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

Travel Digest - - FRONT PAGE - Lor­raine Thom­son was hosted by Visit Whanganui and An­ndion Lodge.

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.

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