The best kept secret on North Island is a town that has been written off so many times and has risen to live again that it should be called “Phoenix”. The town is one of the prettiest on the whole island and enjoys a community spirit second to none. The town is, of course, Port Alice.
I have painted Alice a number of times over the years, always trying to find a view that is a little different from the thousands of photos that have been taken by photographers from everywhere. Alice is so photogenic that it is really hard not to take beautiful, picture-postcard photos; and why would you not? Especially true along their famous sea walk, where every turn engenders a great view of plummeting mountainsides along an inlet sprinkled with The Frigon Islands.
There are two other good reasons why I like to go to Port Alice to paint. Firstly, I love the drive past the rumbling Marble River Falls, up and over the pass with its myriad of gem-like lakes and finally downhill passing by a dazzling array of alders lined up like soldiers along the creek that runs alongside the highway. How many thousands of alders are there??? My second reason to paint in Alice is to have an excuse to go to the Victorian Steakhouse. Why is it that I always forget to take a lunch?
Port Alice gets really warm in summer (I swear they grow bananas). Often I have gone to paint there on one of our Port McNeill foggy mornings to find the sun had arrived early. The park at Port Alice includes the boat docks and rambles along beside the ocean for quite a ways. On this hot day I set up to paint at the opposite end of the park under a nice shady old hemlock, watching the park being enjoyed by kids from nine to ninety. I used all my “hot colours” to try to capture the moment, trying to hurry before the sun peeked around the hemlock. Then I would have to escape to the cool restaurant!
Gordon Henschel is a longtime North Island artist who owns a gallery in Nimpkish Heights. www.henschelfinearts.com