Small-town New Zealand: the last place you’d expect to find Vikings. Enter Dannevirke, a rural community somewhere between Napier and Wellington. With a name that literally translates to ‘Dane’s work’, Dannevirke was settled in the nineteenth century by predominantly Danish Scandinavian immigrants. Just in case you weren’t aware of its heritage, the town has its own Heimdall, a gatekeeper in the form of a giant Viking guarding the road in, welcoming the weary traveller – and that’s just the beginning.
Dannevirke contains a horde of Viking references. Along the main street, for example, the traffic barriers are adorned with shields. There’s a Viking going berserk above the entrance of the information centre, and there’s even a Viking longship in the form of a children’s playground! There’s also a windmill – not that that’s Viking, but it does look cool – and an intriguing, little place called the Fantasy Cave.
Dannevirke windmill
If you visit Dannevirke, you should also check out the nearby heritage village of Norsewood. As its name implies, Norsewood was also settled by Scandinavians – in this case, of course, Norwegians. Its streets, which all have awesome names like Thor and Odin, are teeming with trolls! Well… statues of trolls. You can let them show you Norsewood’s history by embarking upon the Troll Walk.
Norsewood Trolls
Norsewood also features the rather good Pioneer Cottage Museum, the mystical Gateway Garden and the Southern Hemisphere’s only stave church, which can be found at Johanna’s World, along with a traditional Norwegian log cabin and a ‘troll cave’. Oh, and there’s a sock shop. We mustn’t forget the sock shop. You can buy Viking socks.
Norsewood Gateway Garden
Throughout Norsewood, you’ll keep seeing this symbol:
Norsewood wagon wheel
You might think it’s supposed to be a shield, but it’s a wagon wheel. Why the obsession with wagon wheels, you ask? Well, the so-called ‘Scandi wagon’ was a nineteenth century bush wagon, developed by the area’s Scandinavian immigrants because the terrain was too tough for ordinary bush wagons to handle. The wheel’s even present on this Viking-style pole near the sock shop:
Norsewood carving
Be aware that Norsewood is split in two by State Highway 2. Upper Norsewood is where the party’s at, but you’ll have to cross into Lower Norsewood if you want to buy some socks.
Norsewood street names
The best place to stay around Dannevirke and Norsewood is the Dannevirke Holiday Park, especially if you’re in a campervan. The ratio of niceness to cheapness is spot on.
So it turns out New Zealand does have Vikings… sort of.
Article by Abigail Simpson, author of Poms Away: A British Immigrant’s View of New Zealand