I was looking forward to seeing the work of the ebullient Miriam Ruberl and her pop-up gallery colleagues as I drove towards Rotorua through this harsh summer of 2015.
I’ve written enthusiastically about Ruberl’s exhibition of work at the Creative Tauranga Community Gallery and the 2014 end of year Tauranga Artists’ Show and Sale of Work. I love the colour of the Rotorua clay Ruberl uses and the energetic swirls and whirls of ochre. I also enjoyed my last conversation with this engaging and talented woman.
Soon I’m driving past Lake Rotoiti and the little clumps of houses visible around its bays. Then through outer suburbs, a shimmer of Rotorua the lake, and the “international” airport (does this mean it gets flights from Auckland?). Following the many signs I see the spires of the peaked and timbered Rotorua Museum building; and I feel at home. And just how at home I was going to feel soon became evident.
Central Rotorua has been making determined and innovative efforts to claw itself out of the combined effects of regional recession and the “urban doughnut” that left shop windows empty and the inner retail area downtrodden and depressing. Today the traffic lanes are full and its obvious that, like me, many are visitors to “Rotovegas”.
The other thing about Central Rotorua is the long-established car-free inner mall – the heart of the City. I know it’s there. I’ve enjoyed it and I’ve praised it. I know where I’m going so I follow the signs (sometimes so many signs I don’t have time to read them all as I crawl along Fenton Street). I finally find a parking space. There are obvious notices stuck on the front of the traditional meter sentinels. From my myopic and instantly sunburned peerings I discover that this is a monitored parking area and that parking is limited to 15 minutes.
Anyone encountering their first tiny field mouse running along the skirting board of their rural home will know that the fear of self-preservation magnifies the field mouse threat to giant rat proportions. The same genetic terror of rodents occurs when sighting urban parking wardens. They may be someone’s, tiny, gentle and much-loved Nana or Granpa but to a Rotorua visitor looking to park to visit an art exhibition, like the field mouse, they are transformed. Against the wall behind the row of parking meters stands an Inga Tuigamala size-wise lookalike. Gender and ethnicity are obscured beneath a huge Aussie-style bush hat. I perceive a uniform of blue, covered by a Hazviz vest big enough to be seen from space:- this is one of the monitors of the meter notice. Genetically programmed as I am to survive – I leave.
I drive around some more and find all the parking meters have big stickers on them and none of them are the wonderfully welcoming, “enjoy your free parking” of my last visit. I find a park in the middle of a row alongside a village green. These parks may have been appropriately sized before every two-car New Zealand family became the proud possessor of at least one over-sized, four-wheel drive that is so necessary for collecting household supplies and negotiating the streets of Auckland; but not now. Proudly displaying its European livery and curves, like a summer beauty in last year’s too-small bikini, this big-girl of the streets oozes over the white line delineating her space and supposedly mine. Let’s face it, that’s why it’s vacant.
Off I drive again – this time I drive to what looks like the fringes of the central retail area – no free parking stickers but rows and rows of stickers reminding me of the giant, satellite visible Hazvis wearer. I try for about half an hour. Not wanting to give up, I think I’ll go down to the Government Gardens and recover my increasingly decreasing equilibrium about visiting the Ruberl exhibition. I cruise through the archway, past the Museum Cafe and its afternoon tea sipping patrons. It’s not “chocka” but there are large buses on the pathways. Which of course is exactly what the town wants. It’s not what I want this blisteringly hot afternoon. You’d be impressed I can do three-point turns without going onto the grass or running over camera-toting, sun-hatted tourists nervously walking about near the Bathhouse.
I take a deep breath and go back into the central retail precinct streets. Same as before. It may have been the heat but all of a sudden the directional voice in my head says something unprintable and suggests I go back to the delightful Okere Falls Store for my afternoon tea. Obedient as always I leave Central Rotorua, the unmet and unseen Miriam Ruberl pop-up exhibition, parking monitors, too small parking spaces, sticky labels and tourist buses behind me and with an air of ice-cream expectancy, drive towards Okere Falls.
Don’t for one minute be thinking that no-one else is at the Okere Falls Store – it’s a hub. The car park is half full and cars are coming and going. Tohu Wines discreetly graphiced vehicle is disgorging cartons restocking the Store shelves. Inside it’s a combination of old village store and Nosh. It’s bustling. I chose my favourite – Kapiti White Chocolate and Raspberries and sit verandah covered, in a small breeze on a long bench (which wobbles a bit) and read part of that morning’s “New Zealand Herald”. This is summer.
A young woman opposite engages me in conversation. She’s on holiday here from Canberra, staying at the Okere Falls Motorcamp with her family. Confessional like I tell her I’ve just made the shortest visit of my life to Rotorua. She tells me they park in the free 90 minute parking near the Isite – too late today to tell me that! I give her an ARTbop flyer and publicise ARTbop alternative. Before I leave I read the traditional village store notice board on the outside wall of the Store. I ask the owner if I can leave some ARTbop flyers on the counter and indoor table – “sure can”.
I’m driving back towards Tauranga on a tarsealed road which I think is pretty good. It occurs to me that I’m able to drive through these pine-covered and sheep-populated hills without fear. I generally don’t have to worry that as I turn the corner I’ll be ambushed. I have no concern that I’ll drive over a land-mine or some partially buried home-made explosive device. I know that if I break down, in a very brief time, someone (usually someone with mechanical and other skills) will stop and help me or stop and ask if I’m okay and whether my cellphone has been able to access help. And I know from past experience that if someone does help me, they’ll absolutely refuse to accept anything in the form of payment. Sorry I missed you Miriam. But I sang the rest of the way home.
Footnote: Please read the earlier articles in ARTbop about the wonderful visit of Emma Frederickson and I to Rotorua. Rotorua should be a source of pride to the Bay of Plenty. They are hauling themselves up the slippery, slope of inner urban decay with an enviable determination. And hats off to some of the Rotorua representatives we made contact with that day or later who in 2014 consistently provided ARTbop with information about exhibitions, events and projects: Joanne Doherty and Kathy Mitchell of the Rotorua Museum – don’t let these girls go! And Brigitte Nelsen of the Rotorua Night Market and other initiatives. Another community development gem.