Summer Trails

Perhaps we haven’t been venturing far from home this summer but for many New Zealanders it’s still prime holiday season, Covid or no. When I was wondering what to write about for this week’s post, I came across a photo I’d taken a few years ago and realised how overlooked these men (and they were all men in the early days, not so now) usually are.

So here’s a toast to land surveyors, without whom we wouldn’t be zipping all over the country on routes they mapped out. Our 19th century surveyors, who worked in tough conditions, are honoured with various memorials around the country. Here are a few I’ve come across.

The statue of Turnbull Thomson (1821-1884) is in Ranfurly, Central Otago. Read about the statue’s restoration. Photo: Sandra Simpson

John Turnbull Thomson was born in England, educated in Scotland and at the ripe old age of 16 set sail for Penang in Malaysia, where he surveyed estates for relatives before becoming Government Surveyor to Singapore in 1841. During the next 12 years he laid out the town of Singapore and surveyed the island. After becoming ill he returned to England in 1853 to recuperate and in 1856 came to New Zealand.

Although he intended to farm, his reputation preceded him and Turnbull Thomson was offered the position of Chief Surveyor for the province of Otago. After selecting and laying out the site for Invercargill, he began to explore, mapping (and naming places in) Otago as no one had before. On the abolition of provincial government in 1876, Thomson, who was the father of nine daughters, became New Zealand’s first Surveyor-General and introduced a uniform system of surveying. The Thomson Mountains in Southland were named for him in 1863.

The post at Red Post Corner was originally a survey mark and set up in about 1870. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The Red Post in Canterbury marks the junction of where tracks from Waiau, Hanmer Springs and the Hurunui River met (now SH7 and 70) and until the railway arrived in 1886 gave its name to the surrounding area (now Culverden). There is also a modern geodetic survey mark on the corner and an information board in the pulling-off place beside the Red Post.

Surveyor Joshua Morgan was buried in 1893 beside what is now the Forgotten World Highway (SH43). Photo: Sandra Simpson

Given the conditions they worked in, and under, it’s hardly surprising surveyors died on the job, either from accidents or illness. Joshua Morgan was only 35 when he died from what was probably peritonitis in remote and rugged country between Taumarunui and Stratford.

In charge of the survey party working in Tangarakau Gorge, Joshua Morgan was struck by stomach cramps on February 24, 1893. At once, two of his assistants trekked 50km to fetch medicine, which had little effect. A week later another assistant set off as his boss had now become delirious, but on the return journey met the chainman who had come to tell him Joshua Morgan was dead.

Two years later, the road to Whangamomona was constructed on the team’s survey line. And almost 60 years after his death, Joshua Morgan’s widow Annie had her ashes placed in his grave which sits amid bush above the Tangarakau River.

Read more about the pioneering land surveyors of New Zealand here and here (one document split into two).

Going round in circles: Labyrinths

Having been vaguely aware of prayer gardens, I came across my first one only recently and, despite not being terribly religious, gave it a go. A sign at the front of St Thomas’ Church, Motueka, says ‘Because the path is in full view it allows a person to be quiet and focus internally’, and later mentions respecting other people’s use of it. However, when I was about halfway through, a volunteer gardener called out to ask if he could help me, which, although friendly, was not awfully helpful in trying to achieve a meditative state.

The simple Prayer Garden at St Thomas’ Church, Motueka. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The path design, which both leads to the centre and back out, is also known as a labyrinth and although it may incorporate hedges, a labyrinth, unlike a maze, has no dead ends.

The church sign says there are three stages to following the path on its lawn: Releasing on the way in; receiving in the centre; and returning, taking back out into the world that which has been received. (Also noting that in the Middle Ages someone seeking repentance would ‘walk’ the labyrinth on their knees!)

Labyrinths seem to be as old as time — remember the ancient Greek story of the Minotaur contained by a labyrinth — but in the Middle Ages were often used on the floors of churches and symbolised the winding road to salvation.

The labyrinth at Chartres Cathedral in France was laid into the floor in the early 1200s. The labyrinth, 14m in diameter, contains 283m of path. Image: Wikimedia

Apparently, researchers at Harvard Medical School have found that walking a labyrinth can lower the breathing rate, blood pressure, and chronic pain, as well as reduce stress levels and anxiety. Here’s an article about the health benefits of walking a labyrinth.

This 2015 article is about planning a labyrinth for a private garden, while this 2018 piece shares the author’s two failures before she achieved success. The Labyrinth Company is an American outfit that prints labyrinth patterns, some of them elaborate, on to weed-blocking material for a faster and very precise result.

There is a Labyrinth Society that celebrates World Labyrinth Day on May 1. The society has been developing a list of the types of labyrinth that exist. Read more here.

Labyrinths need not be front and centre in a garden or indeed even be very formal. Wandering Blue by Kristen Calder and Hannah Rose featuring pottery and painted stones, was marked out under pine trees in a corner of the 2020 Kaipara Sculpture Garden exhibition. Photo: Sandra Simpson

If you are specifically interested in planting a backyard prayer garden, this article may be of some help.

Our native plants: Kidney fern

Cardiomanes reniforme (previously syn. Hymenophyllum nephrophyllum; syn. Trichomanes reniforme) is a filmy fern found throughout New Zealand and commonly known as kidney fern, due to the shape of its fronds.

Trichomanes reniform, or kidney fern, growing on the shores of Lake Rotopounamu in Tongariro National Park. The ‘filmy ferns’ have fronds that appear to be one cell thick and so are nearly ‘see-through’. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The shiny fronds are kidney shaped to almost round, with spores borne around the margin of the frond in little cups. The fern has long creeping rhizomes and is often found in extensive mats on the ground, trees and rocks, although it has another trick to form those mats too – with the rhizome emitting a chemical that inhibits the germination of other seedlings.

Only some of the fronds evolve to be fertile and these carry spores around the margin. Photo: Sandra Simpson

According to the Oratia website, kidney fern loves the humidity of the sheltered forest interior and normally dies off if exposed to wind or sun, but occasionally can be found surviving in an open situation. The thin string-like rhizome grips the branch or rock and creeps through the protective surrounding moss pushing up a new frond every few centimetres.

In dry weather or exposed situations, kidney fern fronds seem to shrivel up, but will open again, and be as good as new, as soon as it rains. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Lava Glass Sculpture Garden

Many North Island holidays lead to, and pass through, Taupo. I’d visited the Lava Glass Studio on the northern outskirts of Taupo years ago, not long after it opened and had been promising myself a return visit ever since I’d see the intriguing sign for a ‘garden’ – and every time I just kept going.

Until the beginning of November, that is, when I made time to stop and look through the studio of master glass artist Lynden Over, have a cuppa in the cafe and pay the entrance fee of $10 to enter the garden.

Lynden Over’s glass floats fill a rowboat in his Taupo garden. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Although a sign says that inspiration for the glass-ball-filled dinghy came from a trip to Seattle, no mention is made of the Chihuly Garden in that city, which was clearly the springboard. Perhaps the Seattle venture is tough on copyright? At any rate, Dale Chihuly’s famous Niijima Floats, first exhibited in 1991, were inspired by his childhood memories of collecting glass Japanese fishing floats (buoys), or pieces of them that had washed ashore on the Washington state coast.

Dale Chihuly glass floats at his Seattle museum. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Lynden Over and his team have created a fun environment, which includes a pond, stunning waterfall feature and a millefiori (thousand flowers) walk that is intended to represent being inside one of the famous Italian paperweights.

These giant flowers are some of the largest hand-blown glass ever made in New Zealand. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The sculpture garden was awarded ‘garden of significance’ status by the New Zealand Garden Trust in 2018. “Like a traditional garden, our sculpture garden is always changing. Every year we add a new sculpture.” Read more here.

A bed of Chatham Island blue grass (Festuca coxii) inspired the colour of these glass mushrooms. Photo: Sandra Simpson