Newspaper Article 1998 – Katherine Mansfield’s Napier-Taupo holiday

The Hawke’s Bay Herald Tribune, Tuesday, October 11, 1988


Katherine Mansfield’s Napier-Taupo holiday

Classroom Today looks at Katherine Mansfield on the centennial of her birth, and at the camping holiday she undertook around the North Island beginning and ending at Napier. It was the only extended look New Zealand’s most well-known author ever had at her own country and today we retrace her route. Katherine Mansfield is famous for the minute details of description in her stories and by reading notes from her holiday diary and studying photographs from the time, we can understand how her keen observational powers helped her writing. Thanks to Peter Goodbehere and the Hawke’s Bay Art Gallery and Museum.

A Hawke’s Bay Herald-Tribune Educational Project

Camping with Katherine Mansfield

Katherine was 19 when she set off by train to Napier with her friend Millie Parker.

Millie was the 26 year old relative of Hastings solicitor George Ebbett and his family who had invited them along on the family camping holiday.

As the train rattled along leaving Wellington at 7.15, stopping by late afternoon for lunch at Woodville, Katherine notes in her diary. –

‘There is something inexpressibly charming to me in railway travelling – I lean out of the window – the breeze blows, buffeting and friendly against my face – and the child spirit – hidden away under a thousand and one grey City wrappings burst its bonds and exults within me. I watch the long succession of brown paddocks – beautiful with here a thick spreading of buttercups – there a white sweetness of arum lilies. Below us lay a shivering mass of white native blossom – a clump of toi toi waving in the wind, looking for all the world like a family of little girls drying their hair.

Early next morning, Sunday 17th November 1907, the other members of the group met Katherine and Millie at the Ebbett’s house in Hastings. They were Hastings farmer Mr Hill, Ann Leithead, from a Hawke’s Bay station and Hastings chemist H. J. Webber and his wife and were quickly away through Napier to the Esk Valley. The party travelled in a roofed coach with open sides and seating for four, and a luggage waggon, each drawn by 2 horses. Each night they erected a large white tent divided by a central partition.

Katherine was soon awake on her first hot Hawke’s Bay morning and she notes in her diary. –

“I was hot and tired and full of discomfort – the frightful buzzing of the mosquitos – the slow breathing of the others seemed to weigh upon my brain for a moment and then I found that the air was alive with bird’s song.

The following excerpts from Katherine’s diary and letters allow us to share the trip with her.

On lunch at Woodville Station

Picture to yourself a great barn of a place – decorated with paper flowers and long tables

On imagining a battle at Petane near Eskdale

‘Round us in the darkness the horses were moving softly with a most eerie sound – visions of long dead Maoris – of forgotten battles and vanished feuds stirred in me.’

On Te Pohue

The manuka and sheep country is very steep and bare yet relieved here and there by rivers and willows and little bush ravines. Millie, Mrs Webber and I followed the bush. The tuis really sounded like rivers running.’

On walking a steep section at Titiokura

Titiokura – the rough road and glorious mountains and bush – the view – we laugh with joy all day – we lunch past the Maoris pah and then we get right into the bush.’

On the Waipunga Falls

My first experience of great waterfalls they are indescribably beautiful – three – one beside the other and a ravine of bush either side. I am sitting now on the bank of the river – just a few yards away. I saw families of wild pigs and horses . . . The horses are such dear old things – they nearly ate my head through the tent last night. I am still bitten and burnt but oil of camphor, Solomon solution, – glycerine and cucumber – rose water are curing me. This is the way to travel – it is so slow and absolutely free. I am very happy.

By December 15th the party had completed their journey and said farewell in Hastings. Katherine visited her friend Edie Bendall who was staying in Napier to explain the wonders of her trip and on the next day, December 17th, Katherine returned with Millie to Wellington. Her one holiday into New Zealand’s heartland was over.

The first camp of the journey at Eskdale, just north of Napier, 17/11/1907. From left the campers are Ann Leithead, Millie Parker, Mrs Ebbett, Mrs Webber, Katherine, Hill, Mr Ebbett (loading wagon).

The Bath House, Tarawera

“We reached the Tarawera Hotel in the evening and camped in a little bush hollow. . .

Grubby, my dear I felt dreadful – my clothes were white with dust – we had accomplished 8 miles of hill climbing – so after dinner (broad beans cooked over a camp fire and tongue and cake and tea) we prowled round and found an ‘aged aged man’ who had the key of the mineral baths. . . He guides us through the bush track by the river. . . I don’t think he ever possessed a tooth and he never ceased talking – you have the effect?

The Bath House is a shed – three of us bathed in a great pool – waist high. . . the water was very hot and like oil – most delicious. . . and when we came out each drank a great mug of mineral water – luke warm and tasting like Miss Wood’s eggs at their worst stage – But you feel inwardly and outwardly like velvet.”

The Lake at Te Pohue
“We drove on through the sheep country to Pohui that night – past Maori pahs and nothing else – and pitched our tents at the top of a bare hill above the Pohui Accommodation House kept by a certain Mr Bodley . . . with 14 daughters who sit and shell peas all day!”

Napier-Taupo Road, 1907.

In those days the road was not the fast highway it is today. Katherine writes of ‘the fierce’ wind – the flax and manuka – the bad roads – camp by the river – then the heat to Rangitaiki to post letters – my clothes were white with dust.’

A Poem Written in Hastings, December 14, 1907

At the end of her trip, her mind full of a memory of falling manuka blossom, and countless other images from the exciting journey, the nineteen year old Katherine sat in the Ebbett’s house in Hastings and wrote the following poem.


O Flower of You
See in my hand I hold
This blossom flaming yellow and pale gold
And all its petals flutter at my feet
Can Death be sweet?

Look at it now!
Just the pale green is heart
Heart of the flower seems white and bare
The silken wrapping scattered on the ground
What have I found?

If one had come
On a sweet summer day
Breathless half waking – full of youth I say
If one had done it
What happens then?

Sighing it dies
In the dawn flush of life
Never to know the terror and the strife
Which kills all summer blossoms when they blow
Far better so
Ah! better better so

World joins in anniversary

Katherine Mansfield achieved international fame as a writer. Her centennial is being celebrated with literary conferences, seminars and special events throughout the world.

The ninth European Conference on Commonwealth Literature was held in Nice from March 22 to 26. Nearly half of it was devoted to Katherine Mansfield’s work.

In March, in the German town of Bad Worishofen, a plaque was unveiled on the Pension Muller where Katherine Mansfield wrote her first book.

Chicago’s Newberry Library, which holds one of the major collections of Katherine Mansfield memorabilia, staged a special exhibition in September.

Many universities in Europe have also organised special events. C. K. Stead and Professor Ian Gordon will be presenting papers at a three-day symposium at the University of Leige [Liège] in Belgium from October 13 to 15.

On October 22, New Zealand House, in London, will be host to a special Katherine Mansfield Day. Karl Stead will give the keynote address.

Three sets of a photographic exhibition, commissioned by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, are on tour in Europe, North America and Asia.

Sketch map of
(camping sites numbered in sequence)

Waikato River
12   Atiamuri
10   Waiotapu
Rangitaiki River
Waikato Riverside Camp   13
6   Troutbeck Station Galatea
14   Huka Falls
Kaingaroa Plains Camp   5
Te Whaiti   7/9
Umuroa   8
Rangitaiki (Hotel, Store)   4
15   Roadman’s Paddock, Rununga
L Waikaremoana
Waipunga Falls
3/16   Tarawera
2/17   Te Pohue
Eskdale   1/18
Hawke Bay

Original digital file


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Date published

11 October 1998

Format of the original

Newspaper article

Creator / Author

  • Rod Dowling


The Hawke's Bay Herald-Tribune


Published with permission of Hawke's Bay Today


  • Edie Bendall
  • George Ebbett
  • Peter Goodbehere
  • Professor Ian Gordon
  • Ann Leithead
  • Katherine Mansfield
  • Millie Parker
  • C K Stead
  • Karl Stead
  • H J Webber
  • Miss Wood
  • Mesdames Ebbett, Webber
  • Messrs Boden, Hill

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