Paradise is not lost

100_0559 In this country the sun is reputed to shine twice as often as it does in England, and it shines with especial clarity on Coromandel, so called when a ship of that name anchored where the township is now. The Coromandel peninsula is a rugged line of purple ranges and deep ravines where clear bright streams and rivers rush over rocks to the sea. Once the peaks of Coromandel were clothed in primeval kauri forests, and once too, those peaks hid seams of ancient gold. But now these two sources of gold have long been mined, the hills are covered in secondary growth, and the mine shafts are empty.

It’s always been a place of passion and politics, where potters and painters, poets  and philosophers have fought to defend their way of life in these empty, unpolluted and un-peopled places. Ringing this neck of land, pohutakawa trees flaunt their red flowers along the rocky coast-line, and distant blue horizons beckon to unexplored peaks and impenetrable bush.

Our house on the side of a narrow valley leading down to the water’s edge, looked up to the steep foot hills of the Coromandel ranges behind us. And we faced the Firth of Thames, where the light on the water had a mystic quality in the winter sunshine; where the line of Miranda beach on the opposite shore could just be glimpsed; and where flights of godwits gathering for their heroic autumn journey to Siberia, could be imagined.

Further down the coast was the place where Captain Cook first came ashore in this country.  Young Nick, the cabin boy who sighted land, gave his name to Young Nick’s Head, and where Captain Cook observed the transit of Mercury, he called the bay where they anchored, Mercury Bay.

When the Endeavour came sailing into Mercury Bay it was watched by a nine year old boy. Eighty-three years later the magnificent old man told his story. As he watched the great canoe with huge white sails skimming towards them, he was amazed when the ship’s crew then rowed ashore in the time-honoured fashion with their backs in the direction in which they were going.

“Yes, it is so,” said the old people watching with him, “these people are goblins, their eyes are in the back of their heads.” Eventually Horeta Te Taniwha, as he was called, gathered the courage to climb on board the ship with the older people.

“I and my two companions did not walk about on board the ship – we were afraid lest we be bewitched by the goblins; and we sat still and looked at everything at the home of these goblins… the chief goblin… came up on deck again to where I and my boy-companions were, and patted our head with his hand, and he put out his hand towards me and spoke to us at the same time, holding the nail out to us.

“My companions were afraid and sat in silence; but I laughed, and he gave the nail to me. I took it in my hand and said “Ka-pai” (very good), and he repeated my words, and again patted our heads with his hand, and went away.

“My companions said: “This is the leader of the ship, which is proved by his kindness to us; and also he is very fond of children. A noble man – one of noble birth – cannot be lost in a crowd”

“I took my nail and kept it with great care, and carried it wherever I went, and made it fit to the point of my spear, and also used it to makes holes in the side-boards of the canoe, to bind them onto the canoe. I kept this nail until one day I was in a canoe and she capsized in the sea and my god (the nail) was lost to me…”

The descriptions of the pristine land that Cook discovered in 1769, sound as fragrant and unspoiled as the descriptions of Roanoke in 1584. I ache to have seen Auckland harbour as it was then–the first accounts tell of the silence and the sunshine, the flaming pohutakawa trees bending over the still, clear water as the first white men glided spell-bound up the harbour in their sailing ships – it was a magical, mysterious country which seemed like the most exquisite place on earth to those early explorers. On the other side of the coast, where the other great harbour of Manukau lies, they found forests teeming with strange birds, great trees of more than ten metres in girth towering to the skies, cloudy waterfalls, black sand beaches  and steep jagged cliffs facing the turbulent Tasman..

 Songbirds fluted in the dense forests. Sir Joseph Banks, the great naturalist on board the Endeavour with Cook, wrote at Queen Charlotte Sound: “ the ship lay at a distance of somewhat less than a quarter of a mile from the shore, and in the morning we were awakened by the singing of the birds: the number was incredible. And they seemed to strain their throats in emulation of each other. This wild melody was infinitely superior to any that we had ever heard of the same kind: it seemed to be like small bells most exquisitely tuned.”

Civilisation has made life easier and more comfortable at one level, dentists, drains, and all the rest, and destroyed the planet in the process. And we all know it and yearn for the original untouched Garden of Eden. To have been alive then, and to have savoured this untouched land… it makes me feel homesick just to think of it. So-called civilisation of course, has changed so much of this. From 1840 onwards, the settlers did their best to destroy the forests, using the giant kauris for ships masts, and building wooden homes, wood being the quickest material to use to build a home in a new country. On the newly barren hills they planted grass for the millions of sheep which have brought prosperity to this country, and now erosion means that in some places, the rivers are no longer clear, but sluggish muddy currents.

They took the gold, and now they want the oil. Yet so many of us still want keep this country as unpolluted and unspoiled as possible; so we try to save the native birds, we enclose huge national parks,  we preserve the swathes of native bush and forest still here, and we oppose the multi-national oil companies. And nothing can change or spoil the silent, snow-capped mountains and wild waterfalls, the great lakes and endless miles of solitary beaches in an empty land the size of England, which is home to only four million people.

I now live an hour’s drive north of Auckland, looking out on green fields one side, and blue sea the other; and I walk the long deserted stretches of yellow sands, and can only hear larks singing high above the dunes, and the waves breaking on the shore. In a crowded world, where solitude and silence are hard to find, this place still seems like paradise – last, loneliest, loveliest – as Rudyard Kipling once described Auckland.


Food for threadbare gourmets

I love vegetable dishes. This fennel dish I can eat as a meal, and my husband can have it with his steak, though it also goes well with lamb and pork. Allow a fennel bulb for each person, though if I’m having it as a meal, I usually have two. Cut the fennel in half from root to stalk and blanch in boiling salted water and drain well. Cut the fennel again, into quarters, and lay them in a well- buttered baking dish… it doesn’t matter if they break up. Scatter pieces of fried and chopped bacon over the fennel along with a finely chopped garlic clove. Whisk a teasp of flour into 250 ml of cream and pour over the fennel. Bake for about 25 minutes in an oven set at 190 degrees. Check it’s soft with a sharp knife. Eaten with a crusty roll or wholemeal bread, it’s very satisfying.

Food for thought

It may be hard for an egg to turn into a bird: it would be a jolly sight harder for it to learn to fly while remaining an egg. We are like eggs at present. And you cannot go on indefinitely being just an ordinary, decent egg. We must be hatched or go bad.

CS Lewis, 1898 – 1963 English novelist, poet, medievalist and literary critic. Best known for his books ‘The Screwtape Letters’ and ‘Chronicles of Narnia’.





Filed under birds, colonial life, cookery/recipes, environment, great days, history, life/style, philosophy, pollution, Thoughts on writing and life, Uncategorized

59 responses to “Paradise is not lost

  1. Luanne

    You make me homesick for a place I’ve never been!


  2. I agree. I have just been exploring using your eyes. Thank you


  3. ‘We must be hatched or go bad’…….wonderful thought. And bither-bother, why didn’t I buy the fennel I saw yesterday. It looked so good but I left it because I wasn’t sure what to do with it! I have always been puzzled about the name Coromandel and its connection to Coromandel, India. The connection is a ship, not any similarity in geography!


  4. Beautifully written Valerie. I hope man’s greed never gets to spoil Auckland or any more of our ravaged planet. The greed for oil is criminal.
    xxx Hugs Galore xxx


  5. Hello Valerie,

    I’ve visited both North and South islands dozens of times on business and holiday. NZ remains my wife’s and my favourite destination. I’ve several friends all over – Auckland, Blenheim, Christchurch, Dunedin and the list goes on. Last year, I spent two glorious weeks on a driving holiday in South Island – and plan to return (Inshallah) in 2014.

    Thank you for sharing this, especially the first touch down by Captain Cook and Horeta Te Taniwha – I love such vignettes of history.

    All good wishes,


    • Hello Eric,
      So you’re very familiar with my neck of the woods! – I knew yours back in 1953, when it was a quiet enchanting unspoiled place of memory and history…
      So glad you enjoyed Captain Cook and Horeta Te Taniwha – I simply love the way he told his story in such stately beautiful words…thank you for commenting, warm wishes, Valerie


  6. Valerie, it was with great pleasure I saw in my in-box the announcement of a post by you. Thanks for the lovely trip to a place we hope to visit for an extended period of time when we retire (or before). To see Coromandel reminded me of Rumer Godden’s book, “Coromandel Sea Change”, which I haven’t read for years but which sprang to mind immediately. I, too, long to be in the least-touched places, at least as much as possible. In the meantime, I do my best to repair and restore where I am.



  7. Dear Janet, so good to hear from you, and thank you for your generous words. I used to love Rumer Godden, such an atmospheric writer, and I can see I’ll be ferreting around to find a copy of the one you mention…
    Yes, repairing and restoring feels good, doesn’t it… the name of your blog speaks volumes !


  8. fennel is one of my favourite foods,I cannot get enough if it though i have never cooked it with cream! What was I thinking? Now I have to wait until the end of NEXT SUMMER to try this.. lovely post today.. though we should not forget that the Maori of this time was a warrior, fierce and splendid.. they gave Cook a run for his money!! They loved a good fight. Though many were bowled over by the gifts .. many more fought like mad to keep their country unpoiled. c


    • Dear Celi, Lovely to hear from you…yes, I love the unusual taste of fennel… something for you to look forward to at the end of next Summer !!!! Glad you enjoyed the post… I know what you’re saying about the Maori people… Captain Cook wrote in his journal after a scrap,” I must however observe in favour of the New Zealanders that I have always found them of a brave , open and benevolent disposition, but they are a people who will never put up with an insult if they have the opportunity to resent it” He also wrote on leaving Ship Cove after his second journey ” We debauch their morals already to prone to vice and we introduce among them wants and perhaps diseases which they never knew before and which only serves to disturb that happy tranquillity they and their forefathers enjoyed.” He ended ” If anyone denies the truth of this assertion let him tell me what the natives of the whole extent of America gave gained by the commerce they have had with Europeans”. He understood ” The Fatal Impact”.


  9. Dearest Valerie,

    I wake, eat dinner at the cafeteria with other observatory workers coming down or going up, and then drive to the summit to turn on the telescopes and, if the clouds and humidity will let us, open the domes to starlight. Then it is straight the the computer to find your post and immerse myself in another, beautiful world.

    Thank you so much for remembering and writing. Your words carry us along on a journey of wonder and awe to the places you describe.

    Kia Ora,



  10. I, on the other hand, love to imagine you opening your telescopes and gazing at the stars and into space…so many parallel worlds, and all so beautiful – thank you as ever, dear Doug


  11. I’m just reading Julia Flynn Siler’s book: “Lost Kingdom: Hawaii’s Last Queen, the Sugar Kings and America’s First Imperial Adventure” which feature the intrepid Captain Cook. He seemed to have a knack for discovery paradises wherever he went.

    An insightful post – we are connected to the land in ways that we cannot imagine, or fully understand.

    “In a few decades, the relationship between the environment, resources and conflict may seem almost as obvious as the connection we see today between human rights, democracy and peace.” Wangari Maathai


  12. What a glorious place you describe, but how you engender hatred for man in general and oil companies in particular!
    That Lewis quote is a gem.


  13. What an amazing story. What a sight for anyone, nevermind an active 9 year old boy.


  14. We know better now and yet it still happens. It does sound as though you still live in a relatively preserved space on your peninsula. While fighting in general is painful – it will certainly be worth it to keep the oil companies at bay. Wonderful history here. Thanks Valerie.


  15. Dear Valerie,

    What a marvelous tour guide you are. Without leaving my computer in Belton, Missouri, I’ve walked the hills of New Zealand. Sight, sound and scent. It’s all there in your exquisite writing. As winter approaches here I enjoy the warmth from your part of the world.

    Thank you, also, for the wonderful history. I pictured the 9 year old boy aboard the strange goblin ship. Nice.




  16. I loved reading about your land and where you live! I loved the imagines that flew into my brain and lite my thoughts on fire…oh to travel and see!!! But as I can not I have your words and through them I can be!


  17. Dearest Valerie, you make paradise as accessible as our imagination through your writing. Perhaps with that image in mind, we may be encouraged to preserve and expand on what’s still available to us on this lovely planet. Thank you! xoxoM


  18. Michele Seminara

    Your powers of description are magnificent, Valerie! I don’t think I have seen the natural environment through anyone else’s eyes as clearly as I do through yours. Truly.


  19. Lovely post! Made me feel good, and grateful for the little stretch of paradise we have here on the Gulf, on the opposite side of our round earth.


  20. I love your writing! You conjure up such sights and sounds, the places come alive under your pen. Thank you for another beautiful piece to read. 🙂


  21. Patty B

    I was once told that we were not made to live apart from God and so our inner souls ache for that closeness again….that we are homesick for the original way of life that God had intended… we are homesick for what we do not know yet our souls yearn for what is from God…I think I have that right??!! I have not had my morning cuppa yet!:) Anyway you described it beautifully and I felt as if I could see your home as it once was – unspoiled by man and sin. I yearn for that also when I gaze out my windows at our mountains.


    • What a beautiful thoughtful comment Patty, I loved it, and what you said was so true, and you put it so beautifully.Thank you so much.
      I think the sin you refer to is the unconsciousness of man who can despoil creation without ever thinking of the consequences…
      I’m glad you look out on mountains, dear Patty, with love…


      • Patty B

        I like how you said that – so true no one does really think of the consequences of ones behaviors any more and how it affects more than just themselves.


  22. Valerie,
    Once again I thank you for your eloquent take on historical places and events. You even make recipes sound like secret treasures I can’t wait to discover! I am sure that many of your fans like me are grateful for all the written gems you share.


  23. From the title I wanted this paradise. The photo, the flower, the color, drew me in. Thanks I needed that quick virtual get away.


  24. Thank you so much – what lovely things to say… I’m glad if you managed a quick virtual getaway! Good to hear from you


  25. Hello Valerie, have many species been driven to extinction in NZ, or have they been driven into smaller and smaller enclaves? At least then they could recolonise when us humans are no longer pursuing our policy of total devastation of their natural world!

    Even so, everything I hear about NZ is that it’s an exquisitely beautiful country.


    • Hello Finn… The moa is the biggest creature to be driven to extinction – by the Maoris who used the feathers of the male for their ceremonial cloaks. They were gone by the time Europeans got here. Conservationists are in a fight to preserve the kiwi, the kea and the takahu… NZ birds are flightless, and they and their eggs are prey to the introduced predators like stoats, dogs, and some say hedgehogs, who are reputed to eat their eggs. The wood pigeons – huge – nearly disappeared thanks to all races enjoying its flesh, but is now on the up and up. Many NZ birds migrated from Australia, like the white heron, the wax-eye, rosellas, even kookaburras ! Yes NZ is a lovely country, but I think so many places are ! And I miss the sense of history that you get in the rest of the world, it was settled so recently – by the Maoris circa 1400, and the rest of us from 1840 onwards…


      • Hello Valerie, I had no idea the Maori had only been in NZ since 1400, I imagined they were there since time immemorial. Where did they arrive from?

        I’d heard before about your flightless birds falling prey to introduced predators. Is it proving possible to find a solution to allow them to survive? I hope so.


      • Hello Finn, No, the Maoris arrived from the Pacific, they were Polynesians, and they wiped out the pacifist Morioris who were already here. A few retreated to the Chatham islands, where the Maoris also exterminated most of them… there are also legends of previous light-skinned people with red hair ( sounds like the extinct people from S America that Thor Heyerdahl was trying to make a point about, I think…) they were also supposed to be pacifist and were wiped out. Re. birds…Apart from being tough on unleashed dogs, a number of islands have been made predator free and species transported there, also around some national parks they’ve erected high wire fences and traps to keep them predator free, and it seems to be successful… but it’s a battle all over the world isn’t it…


      • Hello Valerie, I knew the Maori are a warlike people but I didn’t realise they’re as bad as us Europeans!

        And you’re absolutely right, encroaching human activity is creating battles everywhere. What will it take for us to get wise?


      • Yes, and they even ate their conquered enemies !!!!!


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