Thursday, February 17, 2011

New Zealand's oldest bookstore in strife

Just a day after Borders filed for bankruptcy in the US, New Zealand book retailer Whitcoulls has gone into voluntary administration. There's no common ownership between the two companies, but the problems they face are similar.

Whitcoulls is one of New Zealand's oldest companies. It began in Christchurch as Whitcombe & Tombs, one of the first companies to be registered under the Companies Act of 1882. In 1973 it was renamed Whitcoulls, after a merger with another company.

As a child, growing up in a country town with little in the way of books for sale, a visit to Whitcombe and Tombs (and yes, this was so long ago that the company still had its old name) in Auckland or Wellington was a huge treat. For purely sentimental reasons, I'd be sad to see those stores close down; all the more so since Whitcoulls now has my e-books on their website. But survival in the age of Amazon, particularly with the high price of books in New Zealand, will be a real challenge.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The A & P Show

The Agricultural and Pastoral Show has been an annual event in many parts of New Zealand for over 150 years. In some places they're now quite heavily commercialised, and marketed as a tourist attraction to city folk, but some are much closer to their origins.

Warkworth is a small town north of Auckland, named for Warkworth in Northumberland. Their show is one that's kept much of the flavour of the old A & P Shows, as we found when we went there in late January.

There were stalls with farming machinery; a wider range of food than my characters would have recognised; and a few rides for the children. But the competitions for jams and preserves would have been familiar to Amy and Lizzie, and children were enjoying old-fashioned games like sack races. And a large area of the grounds was devoted to what was the most important part of the original A & P shows: the livestock.

Those 19th century farmers would have been taken aback by one group of livestock; alpacas might have looked like sheep in fancy dress to them:

But the Show had a good turn-out of cattle, and judges who gave expert advice on breeding lines and care of stock. And owners who are no doubt as proud as the Victorians were:

More on A & P Shows, and an account of an early one from my own Mud and Gold, here.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Rediscovering the Pink Terrace

The Pink and White Terraces, beautiful silica formations that were a great New Zealand tourist attraction in the 19th century, were destroyed in the 1886 Tarawera Eruption.

At least we thought they were. The Pink Terrace has been discovered, or at least part of it has, on the floor of Lake Rotomahana.

At 60 metres deep, the terrace isn't easily accessible. But it's nice to know it's still there.