese, and Korean. I saw some ideas I liked and told my colleagues about them when I returned.

In the evening we went to a Wildlife Park and had dinner. Again we saw Kiwis only this time in a more natural setting at night.

Our last day was Easter Sunday. It was a lovely sunny day, so we walked down to the Botanical Gardens which were magnificent. The farewell dinner was at a restaurant at the Arts Centre. We traveled there by the little tramcar that circles the downtown tourist area. It was a special reserved car with a waitress serving hor d'oeuvres and champagne.

Monday we prepared for departure. We had a period when we had to wait in the lobby for the bus to the airport. I went for a walk along the river across from the hotel. I discovered a sculpture commemorating the four women who led the New Zealand suffragette movement. Women in New Zealand won the right to vote in 1893! What a civilized country!

Since the members of the group who were going on to Australia had to be at the airport earlier than the rest of us, we all went together. We visited the Antarctic Center that is near the airport. Christchurch is the departure point for the Antarctic scientific expeditions. While it was interesting, we had all reached the saturation point. No one bought anything in the shop! We were ready to take our fleeces and yarns and head home.

On the flight back I saw the film Whale Rider. I thought they were showing it because we were on Air New Zealand. I enjoyed it. I was happy to learn that it has won prizes and is being distributed in the US. I suggest that you see it if you can.

Now as soon as my bank account recovers I will have to figure out how to get back there. It won't be the same without the group, but there are still many areas of New Zealand I want to explore.

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