Journey from JERUSALEM
Jerusalem, in the Judean Mountains between the Mediterranean and the Dead Sea, is one of the oldest cities in the world – in Israel. But hey, there is another Jerusalem, in the river valley between Whanganui and Ohakune – in our very own North Island. LOR
Jerusalem, named after its namesake in Israel, used to be one of the largest settlements on the Whanganui River, where a Roman Catholic mission was first built in 1854. Known to Maori as Hiruharama, Jerusalem was the isolated site where, in 1892, Suzanne Aubert ( better known as Mother Mary Joseph) established the congregation of the Sisters of Compassion. They became a highly regarded charitable nursing / religious order and tangata whenua ( native to the area). A convent remains on the mission property, as well as the church that replaced the original building destroyed by fire and the sisters still care for the buildings today. Just as Jerusalem is considered a holy place in Israel, this little village on the banks of the Wanganui River is also dominated by a religious presence – albeit very peaceful – compared with its Israel counterpart. Israelis and Palestinians both claim Jerusalem as their capital and the status of the city remains one of the core issues in the Israeli– Palestinian conflict. The riverside village alongside the Whanganui River, however, could not be any further away in terms of geographical or political interface. This little place is quaint, quiet, desolate and simply a “best kept secret”. An excellent way to explore Jerusalem is by booking a cycle trip with Whanganui Tours. Husband and wife team Alois and Valerie Muller come and pick you up in a
van from your Whanganui accommodation and give you a running commentary of local sights as you drive up the scenic Whanganui River Road. It takes about one hour to drive to Jerusalem. First stop was where one of New Zealand’s most accomplished poets James K Baxter and many of his followers formed a community in 1970. All that remains today is a deserted old cottage [ one of many he resided in] and also a small Maori burial site, where there is a white tombstone for the former colourful poet. [ He died of a heart attack in 1972 at the age of 46.] Whanganui tours provide you with a mountain bike, a helmet and a map. Before you set off they also provide you with morning tea. It is well worth wandering around the quaint St Joseph’s Church [ completed in 1892]. The church has a tall steeple with red edges – creating a landmark over the surrounding farmland. Inside there is a mix of Maori and Catholic artifacts. Next- door is the Old Convent, a large two- story building with lots of dormitory beds and bedrooms and kitchen tables and chairs. There was no one staying at the time of my visit, but you can book a bed for the night for just $ 25 per person per night. Must be the cheapest accommodation in the country! Very clean and peaceful, but you do need to bring your own linen, food and drink. This place is ideal for those who live the fast city life, wanting a weekend retreat. Heading off down the hill by bike was a wonderful experience – gliding past lambs, the occasional horse and desolate farmhouses. All is well until you hit one of many hills. It becomes a case of flicking through the levers on your handlebars to work out which one will make pedaling easier. With guts and determination I stay in the saddle for the first hour until a very welcoming sign says: “Coffee 500 metres.” Those were the best words I saw all day, but it was also the longest 500- metre uphill cycle I had endured for a while. The resting place was a combined art gallery and café called Matahiwi Gallery. There were interesting local paintings on the wall and delightful home baking in the cabinets. This was the only place open for food and drink on my 67km journey and so I made the most of the rest and refuel. Outside on show on the lawn was the River Queen – the boat used in the movie of the same name. Matahiwi is only one of five villages on this road to Whanganui. All have Maori names and some have English second names. There are vast stretches where you see no one and no one passes you on the road. You feel like you are at one with nature, with passing tuis, wood pigeons and roadside peacocks the only signs of living souls. As my journey is part of the much longer 200km Mountain to Sea cycle route from Turoa to Whanganui, I had this feeling in my head I would be cycling downhill the whole way. Although it was largely down hill, there were also quite a few hills to cycle up – so definitely a good solid workout. The road followed the Whanganui River Road, which was tar sealed with bridges crossing small offshoot- streams. On the other side of the river there were only a few desolate houses and a cable reaches two of these with a flying fox over the river. On the flat home stretch it was much appreciated my accommodation for the night was on the riverside road and 2km before Whanganui city. Anndion Lodge is an eclectic place, run by Dion Ngatai who comes from Jerusalem and his wife Anne and they instantly make you feel at home. Their place is spread across three properties. There are ten self- contained suites with a 4.5- star rating and 11 lodge rooms with a five- star backpacker rating. Then there is the licensed Anndionce Restaurant and Harley Bar. My spacious and clean self- contained unit looked out over a swimming pool and spa. I must say after pedalling for the past five and a half hours, the hot bubbling spa pool was wonderful to sit in as the sun sent out its last rays for the day. The home- cooked, delectable meals on offer in the restaurant were devoured with much enthusiasm too. No need to cycle into town either, as Whanganui Tours picked up the bike and helmet from the lodge. This was an invigorating day in the saddle – and a rewarding evening at the lodge. New Zealand’s National Cycle Trails are certainly coming of age – opening up tourism opportunities where landscape, culture and history provide the backbone and the drive.
St Joseph’s Catholic Church, Jerusalem
Clockwise from left: A lone wood pigeon looks out over Jerusalem.
Lorraine Thomson at the beginning of the Jerusalem to Whanganui cycle tour.
Maori marae are dotted along this cycle route.
The glistening Whanganui River is New Zealand’s third- longest river.