You may have read my previous blogs about Norsewood, namely the huge eels that live there that we like to go visit. Unfortunately, someone recently took those big, beautiful, almost hundred year old eels out of the stream, presumably to eat. It broke our hearts to hear about this and the community was up in arms over the horror of the tragic event. The marks on the sandy bank left the last remaining clue to the struggle the poor eels went through. Only a few now remain.
That’s not why we went to Norsewood this weekend. I couldn’t even bring it upon myself to go look and see if any were still left at this point. It really stung.
No, we went for the Viking Festival which promised traditionally clad participants, Fjord horses, archery, axe throwing and a woman all the way from Norway telling stories. I didn’t actually know much about the history of Norsewood until this day. It helped put our lives into perspective and how the native settlers helped make this area of New Zealand what it is today.
The morning started out as you see it above with a strange tinge to the hills and a threatening looking cloud. We haven’t had measurable rain for months now so I’ve been living in hope that we’d get a good downpour.
The drive out to Norsewood (about 20 minutes) took us through the bone dry paddocks, with me feeling sorry for all of the animals trying to find something to eat. The fire danger sign has been permanently stuck on ‘Extreme’ for a while now and we cringe when the town’s siren goes off, often multiple times a day.
As we approached Norsewood, big dark clouds definitely held the promise of rain. Go figure. The one time there’s an event. I wanted to be early because I know how these festivals get. Cramming small towns with cars, nowhere to park. The wind was picking up and the cool breeze gave me goosebumps, so we headed to the cafe for a coffee and breakfast.
Right after we finished, we saw some of the participants marching up the street, headed back to the park grounds where the event was being held.
It dawned on me that not only did their clothes look like they walked right out of the late 1800’s, but even their faces could have been what some of these settlers might have looked like. There are so many blue eyed blondes here that there must be some Viking blood coursing through their veins. Something was just a bit eerie about it.
But I digress. Imagine, if you will…living in Norway and Sweeden and being told that there was a lovely, sub-tropical climate with land waiting to be developed, over 10,000 miles away in New Zealand. All yours, just go there and everything will be great! Fruit trees, fertile land…what more could you want?
Only to find that the tons of undergrowth, native bush with hard timber (and only some soft timber like they were used to) was a massive undertaking to clear. God only knows how long it took them to get here and what kind of a journey THAT must have been. Upon arriving in Napier in 1872, then had to trek all the way down to Norsewood (64 miles took 4 days – which didn’t sound too bad at that point, I assume) to start scoping out the parcel of land they wanted.
The women and children were due to arrive only a month later, in September (let me tell you, it is not warm here) and the men rushed to clear the land and build “homes” for the family. Most could only manage shelters with tarpaulin and poles. The morale of the men would have been pretty somber by that point.
With tools and materials hard to come by, most of the men had to find other forms of income in order to buy the things they needed to survive. Women and children grew vegetables and trekked miles to the nearest rail station to try and sell whatever they could. If they were lucky enough to make any money, they would have to literally DRAG back 100 pound sacks of flour and anything else they could buy all the way home. Not to mention, with small children at their feet!
Ok, are you feeling fortunate now? I know I am. And as if things couldn’t get much worse….they did.
In 1888, there was a huge bush fire which wiped out most of the village, homes, the sheds and fences. But those amazing people persevered and rebuilt. The land more fertile than before due to the fire. It also helped clear the bush they would have had to chop down themselves. Somehow, this jump started development and a dairy factory was built and more people came to develop the surrounds.
Odd how we passed by the cemetery with the sign that indicated they were in a drought. Two tombstones caught my eye, mostly because they looked so new, but the date on one was 1886. Only two years before that fire. I couldn’t believe it was 134 years old. The husband lived on to see it happen, passing in the early 1900’s.
Oh, what these poor people must have gone through. Life was REALLY hard…we don’t even know the meaning of it anymore. And the things we complain about….we Have. It. Made.
The street names in Norsewood still retain the Scandinavian influence and I caught this one as we walked to the park.
Norsewood is still a very small place (makes my town look like a metro city), but the heritage lives on and they’re proud of it. To this day, school children keep alive the Scandinavian traditions, performing dances in traditional costume. We often stop in at the little museum where they have the big wooden wagons and tools hanging on the walls. We try to imagine what life must have been like and it’s very difficult. We owe these people a LOT.
Ok, maybe not that guy, but everyone else! We followed the group to the park, paid our $5 entry fee and started wandering. There were some crafts, food vendors, horses, tents and a lot of Viking looking folks doing their thing.
A man approached with a neat looking horse and I stopped him to see if I could take a picture of the mane. I knew this was a Fjord horse because I had read they’d be there. It was like nothing I’d seen before. A neat natural mowhawk cut to its mane with a dark taller hair in the middle, surrounded by a creamy white and all natural.
One of the first things he told me was that they didn’t have a strong horse smell to them. Well, you know me! I love to smell animals, so I took a whiff. He was right, there was only a slight sweet horse smell to him. He couldn’t explain why. I had read that someone on the South Island had some of these horses (I think there are under 200 in NZ now) and he confirmed he was from Blenheim and some were there. He said the population was about to grow because some mares were pregnant! Maybe we’ll see them around more often in the future.
I ran across Paul of STIM Craftsmanship whose wine barrel furniture caught my eye. As I was taking a photo of it, he popped around to get a peek and we talked a bit about his work (which was fabulous!). They’re up in Napier and do custom work as well. His dog, Yoda was well behaved and curious to see all the humans!
This table of helmets couldn’t be passed up and I got a guy who looked like Jason Mewes to put one of them on.
This woman was being cheeky and had it out for the monk. He doesn’t look the least bit concerned. Almost a bit too relaxed.
It started to rain and we headed for the big trees to wait it out. How long could it possibly take? These things usually pass pretty quickly. I hadn’t seen the archery and axe throwing going on down the hill, so we watched on for a bit. That’s about the time I proclaimed it would be no problem to throw that axe into the wood. So like a champ, I waited my turn.
What actually happened was that I gave it about 8 tries and didn’t get that dumb thing to stick!
It appeared everyone BUT ME knew it was going to rain. I’m assuming that’s why the low crowd numbers.
We waited it out for a while inside a little building but the rain just wasn’t stopping. Of course, we parked about as far away as possible since I didn’t know where this thing was being held. One last walk about found this big Collie who was intent on something and couldn’t be swayed to look away.
I didn’t mind the walk that much. Knowing what I know now, it makes me feel kind of guilty that I’d even consider asking him to go get the car and pick me up so I didn’t have to walk in the rain. This festival brought to light the sacrifices so many people took, along with the endurance and willpower they must have had just to wake up and face each day. On behalf of everyone in Hawke’s Bay, we thank you.