Sunday, December 6, 2009
A Rural Canterbury Christmas
Kaiapoi is a small rural service town just 10-15 minutes’ drive north of Christchurch – depending on how fast you cross the Waimakariri River to get there. When I was a kid growing up in the North Island, all Kaiapoi meant to me was a label inside woollen garments and on blankets. The town was well known for the woollen mill run by the Kaiapoi Woollen Manufacturing Company, which produced a wide range of products that can still be found all over the world. But I digress… I went to Kaiapoi yesterday for the annual Kaiapoi River Carnival, Street Market and Santa Parade – an all-day affair that also included speed boat and rescue demonstrations and dragon boat racing on the Kaiapoi River, which runs right through the heart of the town.
I got there an hour after the start and the whole town was packed. I’d never seen so many people there. In all fairness to Kaiapoi, although it began life as a rural service centre, it is now virtually a satellite town/suburb of Christchurch. It’s a domicile for many who work in the city and the population (2006) sits around 10,200 with a further 1,700 in the surrounding district. That represents a growth rate of 11% over the previous five years and by now, in 2009, I’d say it’s grown even more. Large new subdivisions are sprouting up all around the perimeter. For all that growth, there is still a very real sense of stepping back in time when you hit Kaiapoi. The buildings are old and wobbly (a few are restored), the shop window displays are definitely archaic and the town’s leading department store, Blackwells, was opened in 1871 and hasn’t changed much since. I went into Blackwells yesterday and smiled at the shambolic array of goods – fishing rods nestled up against stands of women’s hats, scarves and bags for instance. The whole place had an air of the 1950s about it. But none of the locals seemed to mind, so why should I? In many ways, it’s nice to know that rampant slick commercialism hasn’t taken over the entire world….Kaiapoi is still waiting.
As for the Christmas Parade and carnival festivities….well….what can I say? I spent the whole day switching between amusement, surprise, nostalgia and amazement. In short – a great day out. Unlike many of the much more sophisticated city Santa parades, this one had all the hallmarks of community do-it-yourself spirit. The all-day street market set the mood. The main street was closed off and became a busy marketplace complete with a two-man band belting out all the oldies from ‘Achey Breakey Heart’ and ‘Ten Guitars’ to ‘Dancing Queen.’ There were preserve and plant stands, hot-dogs, candy floss, lucky dips, merry-go-rounds, Scottish dancers, clowns, brass bands, stilt-walkers and a million hideous shopping opportunities. The local tavern overlooking the river did a roaring trade; mobile espresso vans faced endless queues and food stalls included unlikely treats like haggis on a stick and black pudding butties; and people gathered on the riverbanks to watch wood choppers and practising rowers – and the odd jet boat and inflatable rescue demonstration.
And then came the Santa parade! It’s years since I went to a Santa parade so maybe I’m a little out of touch but I couldn’t help thinking it would have been hard to come up with a more disparate and unlikely gathering of parade participants than Kaiapoi’s effort yesterday. The truly bizarre collection of included everything from tractors and soliciting politicians to horsemen, Vikings, angels, hotrods, vintage trucks, ponies, a trailer load of Christmas fairies, fire engines, boy scouts, ambulances, school floats and bands on the back of trucks – oh and of course the Scottish bagpipes and knee-kicking dancers. It’s as if every single club and organisation in town decided to have a crack at it. Quite frankly the floats were dreadful in terms of decoration and design but it didn’t seem to matter a bit. Everyone was happy, Santa waved, ladies threw sweets and glitter, the stilt walkers wobbled about and bunches of balloons floated through the air. Totally crazy and much to my surprise, I loved every minute of it.