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Monday, December 13, 2010

"Petticoat Whalers" exhibit in the Russell Museum

Ron and I have just returned from a wonderful visit to the glorious Bay of Islands, where the charming Russell Museum is currently showing a special exhibit based on my book, Petticoat Whalers.

It was a great pleasure to meet the curator, Marsha Davis, and other staff, and to explore this small, but extremely well-done museum.  Particularly recommended is a DVD that tells the story of Kororareka, the "Hell-hole of the Pacific" that was the original shantytown on the beach.

The exhibit, using photographs from the book as well as one in their own collection, illustrates the strange lives of the gallant captains' wives who sailed for years at a time on small, Spartan whaleships, and how they spent their leisure weeks in the Bay of Islands.  It is a story of gallantry and courage in most peculiar circumstances, one that never fails to fascinate.

Paihia, where we stayed, is a bustling little town with lots of energy.  A couple of cruise ships were in port one day, and a market was swiftly organized, along with lots of activities designed to appeal to tourists en masse.  Some husky young Maori men in flax girdles, replete with tattoos (both traditional and modern) were wonderfully entrepreneurial -- launching a couple of large canoes, they carried paying passengers over the surf and into the waka, and then taught them how to paddle, with lots of shouting, waving and gesticulation.  What the ancient Maori would have thought of descendants who persuaded pakeha to pay to paddle their canoes for them, can only be imagined.  But a lot of fun was had by all.

Particularly recommended is the Cream Trip, a comprehensive tour of the Bay as far north as the Hole in the Rock.  The scenery was spectacular -- though of course the glorious weather helped.

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