Just passing through…..a life’s journey.

New Zealand writer Peter Wells (died 18 Feb 2019) signed off with a book about his own death titled “Hello Darkness”. It follows the last year and 4 months of his life, after being diagnosed with prostate cancer in November 2017. The book broke new ground in that much of it was written on his own Facebook page and the writing was accompanied by his own photographs.

But that is typical Wells. He has always been a breaker of new ground, of being a leader and not a follower. He was one of New Zealand’s first openly gay writers and was writing about gay topics as far back as the 1980’s. In 1998 he was co-founder of the “Auckland Writers Festival” and also co-founded in 2016 “Samesame But Different” – New Zealand’s first LGBTQI Writers Festival. His goal was for the festival to be “an exciting event that makes people think about sexuality, difference and community, stretches their understanding, gives them a few laughs and creates a slightly magic space for two days in February.” This years festival finished on February 10th. It was Well’s 4th and last.

He was a writer of both fiction and non-fiction, but from the 1980’s onward also made films and documentaries predominantly about historical and/or gay themes.

His own blog site says this on his profile page…. “Peter Wells writes books and makes films. His films include idiosyncratic documentaries about conserving at-risk architecture like a flamboyant 1929 picture palace, or a shoe-obsessed gay man who tells his life story through women’s shoes (made with friend and fellow film-maker Garth Maxwell). He co-wrote and co-directed ‘Desperate Remedies’, a feature film described as ‘Jane Austen on acid’. His books include award winning short stories and novels. ‘Iridescence’, for example, about an Englishman with a secret hiding in Victorian Napier. His memoir Long Loop Home looked back at his New Zealand childhood with the wry glance of loss and affection.”

All of which brings me around to my reason for writing about him. Whilst he was without doubt a talented writer and film maker – my reason for writing about Wells is his connection to Hawke’s Bay – where I live. He lived for some time in a house on Napier Hill where he wrote what became known as his “Napier Trilogy” – comprising of his highly rated book “The Hungry Heart” – about William Colenso, the very knowledgeable clergyman/missionary who was also a printer, botanist, explorer and politician – but who was also a recluse, “Journey to a Hanging” which was a racially charged book about the horrific death of the Reverend Carl Sylvius Völkner in 1865…killed by Kereopa Te Rau, a Maori leader, who was found guilty of killing, beheading, eating the eyes and drinking the blood of Völkner and was subsequently hanged for the crime, and finally “Dear Oliver” – subtitled “Uncovering a Pakeha History” – which was a book written about his own family history, followed back in time in snippets of historical memories. It was hailed as a masterclass in writing history.

He was also partly responsible for the birth of the appreciation of Art Deco architecture in Napier and the start of what has become a phenomenally popular annual event “Napier Art Deco Festival” with his 1985 documentary film “Newest City on the Globe” which he wrote and directed and in doing so brought the architectural splendour of Art Deco Napier to the world. Shortly after this film was released, film crews from the USA visited Napier to record in this Art Deco jewel of the south pacific. After that Napier was no longer a secret tourist backwater.

The first Napier Art Deco Weekend Festival was in 1989 and with each passing year the event grows bigger and bigger and is celebrated by locals and tourists/art deco aficionado’s from all over the world.

For all this and more – Peter Wells – we salute you.

If you want to find out more about the man and his work, Links to Peter Wells blog, his Wikipedia page, the Auckland Writers Festival, the Samesame but Different site and the Napier Art Deco Trust web page are below.






Like a Phoenix from the Ashes….

Just as “Man” can be destructive to nature, so can nature show its destructive powers. Such an incident was the 1931 Hawke’s Bay earthquake.

The 7.8 quake struck at 10.47am on 3rd February 1931. The epicentre was 15 kilometres (just over 9 miles) to the north of the city of Napier and occurred at a depth of 20 kilometres (about 12 miles). Many buildings in the central business district of both Napier and its sister city Hastings collapsed immediately. The brick built facades of others fell into the streets killing and injuring passers by. Railway lines and tram lines buckled and bent like plastic. A total of 256 lives were lost and thousands were injured – most loss of lives occurred in Napier, with about a 3rd in Hastings. Nerves of locals were shredded by over 500 aftershocks within two weeks of the initial quake. The last recorded aftershock attributed to the February 1931 quake occurred in April 1934 (over 3 years later!). At 5.6 on the Richter Scale it was still a nasty and powerful reminder of the earths destructive powers. It remains New Zealand’s worst natural disaster.

Timber buildings, of which there were many, survived the initial quake but fell victim to fires which broke out soon after, leaving both cities looking like war zones. In Hastings, fire crews managed to control the fires, but in Napier they were not so fortunate. Because water pipes had been ruptured by the quake there was no water pressure and so no way to fight the fires, which raged unchecked.

The destructive force of the quake was also a creative force – uplifting some forty square kilometres of sea bed to become dry land – draining the Ahuriri Lagoon. This is now where the Hawke’s Bay regional airport stands.

The New Zealand Listener Magazine in 1941 (ten years after the devastating earthquake) was quoted as saying that “Napier had risen from the ashes like a phoenix”. It quoted the 1931 principal of Napier Girls’ High School as saying “Napier today is a far lovelier city than it was before”.

This was primarily thanks to the efforts of government appointed commissioners John Barton and Lachlan Bain Campbell who were sent to Napier to assist the Napier City Council in the rebuild. A review of building standards was also commissioned which found that many of New Zealand’s buildings were totally inadequate. As a result, most building of the 30’s and 40’s were heavily reinforced. Of course those standards have been surpassed several times since then.

During this time Art Deco architecture was all the rage and because the old city had been completely flattened, Napier (and parts of Hastings) were built primarily in this style – along with Spanish Mission architecture.

The preservation of these Art Deco architectural wonders all in the one locale has earned Napier the title of Art Deco Jewel of the Southern Hemisphere, and attracts tourists and Art Deco enthusiasts from around the world. This is particularly noticeable during the annual Art Deco Weekend Celebrations – which take place on the 3rd weekend of February to mark the beginning of the rebuild and rebirth of this Art Deco jewel – when the streets are jam packed with revelers wearing their best 1920’s and 1930’s costumes, hundreds of vintage cars and party-goers dancing in front of the Sound Shell on Marine Parade to the sounds of big band jazz music.

There are hundreds of events taking place over the days leading up to the weekend and over the weekend – some are official – organised through the Art Deco Society and some are unofficial. These include fly pasts and aerobatic displays, steam train rides, a parade of vintage cars, marching bands, theatre, music, costume competitions, old movies at the cinemas, soap-box derby for the kids, dances, guided art deco tours, lots of feasting and partying and so much more. BUT if you’re planning on a visit….book early as accommodation can be scarce.

For full details of this years celebrations please visit the official website of art deco napier. https://www.artdeconapier.com/Events/Napier+Art+Deco+Festival+2019/All+Events.html

I’ll leave you with some of my own photos of the annual Napier Art Deco Celebrations.

As usual, any comments are very much appreciated and will be replied to as soon as possible.

Wardini’s Book Sellers – One step beyond.

Everyone has a favourite book shop, one that stands out from the rest. For me, my local favourite is Wardini’s of Havelock North, New Zealand, because they always go out of their way to make you feel welcome as soon as you walk into their shop.

Wardini Books, Havelock North


Run by Louise and Gareth Ward and a small army of staff, the independent book shop –  Wardini Books – is a literary oasis. From the cheery “Hello….can I help you find a particular book?”, to the lay out of the shop, to the friendly and knowledgeable staff, to the comfortable chairs to park yourself to read a few pages of a book you think you may want to buy. It’s a lovely shop with quality books. There are helpful notes attached to the front of a number of books on the shelves with reviews by Louise and the staff – all of them prolific readers. I think it’s really important that the people selling you the books know about the books that they sell.

Add to this the events that they run, or get involved in, both here at their first shop in Havelock North village and also in the next town Napier at their other shop, on Hastings Street – Book expo’s, book signings, poetry readings, staff reading to groups of children, book clubs, book quizzes….you name it. If it’s to do with promoting books Wardini’s staff are out there doing it.

Gareth and Louise organise a yearly book club quiz, held in the local community centre. I was lucky enough to be asked to fill in as a quiz team member when one of the members of my sister-in-law’s book club couldn’t make it on the night. I amazed myself at being able to answer a few of the questions, being a newcommer (it wasn’t easy), and thoroughly enjoyed the evening. Our team of 9 ladies plus me – the lone male – managed to lead all the way through the various rounds of questions, only to collapse in the last two rounds to finish 4th of about 25 teams. 

I won a raffle prize, which made up for the loss. When I say prize, it was actually prizes, as I received 3 bottles of Te Mata Estate Chardonnay – which was particularly delicious, and a book “Boundaries” by New Zealand writer and poet Brian Turner. The book is about the people and places of Central Otago – a wild, rugged and beautifully scenic part of New Zealand’s South Island. The writing is entertaining and informative and interspersed with beautiful colour photos along with poems dropped in here and there. The book alone would have been a wonderful prize, but having wine to drink whilst reading it makes it even better.

Books and wine – what a great combination.

Not satisfied with just selling books,  Gareth has also written his own best seller aimed at the young adult reader market – with a steampunk background – called “The Traitor and the Thief” – the hero of the piece is a resourceful 14 year old called Sin. It’s rated very highly by Goodreads scoring around the four and a half out of a possible five – so well done Gareth!  There is to be a sequel released around August 2019 – all being well.

As if that is not enough involvement with the community at large, Gareth is also known as “The Great Wardini” – magician, hypnotist, mentalist and childrens entertainer. He’s been doing this for the last five years and his website can be reached here – http://www.thegreatwardini.co.nz/

There are lots of really good indie book shops all around the world. What’s your favourite?

They need our support and our custom if they are to keep providing the service to the community that they have been doing – long before the advent of the internet and the dreaded Amazon.com. Please help to keep our bricks and mortar bookshops alive and kicking. Go buy a book!