I have a thing about cemeteries: I like visiting them. I would hasten to add this is not because I have either a macabre fetish for the dead or an interest in connecting with the spirit world. I think it is probably wise for me to add a disclaimer here: I have never met a ghost.  Having said this, I have some very sensible friends who swear that they have had encounters with our dearly departed, so I am not totally dismissive of the idea either.

Anyway, back to the visiting graves bit. The reason I include them on my must do list, particularly when I visit a new place, is that the cemetery gives me a bit of information regarding the history of the area. For the granny hunters reading this, you will know exactly what I mean. A graveyard provides details about the families that lived in the locale.

I wasn’t always a cemetery fan. As a small child, I found anything to do with death disturbing. The first graveyard I have memories of visiting was with my parents while holidaying when  I was about 6 or 7. I think it was near Ngunguru. Situated on a headland, the headstones were scattered among large trees.  My recollection is that the graves dated back to the late 19th century and were predominantly those of European settlers. There was an over-representation of children who had succumbed to illnesses. There was also a lot of drowning victims, both children and adults. This is hardly surprising; losing your life in a water mishap, particularly rivers, was so common in this part of the world, it was referred to as the New Zealand death.*

In adulthood, I have no concerns about being among the dead, indeed I find it a peaceful experience.  Last Sunday I decided a trip to Purewa Cemetery was in order. For those of you who read my post ‘Grave Matters’, I mentioned that I had discovered my maternal grandmother’s ashes were interred in her parents’ grave and that I would visit. I convinced the man that a trip there was the best idea. He agreed. In addition to seeing where my grandmother’s mortal remains lay, I also wanted to see my great great granddad’s headstone which I had visited in the early nineties with my mother.

Through using the Purewa cemetery online search (http://www.purewa.co.nz/search.asp), I had the location of my forebears’ earthly remains sorted.   Now Purewa is big, a lot bigger than I remembered, but as the weather looked settled and we weren’t in any particular hurry, we parked the car and headed off on foot. As my great great grandfather is buried in the A section, it was logical to start looking for his headstone first.

James Biddick's headstone, Purewa
James Biddick and his wife, Emily’s, headstone, Purewa (other family members’ graves on left and right of James and Emily’s)

Purewa provides signposts with maps at regular intervals. Within the actual graves, however, there are very few markings (we saw one) telling you which row is which.  Add to this the fact that the graves are a bit higgledy-piggledy and what should have been straightforward became difficult. Twice we had to return to the board to reposition ourselves with the ‘You are here’  and then set off again. The sun gave way to hail.  Eventually we located  the headstone of James and his wife, Emily. Unexpectedly, there were two other family headstones there. A nice bonus.

Emily Elizabeth Wilcox (my grandmother) ashes are interred here with her parents

The next headstone on the list   was my grandmother’s parents. Locating this was an absolute nightmare, taking over an hour to find. It rained steadily. Our shoes leaked (truly).  We persevered. The grave when we finally discovered it  was a simple plaque with my great grandparents’ names on it, but sadly  no mention of my grandmother. I think this  needs some thought.

This week we are driving to Tauranga. We will pass the Waihi cemetery where my mother’s paternal grandfather and coincidentally the man’s great grandfather are both buried. Needless to say, we will pop in to say hi.

  • * I received this reply to an email I sent re Ngunguru cemetery (often referred to as Cape Horn cemetery) this morning.  I am really grateful for the information provided, as well as the photos that Whangarei District Council sent through. I can see why I was very scared of this place when I was little!
  • Good Morning Heather. Thank you for your enquiry. Yes this Cemetery is all that you described in your email.It is on a hill with large pine trees and has a mixture of Maori, young children and drowned sailors, as well as people from the surrounding area.I have attached a few pictures for you to look at.Kind regards  Stephen Jenkins. WDC         Cemetery ngunguru
  •  cemetery ngunguru 2