Passing time with Eris Parker

Category Archives: Walks

Kumera Pits

We are standing on the remains of Kumera Pits on the banks of the Waikato River in New Zealand. (S15/ 96 New Zealand Archaeological Association.)

There is a depression (a partially filled in ditch) running from the river into a steep gully with a stream at the bottom.  Within the site are signs of ‘sweet potato’ kumera pits and east of our position are more features relating to the pa site.

Further west along the river bank, on Addison Street, was the pa site and although it was registered with the New Zealand Archaeological Association (S15/94) it has been bulldozed and built upon.

The lookout pa (S15/94) is to the southeast of these pits.

Access to the lookout pa is up a steep, mucky farm track and during the school holidays I took two of my grandchildren up to this  site.

Acacia trees have now been planted on both sides of this pa site’s defensive ditch.

The Duke spent 10 days holiday with me while Daughter sunned herself on a tropical island.

It rained in New Zealand and daily walkies had to be before work. And I wasn’t leaving a smelly dog inside my house all day. As I drove off The Duke started barking. Then howling like a baby. I rang my neighbour when I got to work but all was well. He just told The Duke to SHUT UP.



On the weekends we went trekking. At the bottom of the hill at the Agility Park, there is the fenced in Settling Pond from the old rubbish dump and a storm water drain. The Duke loves the idea of this drain, and a lot of yelling on my part has so far, kept him out of the mire. Other smells catch his attention and the bird life catches mine.

Not so the Cemetery Walk. The Duke flies down the steep steps and is away in the bushes by the time I get down. I call him back and he bounds into a wet mucky hole. OMG! He’s sunk to his underbelly. He looks up at me. NO WAY, I’M NOT GETTING IN THERE.  Flounder, flounder, flounder.  Shake, shake, shake.
Into the fast running stream and he’s soon washed clean. I hear a noise in the trees and let The Duke snuffle ahead. I sneak up on a Kereru.


Up at the Maungakawa Reserve there is a myriad of new smells. The Duke loses me pretty quickly as I’m captured by the host of tuis drinking from the spring blossoms. I reluctantly follow The Duke’s disappearing tail and I come across him chewing on something. OMG a dead possum. GET THE H… OUT OF THAT!  It’s got to be poisoned! How do I tell Daughter I killed her dog!  But no. We find a new path that the Department of Conservation has put through the bush.

All of a sudden The Duke is prancing up and down in the undergrowth. There’s a smile on his face.  Scurry scurry. It’s a rat. The Duke lands on it a couple of times but springs off as he doesn’t really know what to do with it.


Then, surprising both of us, the rat climbs a tree. The rain starts coming down heavier and two bedraggled bodies head for the car.

Daffodils in Spring

The bird life on Maungakawa Reserve, just north of Cambridge New Zealand, is amazing. When the berries are ripe, the tuis warn each other as we approach. Then there is the whoomp whoomp of the wood pigeons as they move from tree to tree. Fantails flitter around us gleefully snatching at the insects.

The Duke doesn’t bother with birds – there’s too many interesting smells on the ground.

When the Thornton family built their house on this hill in 1891 Tom Brown was employed as their gardener. His legacy is still seen at the entrance to the reserve – boxus, laurel, camellias, rhododendrons, conifer, privet grandiflora and mulberry.

Off to the left of the drive is a very old ash playing host to some orchids. Down through a pathway is found a fan palm, porapora and another very old laurel and magnolia.

Up by the trig there is native regrowth  –  cabbage trees, rewarewa, mahoe, mangeao, houhere, flax etc.  Behind the fence by the Gudex Memorial are cedar deodora, ash, kowhai (planted 1992); ferns, orchids and kiekie growing on host trees; and honeysuckle, rangiora and alearia. And the daffodils in the spring are beautiful.

“Mum, I’m going to the beach, can you mind Duke?”

“Ahh but he stinks,” I answer, “Why can’t you take him?”

“Because he stinks!”

Billy T James’ House

We rise early and I check my emails. The Duke sits and just stares at me. After a while he starts sighing, so we head to the Agility Park and off he bounds.

In the next door paddock, now an empty space, was the house where Billy T James spent some of his youth. It was a small square cottage, on the corner of Bracken and Shelley Streets, Leamington, New Zealand, outside the green belt, towards the Council Depot.

Originally this house belonged to the Cambridge Borough Council and was used by the worker of the old Municipal Boiling Down Works. More recently it was rented out until Waipa District Council re-evaluated its rental obligations and burnt the house down.

A walk down the west end of Alpha Street in Cambridge New Zealand, brings you to the Gaslight Theatre. The old municipal gasworks from 1907 – 1954.

The Cambridge borough kept the buildings as a depot and the expanse of land was leased to Courtney’s Sawmill.  Jack, Charlie and George Courtney owned and ran their mill from 1959 – 1976.

Prior to that they had worked at, and then bought Newmack Ltd’s sawmill in King Street. They changed the machines from petrol to diesel and for ten years they milled timber exclusively for the local building firm Speight Pearce Nicoll Davys.

After the move to Alpha Street they changed to electricity and concentrated mainly on native timbers. Their main outlet then was to Auckland as well as the local market.

At one stage sawdust was heaped nearby but it was later used by farmers to cover ensilage stacks and commercial gardeners used it for weed control.
There was always plenty of firewood for locals.

Walking along Victoria Street, outside the former Cambridge Post Office, in New Zealand, we see a surveyors’ old chain measure. Two brass plaques with an arrow on each – one chain apart.

In Queen Street there were two more square brass discs set in concrete.

Chain Chain Measure

They were similar to the Post Office ones, but without the arrows. One is a chain from the Bryce Street corner, then 5 chain along Queen Street is another one. Perhaps we had two sets? Or were the two with the arrows, now outside the Post Office, originally in Queen Street?

They are very similar to the Chain Mark outside the old Government Buildings in Wellington which has a notice to say they were laid down in 1879 to set the Land Survey Standard throughout New Zealand.

The New Zealand Historic Places magazine of 1991 says that – ‘Nelson’s five chain test base was laid in 1877 and ran across Albion Square.’ This sounds similar to our Queen Street set.

A chain measure at Wanganui is registered as a Category 1 historic place by the NZ Historic Places Trust and I believe there is another in the courtyard of the Provincial Government Buildings in Christchurch.

Agility Park

The Duke bounds out of the car, rearing to go. There are wooden structures lined up to test the dogs’ agility. A hurdle, an ‘A’ frame, parallel bars, posts to weave between. The Duke lifts his leg and does what many dogs do on such structures. 

The park is a wide expanse of grass, diligently mowed by the Waipa District Council mowers. There is a very steep descent to a very green pond at the bottom of a gully. It’s securely bound by a two metre high wire fence. This storm water pond discharges into the swamp in the nearby gully.

As we head down the hill there is the sound of tuis in the bush. Fantails flit beside us and swallows swoop above.


Under our feet, below a layer of dirt, is a rubbish dump. For forty years, from 1959 to 1999 trailer loads of household, garden and commercial rubbish were tipped over the bank. When it was full it was covered with clay and topsoil, sown into pasture and left to settle. Leachate is now collected and pumped into the sewerage reticulation.

Waipa District Council opened the Agility Park for exercising dogs in 2006.
The Duke does his business as dogs do, and there is the green ‘doggy do’ receptacle – but remember to bring your ‘doggy do’ bags!

The Duke has to be on the led in the Cambridge Domain. And walking around the gardens there is no evidence of the rubbish and brambles that faced the newly formed Cambridge Domain Board in 1880. There is also no evidence of a pre European Maori pa where the playground and Art Society are now.

There is a tribal saying among local Maori attributed to King Tawhiao:

Ko Arekahanara toku haona kaha Ko Kemureti toku oko horoi Ko Ngaruawhaia toku turangawaewae.

Alexandra is my stronghold Cambridge is my wash basin Ngaruawahia is my footstool.

Jacque, Kelly, Clifton and David on the boat swing (now banned) 1975.

Jacque, Kelly, Clifton and David on the boat swing (now banned) 1975.

The first reference to the lake being called Te Koutu, that I can find, is in 1875 when Rewi Maniapoto and party called at Cambridge and set up camp down on the flat near Lake Te Koutu. Charles W S Purdie (landscaper) lay down the structure to beautify the Domain and by 1885 he had laid paths and, with the Board’s help, planted out over 3000 trees.

Thomas Brown looked after the gardening for the next twenty five years. New years day 1886 they had swimming races and played water polo on the lake and later boats were allowed until they were set adrift and upset the bird life. As children we were told the lake was bottomless, and it worked, we never went in the water.

But The Duke – he loves it. He’s off his lead and checking out all the sights and sounds and smells. A lovely tranquil oasis.

Lookout Pa in Leamington

Lookout Pa in Leamington

I was baby sitting The Duke recently so ‘walkies’ were part of the deal. We hit the dog park on the Green Belt early and the only other person was my neighbour – and dog Rusty. You wouldn’t read about it!

We do a couple of laps around the park then (The Duke on his lead) we head through the Leamington Cemetery, (The Duke off his lead) down the steep steps to the stream. He loves the water, the smells, the trails, the freedom.

We walked along the track in the farmer’s paddock and noticed to the right a steep hill. On top of this hill is the remains of a defensive ditch used by Maori in pre European times. The high triangle of land was possibly used as a lookout as (without trees) the line of sight would cover the Waikato River (east and west) and over to the Maungakawa and Maungatautari hills.

This site is listed with the New Zealand Archaeological Association.

Then a splash and The Duke was down the bank, in the stream, having the time of his life racing against the flow.

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