Episode 13: Taupo/Napier/Wellington/Picton/Nelson/Westport, New Zealand
Beard length (Tom): Local tramp
Skin colour (both): Labrador
Location: Westport, New Zealand
Date: 10th May 2010.
If you’re easily exhausted, stop reading now, because this update involves a lot of walking and driving. In fact, that’s almost all we’ve done since my last post.
I’ll update you on the Kiwi driving behaviour and roads in a crescendo of disgust at the end of this post, but until then, you’ll have to follow me on a whistle-stop tour of New Zealand and put up with me being fairly positive I’m afraid.
Firstly, you’ll be pleased to hear that not everything is too expensive here. We can recommend: National Parks in the winter; wine (yes, we’ve decided 3 weeks without booze is too much to ask!); fish and chips; laundry and steak. All the essentials really.
Other good news is that our cheap version of the thermal experience (Orakei Karako) was terrific and we had it practically to ourselves. Unfortunately we managed to just miss the large geyser doing its thing, but we saw small geysers in action and plenty of bubbling mud pools, colourful silica formations and a very impressive cave with a crystal clear pool at the bottom (now I’m typing this it sounds pretty average, but I can assure you it wasn’t).
From the thermal highway (as it’s known) we headed to Taupo, on the shores of the originally named Lake Taupo, for a walk up to Huka Falls. It wasn’t quite Iguassu, but it was an easy enough walk, without too much off the level, so was right up our street.
Talking of walking, we’re finding that we are much closer to the “estimated walking time” of walks in New Zealand after being well inside the suggested times in South America. We suspect this is because we’re less fit than average Kiwis and more fit than average South Americans. We’ll be consulting the world obesity table before going on any hiking holidays.
The drive from Taupo southwards was really picturesque. It’s difficult, if not illegal, to take photos whilst driving, so unfortunately I can’t give you a taste of the experience, but it’s fair to say that I would be in my element if I was driving say, my father-in-law’s classic sports car, rather than a lumbering tin behemoth which screams like an attention-seeking teenager at the very hint of an incline (and there are plenty of them!).
Jane was very excited heading south, for two reasons. Firstly, we were to treat ourselves to “fosh and chops” that evening (delicious fosh but sadly not home-made chops). Secondly, the following day we would be (kind of) following in the footsteps of the hobbits from Lord of the Rings by tramping around Mount Doom in Tongariro National Park.
And so it was that on a bright but cold morning, Jane took on the role of Frodo Baggins and I barely had to visit make-up and costume to assume the character of Fat Samwise Gangees, as we tramped around the imposing volcanic cone (can you tell that Jane is helping me out with some details here, her obsession is embarrassing). Sadly, having left scary Steve behind in Argentina, we had no Gollum.
No matter: the tramping was excellent, the tracks forgiving, the weather near-perfect.
Following a lengthy and exhausting drive, we arrived in Napier. It’s a very sleepy place – we went on a self-guided walking tour around the Art Deco centre and it was practically deserted – this was mid-morning on a working day. I’m sure it’s a fantastic place to live and work, but being the live-wires that we are, craving excitement at every turn, we left it after our walk and headed south once more, towards Wellington.
The drive to Wellington was another long one – 5 hours with an especially hair-raising section towards the capital, through mountains on steep twisting roads with strong cross-winds!
The curse of the museum struck again in Wellington, when we arrived at the Te Papa museum to find the doors firmly locked and a sign saying that it didn’t open until 10am. We killed an hour by wandering round the city (deserted again, at 9am on a week-day, does nobody work in NZ?).
When the museum did open it was pretty good (and more importantly, free), including a fascinating exhibit of a colossal squid and an “ejaculation helmet”. It didn’t beat the Auckland museum though.
That was the end of the North Island then, as we boarded our ferry bound for Picton on the other side of the Cook Strait. It was a lovely smooth crossing, with fantastic scenery on the way into the South Island.
We’ve been alternating driving with walking since our arrival in the South. The first day was a drive on the Marlborough Sounds coastal road, followed by an uphill climb on the Queen Charlotte track to a lookout, in persistent drizzle.
We then drove on to Nelson, where at 3pm on a Saturday afternoon the majority of the shops were closed! After a sleep deprived night due to a sloping pitch, I girded my loins for another nerve-shredding drive to the Abel Tasman National Park, where we did an easy 11km hike on part of the popular track.
We followed the coast and lunched on a beach in glorious sunshine (as Jane keeps saying, we’ve been really lucky with the weather so far – I keep telling her not to tempt fate!).
Today we drove to two glacial lakes (Rotoiti and Rotoroa) for more tramping in the woods before fleeing a concerted sand-fly attack at lunch-time and driving over to the west coast, and that’s where you find us, contemplating the price of the internet (extortionate) and debating whether New Zealand is much more than the Cumbria but with more road-kill (I say yes, Jane says no).
Before I leave you, I promised more belligerence on the topic of roads and drivers here. Enjoy:
- There are signs EVERYWHERE advising people how to drive (my favourite: “Too Fast? Slow down”). I admit these moronic drivers certainly need them, but I’m almost certain that these signs encourage a lack of concentration on the task at hand, and presumably are responsible for more accidents than they prevent.
- The exception to the above are speed limit signs, especially after you have been told to reduce your speed for road works – you’re rarely told when you can increase it again, meaning that I end up with infuriated Kiwis queued behind me because I’m unwilling to gamble that the speed limit has increased and would rather not risk a ticket (they seem to have an innate knowledge of the invisible point at which the speed limit goes from 30 to 100 and at this point start flashing their lights and gently nudging your rear bumper).
- Arbitrary temporary speed limits, purportedly for road works, but there’s never any works or workmen (I know this occurs in the UK as well).
- An inability to judge speed or distance, and consequently a habit of pulling out on you forcing you to slam the brakes on. This happens so often it’s not funny – mostly it’s annoying rather than dangerous, but occasionally it borders on lunacy (you don’t pull out 20 feet in front of a Japanese work of art rattling along at 100 km/h and with suspect brakes if you value your car).
That’s it for now then. The next update will be when we’ve saved up enough for another internet session.