East Cape

Next stop: Tokomaru Bay

Our next stop, an entire twenty-four minutes from Tolaga Bay by car, is Tokomaru Bay. This small bay reminded me of Calliope Bay, the setting for one of New Zealand’s great unread classic novels, Sydney Bridge Upside Down by David Ballantyne. (Some suggest Hicks Bay, further up the coast, is the actual setting. But for me Tokomaru Bay has three of the key requirements:  a cliff, a crumbling wharf, and a disintegrating old freezing works; all in close proximity.)

The themes of this coming of age novel are bleak, the story dark, the narrator unreliable. I was hooked from the remarkable opening sentence: “There was an old man who lived on the edge of the world, and he had a horse called Sydney Bridge Upside Down.”

The ending is one of the most menacing in a novel, ever! And now, three years later, I was spooked at Tokomaru Bay Wharf. I don’t even believe in ghosts … much.

Unlike Tolaga Bay Wharf this small community still has to raise the funds to restore their old wharf. After the events earlier that morning, I’m sure you can appreciate I was relieved to see this sign.

Tokomaru Bay Wharf

Tokomaru Bay Wharf – it looks like the edge of the world to me. Photo suppled by John.

During it’s hey day more than four hundred ships a year berthed at the wharf. How things have changed. No signs of life, now.


John was fascinated by the place. Me not so much. I had a serious case of the creeps.

The cliffs of Tokomaru Bay - looking back in the direction of the township. Photo supplied by John.

Tokomaru Bay – looking back in the direction of the township. Photo supplied by John.

“I want a photo of that old freezing works,” I said to John. Leaving my handbag in the car, I high tailed it back up the road on foot.

The old freezing works, Tokomaru Bay

The old freezing works, Tokomaru Bay

I kept my eye out for Cal and Harry and Dibs, and Caroline – no sign of them, though. Just one lone dog who ventured on to the road to check me.  But he wasn’t game enough to approach the ruins, which I took as a bad sign.

Unlike Ballantyne’s characters, this was as close as I got!

Tokomaru Bay freezing works

Tokomaru Bay freezing works

My arrangement with John was that he would pick me up from the road outside the freezing works. I was there waiting. He drove past without seeing me.

Seriously weird. And not a good moment, my imagination being what it is. I was left there, just me, my camera, and the ghosts of Harry and Cal and Dibs Kelly. I’m surprised you can’t see them in my photos. But then again, it’s pretty difficult to catch the sensation of a haunting.

Fortunately, it’s the real world I inhabit. I hadn’t fallen through some veil of time, or landed in Ballantyne’s fictional world. John realised he must have driven past me and returned a few minutes later.

We ate our picnic lunch a few metres up the road at a table beneath these phoenix palms, well away from the nearby cliff, and happily plotted the rest of our trip and more besides.

DSCF6180Nevertheless, I was pleased when John suggested we have a cup of tea at the pub near the main road.


The welcome at Te Puka Tavern was warm and friendly. The next time we take a road trip around the Cape we might even stay there – it’s a safe distance from that old wharf and the freezing works.

For more interpretations of the Daily Post photo challenge visit Broken.

If you enjoy photography check out Photo101 Rehab.

And tell me, where in the world are your favourite novels set?

30 replies »

  1. Favourite novels, well Louis de Bernieres Birds Without Wings set in southwestern Anatolia, Turkey in the waning years of the Ottoman empire and James George’s Hummingbird set in Northland’s Ninety Mile Beach! Fabulous locations, both!


    • Ah, Claire, I’ve read Captain Corelli’s Mandolin which I enjoyed immensely. I followed it up with Red Dog but that didn’t grab me and I haven’t tried any more of de Bernieres’ work. Perhaps I should give Birds Without Wings a chance. I did read Hummingbird several years ago. The power of the relationships and the setting have stayed with me although I’ve forgotten the plot!

      Liked by 1 person

    • I was rather relieved, too pommepal! It was a strange feeling standing there on the side of the road, no wallet and no phone (which would have been useless anyway because there was no reception) and no-one else around. it would have been a long walk to the junction.


  2. Jill, even I became scared, as you described the place. And when you mentioned that your husband didn’t see you, my heart was beating faster. Great post and the photos are amazing. Thanks once more to bring them to the Photo Rehab.


  3. I guess you really have to read the book. It doesn’t look in the least bit spooky to me, but then I like a bit of dereliction 🙂 Mindst you it might not look so inviting in the rain…


  4. You’ve hooked me! I definitely need an East Coast road trip now. I’ve never heard of Ballantyne and am wondering what sort of education I had. I’ve ordered it from the library and it will be interesting to compare it to Morrieson’s books. And to The God Boy, which we read at school — and which admittedly couldn’t really be called gothic! In terms of novel’s settings; I adore Armisted Maupin’s Tales of the City books, and I’m sure part of that is that I love San Francisco. I’m also a Rebus fan, and again, I think the Edinburgh setting is part of the pleasure. Interesting that you found Tolaga Bay and Tokomaru BY so different. I can barely remember which was which from the long-ago visit I made. I’m so enjoying this series of posts Jill. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Su, If you read Sydney Bridge Upside Down, I’d love to know what you think of it. I have to confess to a certain lack of education of my own. The only Amisted Maupin I’ve read is “Maybe The Moon” which he wrote after the Tale of the City series. Could be time to correct that.

      I really enjoyed The God Boy when I read it, although you’re right, it’s not particularly gothic. It’s easy to by pass Tokomaru Bay – the wharf itself is a couple of Ks down a narrow side road. I think erosion might become a bit of a problem in the very near future. The road is very close to the sea, with waves breaking right up to it – all of which added to the creepy feel.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I’ve ordered it from the library! I haven’t read Maybe the Moon; I think it’s the only Maupin I haven’t read. I fell in love with the Tales of the City series after my first trip to San Franciso, and it’s something I dip back into every now and then. I enjoy the newness of each book as I move through life and see things differently. I first read them before motherhood — and definitely before middle age! I really must get back down Gisborne way soon. We started to “plan” some road trips the other day and somehow ended up looking at tropical holidays. The Big T really needs to just stop and do nothing for a while, so I think that might come before the road trip, but who knows 🙂 I’ll let you know what I think of the Ballentyne when I’ve read it.


  5. Oh and I did enjoy Sydney Bridge Upsidedown because I spent every summer of my youth at Hicks Bay. I recognised the geography there but I can see how it easily fits Tokomaru Bay too now. Although the author did live in Hicks Bay at one time of his life.


    • A spectacular place to spend youthful summers, Bronwyn. It was the proximity of the cliffs and the red bricks of the freezing works that transported me back to the novel when I was at Tokomaru Bay. I wondered whether the setting might actually be an amalgam of both places. I have been to Hicks Bay, not on this trip, but I haven’t checked out the old freezing works there.


  6. Interesting Jill. I just read Sydney Bridge Upsidedown and the foreword does say Hicks Bay. But you are certainly in the right area for the same vibe. Spooky possum.


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