The ferry ride was a real pleasure today – a blue sky afternoon as we cruise smoothly through Queen Charlotte Sound. The school holidays are long gone, so the ship is quiet and we score a window-side table to sip cappuccinos while we watch the lovely South Island slip away behind us.
The port city of Wellington is another matter. Revellers swell the sidewalks, drinking to the wins and losses of the Wellington Sevens, a rugby tournament of seven teams. It is a big deal here – the reason we had so much trouble finding a place, any place, to stay.
The Murton Motor Camp is a what tour books would call “basic.” As in “the fellow is still building it.” And he seems to have a hard time focussing. Everything is very clean and for $50 it’s adequate. But every single structure is in a state of “not quite finished.”
Everything. There are piles of lumber about ...neat piles, but piles of lumber just the same. There are cement walkways ...but they end halfway to nowhere. The kitchen has an opening to a dining room where the drywall is up but not mudded. Our cabin is finished, but not painted. And on and on.
But we do have a television and discover that the Wellington Sevens is on TV. Canada playing Scotland. We lose 10 to 5. But these tournament-style games are very short so I’m sure if it had been a full game we’d have found our footing and won. Sure of it.
Next morning we head back into Wellington to the Te Papa Museum. This is New Zealand’s national museum, a spectacular, purpose-built edifice that combines conventional museum displays with state-of-the-art exhibition technology.
We were there all day and still didn’t see it all. It was total information overload. We never even got to the “rides” on Level Two which do things like jolt you forward to Wellington 2055 or backwards to prehistoric times.
My favourite exhibition was the “junk store.” This is a shop, not dissimilar to many we mooched through in small town New Zealand. Nothing is ever thrown out ...there is always hope someone will buy a “Boys Guide to Responsible Manhood” or a formica step table or Patsy Cline warbling on vinyl.
In the Te Papa junk store the seats are a collection of oddsods. I made a beeline for an overstuffed plush lounger, while Steve got stuck with a straight-backed chrome kitchen chair. The lights dim and as they do, you realize that the wall-sized window in front of you is actually a screen, and the cars passing the window are all circ 1950s. As night falls, the grumpy old proprietor lowers the security gate and locks the door.
The movie that comes on is as much an oddsod collection as the gear in the shop. It’s brilliant really. A collage of video clips that cover everything and anything kiwi. Men march to war, earthquakes shake apart buildings, royals wave from trains and sheep are sheared in seconds. Just brilliant. Loved every minute of it.
Te Papa also has an excellent Maori gallery that includes a full-sized marae – or meeting house and a store house. Both were dismantled and rebuilt inside Te Papa. The carving is exquisite. There are extensive exhibitions on the art, heritage, navigation skills, and history of the Maori people. Quite a bit of square footage is given over to explaining why the use of Maori images, out of context, and for tacky tourist items is offensive. I got it, and ever after cringed at the sight of someone’s ancestor scowling off a t-towel or coffee mug.
is a ground floor
with its own
as well as performance
There was also an interesting exhibition of “Made in New Zealand” products. A “reclining rocker” by David Trubridge caught my eye ...a kind of a wooden hammock. The explanatory material went on and on about how comfortable this design was. I was wondering why they didn’t just put it out there for people to try instead of going on and on about how comfortable it was.
If I have a criticism of this museum it is that there was far too much “don’t touch” and not enough, “please touch”.
Good museum though, overall.
The main core of Wellington’s downtown area is small, only about 2 km wide. This is because the city is perched on the edge of a harbour, with mountains looming up directly behind and around. There is not much room to spread out, so the main centre has condensed itself into a very walkable core that encompasses all the main sites – museums, galleries, shops, bar and restaurant scene.
The architecture is an exciting mix of the historic and the contemporary, with whole streets, like Cuba Street, prancing out in decoratively carved limestone and wrought iron facades, while others are given over to contemporary steel and smoked glass.
We strolled down the streets, absorbing the energy still sparking from a weekend of rugby mayhem. A Chinese food cafe spilled out onto the street, offering all-you-can-eat buffet for $9.50 each. Suffice to say we gave it our best effort.
We carried on up the hill to where the cable car terminates in the Botanical Gardens. These gardens are famous for their 300 different species of roses and for the observatory. There were very few people about ...which seemed strange considering it was the Sunday afternoon of a long weekend. We took in the view and moved on.
The plan for the next week is to head north, up and around the eastern cape to Rotorua.
It is a cold and blustery morning as we head north up Hwy 2 to Masterton. But we are reminded that this is a narrow island and the weather passes over quickly. By noon it is warm and sunny enough for a picnic.
Masterton is where they hold the Golden Shears Competition each year, first week of March. This is the Olympics of Shearing and we are sorry to miss it. There is a Sheep Shearing Museum, but admission is $5 to see a lot of trophies and ribbons. We give it a miss.
We discovered the town’s art gallery, Aratoi, next door. It was exhibiting an eclectic mix of local artists and something called the “collected work”. Can’t say that I saw all that much that I liked. The “collected work” looked as if someone had died and their executor had gathered up and donated every piece of “art” in the house, including the children’s primary school crayonings. There were polished professional pieces and there were extremely amateurish and unfinished scribblings. And don’t tell me it was folk art. It wasn’t.
From there we carried on over 200 km up the back road to Waipukurau. This is one very long and winding road, undulating through the rolling, folding hills of sheep country. The reason we took this specific road is because the longest place name in the world is on it.
Taumatawhakatangihangakoauauotamateaturipukakapikimaungahoronukapokaiwhenuakitanatahu is the place where a Maori chief grieved the death of his brother. The name actually means “The hilltop where Tamatea, with big knees, conqueror of mountains, eater of land, traveller over land and sea, played his koauau (flute) to his beloved.” Tamatea’s beloved was in fact his brother who was killed during a battle in the area.
The place he played his flute is a prominent hill you can walk to – it takes about 4 hours. We took their word for it. There is no actual town. I think that was a disappointment to Steve.
In Waipukurau we found a nice cabin for the night. For $54 we got a bedroom with double bed, ensuite bathroom, kitchen/dining/living room. There was a fridge, full kitchen equipment and television. Steve spent the evening watching X2, a science fiction movie about mutants. I think he was still sulking about the longest place name being nothing more than a sign.
It is a peaceful place. The manager told us to help ourselves to plums from the overloaded orchard. Tree-ripened, they are so juicy and sweet. We took a big bagful for the road.
Carried on to Hastings the next morning, just 50 km or so down the road. The shop fronts in this town are all very art deco with hanging baskets every three feet and window boxes perched on top of overhangs, all bursting with colourful trailing petunias. It’s a really pretty town.
From there we carried on to Napier where we have a large standard cabin for the next two nights. There are big windows looking out on the park with a lovely breeze blowing in. Steve is not 100% thrilled about staying put for two nights. He prefers to be on the move but I’m tired of travelling to a new place every night. I need to nest and two nights in the same bed is not too much to ask.
In Napier we head for the National Aquarium of New Zealand. Being the “national” aquarium I was expecting quite a bit. It is actually quite small and they give over a lot of the space they do have to fish and critters from places like Africa, South America, and Asia.
They do have an acrylic tube that you walk though with lots of big fish and sharks swimming over and around you. There is also a shark feeding every afternoon when a scuba diver goes in with a bucket of fish and teases the resident shark into eating.
We followed up on the shark feeding by heading off to the possum museum. This was advertised as offering everything you ever wanted to know about possums. These rodents are considered a national disaster here – an introduced species that eat up tons of foliage and spreads TB.
Otherwise mild-mannered old ladies told me they’d shoot them on sight. Which doesn’t surprise me. In Australia I met a lovely old lady in her 90s who keeps a custom-built, spiked hoe at her back door for disemboweling cane toads. She swears she uses it a couple times a week. After seeing the aggressiveness of road-enraged Kiwi drivers, I’ve no doubt that little old ladies are capable of taking it out on possums.
The museum offered
I presume, but
who knows, these
people are crazy
on this subject.
Our second night in that cabin, Steve attempts to improve our bed. It has a very thin mattress over rigid wooden slats. We felt them all night. There is also a set of bunk beds in the cabin so he figures that if he takes the mattresses off the bunk beds and slides them under our double mattress, we’ll have a softer sleep.
This was true, but then we spent all night sliding into the middle and clawing our way back out to the edges. It wasn’t good.
Staying in cabins has its advantages over a campervan, but it has the disadvantage of putting you into a different bed virtually every night. What I have learned from this is that there are good nights when you sleep well and there are bad nights when you are awake all night. Yes, there are truly awful beds that keep you awake, but most beds are okay. The good nights or the bad nights simply are ...they are not a result of the bed.
Crawled out this morning and headed up the east coast for Gisborne. This is a 200 km day. That may not sound like much but it will take all day because the road twists and turns, goes up and down. There are numerous stops for roadwork or because we are down to one lane where a landslide has occurred or the road has given away.
The road is an especially pretty one, with deep indentations in the earth which folds upon itself, over and over again. Deep crevasses have been cut by creeks, some still flowing, some indicated only by the luxuriousness of the vegetation growing within the deep valley they’ve cut through the earth.
It does seem that Maori culture is more visible on the North Island. Our waitress at lunch, a young woman, has the traditional facial tattoos and many of the schools we pass feature beautiful carvings over their front doors and at their front gates.
It’s a cold, wet, and dreary day ...no photos today. At times the fog completely envelopes us.
We stop in Wairoa for a coffee and mooch around through the local museum and art gallery. It’s interesting that people care so much about their small town galleries. We almost always visit them and they are always staffed by what I assume are volunteers – people committed to keeping the town’s history and/or the art scene alive.
at the art shop
next door proved
to be an overflowing
fount of trivia
with a booming
her photos of
the area. She
to locals who
them off to relatives
of like home
grown post cards.
Carried on down the road to Gisborne, which sits on a nice stretch of ocean frontage. Our holiday park is right on the water. If it would quit raining it would be a nice place to hang out. Instead we head off to the local indoor pool for some exercise. We both feel oceans better for the exercise.
Driving through town, it’s obvious the art deco theme has continued up the coast from Napier. Interesting looking buildings and a bustling downtown core. They’ve planted palm trees every few feet up and down the main drag and it looks really nice. We are seeing a lot of palms on the roads and in the towns now. We are heading up into the more tropical areas of New Zealand ...so where is the sun?
After leaving Gisborne the next morning we come on a Saturday morning country market. There is no town and few houses to be seen out there, but people are arriving from surrounding farms, parking in the field and setting up tables. There is lots of produce of course, but also wines and jams and relishes. There are home made aprons and children's clothes and lots of knitting. I buy four aprons - at $3 each I could not resist. I also buy a ktichen knife. Handmade by a local fellow, it's the best balanced and most useful-looking knife I've ever seen.
The weather is still drizzly but there three ladies out on the porch with their accordions, playing up their own storm of toe-tappin' good cheer. It's infectious.
The next morning we travel around the Eastern Cape from Gisborne to Tolaga Bay to Tokomaru Bay to Te Araroa to Te Kaha and finally, to Opotiki where we’ve settled for the night. Our intention had been to make our home for the night at one of the above mentioned beaches. Alas, the weather was so nasty we just kept going.
At Te Araroa we stopped for gas and paid a whopping $1.62 per litre and glad to get it. We were running perilously low and at first glance this run down little town didn’t appear to have a service station. It didn’t, but I did notice a pump behind the dairy and it looked like it might be in service. So Steve walked around asking until he found the cheerful chap who could unlock the pump and take our money.
The terrain over the first half of the day was inland, with the lush green hills that fold in upon themselves, deeply crevassed where streams flow down their flanks. The sheep terrace the hills with their footpaths and we certainly saw a lot of them today. In fact, the highlight of the day was coming on a fellow and his dogs moving a mob of more than a thousand sheep.
The dogs were impressive, responding to commands from a little whistle held in the farmer’s teeth. When we came up on the back side of the mob, the farmer spit a pattern of sharp whistles and the dogs pushed the sheep off the left side of the road so we could ease on by. As I said, impressive.
Tomorrow we are off to Rotorua, home of the smelly thermal mudpits. Only human beings would actually pay $23 for the privilege of trudging around these skanky, oozing, open sores ...but they do, and we did, because if we didn’t, how could I tell you about it?