Message in a bottle mystery solved 16 years later

By Andrew Board

Maria Gibney, left, is reunited with the message in a bottle she wrote as a 10-year-old with the two ladies who found it, Cheryl Baird, centre, and Sharon Gomulski. Photo / Andrew Board
Maria Gibney, left, is reunited with the message in a bottle she wrote as a 10-year-old with the two ladies who found it, Cheryl Baird, centre, and Sharon Gomulski. Photo / Andrew Board

A message in a bottle found in the Chatham Islands last week has helped solve the mystery of another letter in a bottle found on Nelson's Boulder Bank more than a decade ago.

Cheryl Baird, of Richmond, and Sharon Gomulski, of Brightwater, found a message inside a plastic Coke bottle on the Boulder Bank while out for a walk on March 24, 2000. When they got home they read the note from a ten-year-old girl, who wrote that she had "long auburn hair with freckles on my face and my arms".

The message was thrown from the Pakawau Beach in Golden Bay 13 months earlier and the young girl finished her message by scribbling: "If you try to find me go to Pakawau and find a house that's pink."

Cheryl and Sharon did, several times, but had no luck finding the pink house and over the years forgot about the message - until last week when an article which featured in several news outlets told the story of a Blenheim woman who threw a message in a bottle from Picton in 1995. It was found washed up in the Chatham Islands last month.

"When we saw the story on the Picton lady I said to Sharon, 'do we still have our message in a bottle?" says Cheryl.

They did, and a quick Facebook search revealed the writer of the message immediately.

"I couldn't believe how easy it was after all these years. Of course, there was no Facebook back then. But I put in her name and there she was, Maria Gibney."

Now 27, Maria, who lives in Tahunanui, vaguely remembers writing the note and says she was stunned when Cheryl sent her a private message via Facebook. "I was like 'whaaaaat?' This is crazy."

She laughed at the note her ten-year-old self wrote, "I don't know why I thought it was a good idea to describe myself, obviously that was important to me."

The three quickly arranged to meet up and Maria says it was emotional. "My grandparents had a house over there so I spent a lot of my summers over there. This is really special to me, I had a great childhood and it brought up a lot of memories.

"When my grandfather passed away, my grandmother moved to Nelson. I think it was probably one of the last times that we were there."

Cheryl and Sharon say they were just happy to have solved the mystery of the message.
"We've been walking together once a week for 20 years and I'm always fossicking. Sharon always tells me off and I remember the day we found the bottle I was picking up some rope and a bit of net and Sharon told me off. It was when I was there getting the rope that I saw the bottle and that it had a letter inside it. It would have been hard to see because it was the same colour as the rocks."

Cheryl told Sharon she could see a note in it and they tried to read it then and there, but were distracted by some young men in an inflatable raft getting into trouble.

"We helped them get ashore and then took one of them to Richmond, so forgot about the bottle for a bit. After we read it we looked for this little pink house in Pakawau, but we could never find it."

Sharon says they both went over a couple of times to look for the house but eventually packed the message away and, over time, forgot about it.

"It's always been in the back of our minds, we thought 'we have to find this girl'," says Cheryl.

"It's amazing, really, that Maria is still in Nelson and still has the same surname. It's such a great ending to the story."

Maria says she's going to frame the note, alongside a photo of her grandparents' bach.

- Nelson Weekly

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