Myth, Mystery and History

In terms of distance it wasn’t far, but we seemed to drive for a mighty long time. Following the GPS instructions to Clements Mill Road led us along a narrow, winding road through a green tunnel of overhanging mature native trees complete with dripping ferns and mosses. Realising that there was no cellphone coverage nor any tyre marks to show that anyone else had used the road recently, added to the sense of isolation on this misty, gloomy overcast day as we drove slowly through the silent, eerie forest, and I was on the point of suggesting that we turn around and go back when there it was! It wasn’t even hard to find.

Kaimanawa Wall

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Right beside the roadside about 10km into the forest was the fabled Kaimanawa Wall, a wall that’s been steeped in controversy for years. Some believe the blocks that make up the wall were constructed by an ancient pre-Māori civilisation, while others are equally sure they are a natural phenomenon resulting from the prehistoric volcanic activity that this area is renowned for. Opposing views have polarised enough people over such a long time that we were keen to have a look for ourselves. I’m on the side of the fence that can’t see the logic behind a civilisation, ancient or otherwise, trekking deep into the Kaimanawa Forest to construct an edifice that serves no apparent purpose. This seems to be confirmed by Department of Conservation signage explaining that the rock formation has been scientifically established to be part of a large Ignimbrite (pumice-dominated flow deposit) outcrop formed naturally some 330,000 years ago. It’s unlikely that everyone will be convinced, and the origin of the wall will continue to remain controversial. The evenness of the large fractured rocks is remarkable, and the wall is well worth a look, as is the astonishing variety of native flora. There are limited opportunities for vehicles to pass, and as there is a DOC camping area nearby I suspect the road is much busier in the summer.

Opepe Bush reserve and historic cemetery

On our way to find the wall, we’d seen signage for Opepe Bush Historic Reserve about 10km from Taupō on the Taupō–Napier highway. Part of the reserve includes a well-kept cemetery and a sign explaining that this was the site of a surprise attack by an advance party of Te Kooti’s force, who in 1869 confronted a detachment of 14 members of the Bay of Plenty cavalry. Five soldiers managed to escape and the bodies of the nine who were killed are buried here.

Opepe Bush reserve and historic cemetery

Within the reserve are also about 30 of the protected Dactylanthus plants that also go by the more romantic name of ‘Pua o Te Reinga’ or ‘Flower of the Underworld’. Once plentiful, these parasitic plants that resemble a wooden rose growing at the base of the host plant have been almost souvenired out of existence or eaten by mice and other predators, but DOC is doing its best to protect those that remain by enclosing them in cages.

Chalk drawings celebrate 40 years since the Mine Bay rock carvings were made

More than 40 years ago, descendants of Ngātoroirangi, navigator of the Arawa migration canoe, carved the 10-metre rock carvings at Mine Bay. To mark this event, young art students drew a large waka on the cenotaph floor near the Taupō Events Centre. Being drawn in chalk it wouldn’t have lasted, but it was a tribute nevertheless. We were lucky enough to be in Taupō at the time (that was a couple of years ago now) and to have the opportunity of seeing the drawing. Nearby, Lynden Over’s glass sculpture The Cloak of Tia recognises Tia, a relative from the same canoe journey.

Chalk drawings celebrate 40 years since the Mine Bay rock carvings were made

Hot Stuff at Lava Glass

Taupō has numerous natural attractions including the magnificent lake itself, the turbulent turquoise waters of the Huka Falls, the geothermal Craters of the Moon and the gold of the abundant kōwhai flowers in spring, to name but a few. A visit to Lynden Over’s Lava Glass studio (not far along the Taupō–Rotorua road) demonstrates just how many ways glass can be used to create beautiful art in such variety. As well as a gallery full of brilliantly coloured and shaped glass pieces, there’s a well-stocked café and visitors can watch glass blowing every day of the week.

Kōwhai at Huka Falls

To step outside into the gallery’s sculpture garden feels like entering a fairyland of colour and form where visitors can stroll through the grounds past a large glass rainbow, giant flowers, mushrooms, water features and other eye-catching items all made from glass and numbering more than 1000. They’re set amongst native plantings, and exhibits change or are added to from time to time. One of the most fascinating displays is a group of large glass ‘tree’ orbs that are constructed from the inside out, weigh 8kg each, and take two months to cool down from when their construction starts. The gallery was set up in 2002, the café was added some years later, and finally the sculpture garden was opened by the then Prime Minister John Key.

Lynden Over at work

Lynden himself began his career at Northland Polytech in Whangārei, then studied under pioneer New Zealand studio glass artist the late Keith Mahy before setting up his own business. Lynden’s art is based on ideas from the New Zealand landscape, flora and fauna. His ‘ebb and flow’ designs inspired by watching tidal patterns, ‘pounamu’ is influenced by our native greenstone and the ‘volcanic’ range including the very tactile hāngi stones acknowledge local geology. While most of the glass is polished, the several matt pieces add another dimension to the collection.

Glass orbs like this one weigh an astonishing 8kg!

Lynden has won several awards including winner of the Best Tourism/Hospitality Business at the BNZ Great Lake Taupō Business awards in 2015. He and partner Christine Robb met at art school and both design glass art; Christine has a range of necklaces that take their inspiration from native birds while Lynden is primarily involved in glass blowing and sculpture. Lynden’s art is in private collections all over the world, and the couple regularly attend glass conferences in other countries to look at new designs and techniques. “I like to push boundaries with blowing and design,” says Lynden, “but you’re limited by your own strength – glass is heavy! It’s also relatively unpredictable. I can sketch the beginnings of an idea, apply a technique but by the time the object comes out of the kiln it looks quite different. We’ve done some of the biggest work in New Zealand, but once again, we’re limited by kiln size. Making something super-big is a new way of thinking, but upscaling is always tricky.” The products are continually evolving. Although the gallery, that includes three glassblowers, may produce a little bit of cast or slumped glass, Lynden’s found that it’s better to focus on blowing and the cold-working – grinding, polishing and finishing.

Inside the gallery

“Glass is our life,” adds Christine. “We go home and talk about glass, then we go on holiday and look at designs.” And why wouldn’t you? Glass in its many shapes, sizes and colours is one of the most beautiful mediums there is.

The sculpture garden at Lava Glass

Kitsch Fish

With an area of 623km, Lake Taupō, as well as being extremely picturesque is our largest lake and is internationally renowned for its trout fishing and other aquatic sports. No doubt in recognition of this, a property at Lake Terrace on the lakefront has the most brilliantly kitsch fish that I’ve ever seen. For years I’ve seen these gaily coloured monsters, complete with sunglasses, lounging on their own deck chairs and relaxing on a property overlooking the lake. If any readers know something of their history, it would be interesting to learn more about them.

Just lovin’ the kitschiest fish in the country

Just Doing It

It’s no wonder that Taupō, renowned for its trout fishing, has been internationally recognised as New Zealand’s events capital. There’s always something going on, either major events such as the Ironman, the Round the Lakes cycle challenge and the big summer concert, or gypsy caravans and art exhibitions. This year, due to a significant sewerage spill into the lake, the mid-winter swim was postponed. It was to be part of a nevertheless successful winter festival that took place over 11 days with ticketed shows, functions, and family-friendly free events. “We had 32 events in total. This year we had an attendance of about 12,000 people, with 30–40 per cent of them being from out of town,” says organiser Nicola Carter.

A more traditional fish acknowledges the lake’s favourite occupation

Taupō’s downtown area is visitor friendly with many cafés, restaurants and retail outlets, most of which are close to the lake. We generally time our visits to fit with grabbing a pie at Paetiki Bakery near the Countdown supermarket.

New buildings are going up everywhere, but they’re interspersed with the occasional doer-upper

The bakery won ‘supreme pie’ awards in 2010 and 2012, and you can’t beat a good pie and friendly service. With a growing population, now standing at about 33,000, Taupō is well served by retailers and leisure activities. At each of our recent visits we’ve seen new houses springing up, but some subdivisions still sport residences from earlier days, sometimes looking incongruous within the new developments. But our fleeting visits have left us with an appetite for more and we’ll be back for an extended look around sometime soon.