NZWSA Whanganui Camp 2023

A reflection of the New Zealand Williams Syndrome camp held in Whanganui, January 2023 by Sandra Paterson

After waiting four years for this camp we were excited to catch the plane from Dunedin to fly to Wellington, where we picked up a rental car. We visited Te Papa, the cable car, looked around Parliament grounds, shopped and ate, slept the night and then made our way up to Whanganui, stopping off in Levin to see my elderly Aunty, and also calling into the various beautiful towns on the Kapiti Coast. We were very impressed with the new Transmission Valley Highway - money well spent on such an important transport route. It's been quite a few years since we had been to Whanganui. It was beautiful back then, and we feel it's even more so now. The lovely old buildings, gardens, river and town centre - a really lovely part of New Zealand. We found the Whanganui Collegiate easily and drove in and parked right by the library. This is an impressive school to look at, clusters of very old brick buildings, along with new, and grand halls, gym, library, swimming pool, all set around vast playing fields.

The weather was superb, probably too hot, but we found some shade under the trees and in the well ventilated library. We were met by the Slone, Vaireka, Gordon and Ward families who handed out our goody bags and then Brenda and Kylie escorted us to our houses and our rooms/dorms.

The accommodation was in the boys' dorms and this was not what we were expecting. We had to walk up and down stairs, the showers, etc, weren't suitable to some families needs, and therefore it caused quite a few problems for some, especially the younger families. We were under the impression we were to be placed in the newer "girls" dorms, but these were allocated to another group. Anyway, after the shock of the first night, we just got on with things and enjoyed ourselves. We have mentioned this to the school so they are aware of the difficulties a group like ours faced.

We went along to the dining room for a very nice afternoon tea which enabled us to catch up with everybody and have a good chat. Later we went along to the gym and Mao welcomed us all and discussed some of the planned activities we were to enjoy. We then went to tea, which was followed by wine and cheese in the library. It was a great way for everybody the meet and chat and the kids could play. And then it was off to bed!

Next morning, for those who were keen, Taryn Ward was taking a personal training class in the gym. But as I'm not an early riser I just went along to breakfast making it there at one minute before 8am!  But there was still plenty to eat as there were a few other late risers!

It was then off to the Farmers Market in town down along the riverbank. We went by van with Mao and others as Martin had to pick Charlotte up from Palmerston North airport. What a great event, there were heaps of stalls, lots of food and entertainment, and the place was buzzing. It was the Whanganui Vintage Weekend - some people were dressed in vintage clothes, the main street was full of vintage cars on display and a brass band played 1930/40's music which had everybody tapping their toes and singing along!

When we came back to the school Brent Ward had his 4-wheel vehicle and gave some a noisy ride around the carpark! ! We then collected our packed lunches which we ate on the grass playing field under the trees. Later, quite a few went for a swim in the outdoor swimming pool having lots of fun. Afterwards, the kids practised for the Williams' Got Talent Quest with Stu Green (who has assisted at previous camps).

Due to the last minute cancellation of a couple of speakers the adults met together as a group in the library - the younger parents talking with older parents about issues they were concerned about and asking for advice. It was so good to help one another "face to face" and maybe we can do it again at other camps as it proved to be beneficial to everybody.

Later everybody went and quickly had a delicious tea before making their way to the Auditorium for the Williams' Got Talent Quest.

And what talent there was!! We had singers, pianists, dancers, drummers, kapahaka and more. The crowd went wild, they joined in singing and clapping and giving standing ovations - the talent was sooo good! The judge was Nicky Rennie the School Liaison Officer.

She had such a difficult job to choose a winner, but in the end it was Joint First Place to Manaakiao Timoti for his amazing Kapahaka performance, and Bob Hastie as Ringo from the Beatles on the drums! Everybody was presented with a certificate and had their photo taken. A big thank you to Stu for accompanying and helping the guys with their acts. It was then off to bed for some, and to the house living rooms for others!

After a leisurely breakfast it was time for the AGM. Afterwards we had a zoom meeting with Jessica Reeve from Macquarie University in Australia who discussed her research into the development of young WS children. Unfortunately Melanie Porter was unable to attend. The older siblings looked after the younger children while the parents attended the meetings, playing games, going for a swim and just hanging out. They were a great help and enabled parents to not have to worry what their wee ones were up to. Thanks guys.

We then picked up our packed lunches and drove to Kowhai Park on the other side of the river and enjoyed all the activities on offer. The ride-on steam train was a big hit! Then it was back to the town side of the river to board the Waimarie Steamboat. This boat had been submerged under water for years and was dug up, restored, and now she proudly sails once again up the river.

We had booked the whole boat out for that sailing and it was a relaxing fun trip up the river. The Assn put funds on the bar/counter for drinks for everybody - so it was rather nice playing ladies, sitting in the sun, sipping my wine and talking! We disembarked and made our way back to camp for dinner.

We were just sitting down to eat when the fire alarm went off which was fantastic for many. The kitchen ladies said it was a false alarm, but 2 fire engines arrived. My Sam and others were delighted and talked to the firemen and had their photos taken, and I think they were disappointed there wasn't a fire to put out!

After tea we headed to the sports field and released balloons and blew bubbles in remembrance of Sarah Barnes who passed away last year. It was a lovely way to say farewell to Sarah, a beautiful free spirit.

Then it was a quick change of clothes and off to the very old grand hall, a perfect venue for the night! Christina gave out thank you presents to various people who helped organise things for the Assn and then the raffles were drawn - with all ticket holders getting a prize.

Then it was disco time!! George Stilwell and Jess Slone were the DJ's and put on a great range of music getting everybody up dancing and singing all night. The speakers were the ones Kit Crawford donated and they were perfect, thanks Kit.

Next morning we went to breakfast knowing this would be to say farewell to everybody. Luckily all we had to do was put the sheets and towels in the baskets, and there was no other cleaning, etc, involved. We had had such a wonderful time we really didn't want to leave. It's always so sad leaving camp, but we are now looking forward to the next one in two years' time! We started our journey home, dropping Charlotte at the Palmerston North airport then stopping in Paraparaumu for the night before flying home from Wellington the next day, full of many happy memories to cherish.

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