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Big World; Small Adventures
8th Mar 2006 - 11th Mar 2006
Journey down South

I know it's been a while since I've written anything and I've done so much, but it's been hard justifying sitting in front of a computer when I could be outside in the sun or getting some shut eye ready for another day's adventures - I know you understand. Anyway, after my dive and lots of lovely home cooked food from Yvonne, I left Whangarei and started my slightly belated drive south towards Wellington. There were a lot of miles to cover so I made a couple of stops. The first was in Te Awamutu where I sought out another of Yvonne's recommendation, this time a lodge/backpackers off the beaten track called Castle Rock. And what a good recommendation it was too. It was a beautiful 'ranch' style place with a separate 10 bed dorm away from the main house. Luckily there were only 5 of us staying - 3 Swedish girls and an English guy - so we had the run of the place. Apart from the converted barn/garage that was the dorm, there were also washing and shower rooms, a large kitchen with all fittings and conveniences and cosy lounge with full home ents system. Plus there was a spa pool over at the main house. The buildings were set among rolling fields with only some cows for neighbours and when I arrived the others were already enjoying some beers and chilling out to Jack Johnson (definately NZ's theme at the moment). This is the heart of world class rock climbing country so the scenery was stunning - boulders and pinaccles of rock protruded from the ground around the ranch and there were sheer rock faces to challenge the discerning enthusiast. However I didn't have time for any of that so after a sunny breakfast on the veranda with the cows, I hit the road again heading west out to New Plymouth and Mt Taranaki. This mountain is NZ's own Mt Fuji and has even appeared as a stunt double for the real thing in some films. It's also the most climbed mountain in the country, although I took a more leisurely approach to my visit. The drive there was the best yet and the landscape was significantly different to that up north as it was greener and less rugid. I passed through dense forest, along the edge of the deep Awakino Gorge and then out to the spectacular coast at Mokau with its stunning black sand beach. I found a lovely spot to take some photographs with a bleached pohutakawa tree trunk set against the black sand with the receding tide leaving pools of water reflecting the sheer blue sky (photos will follow just as soon as I can upload them).

I thought Mt Taranaki was beautiful with its snow capped peak rising clear above everything around it. I was pleased the weather had stayed fairly good so there were only a few clouds in the sky. I witnessed its majesty from across a lake of black swans and an army of ducks who were all after my crackers and cheese. As I enjoyed my civilised lunch in front of the lake I finally gave in and tossed a small piece of cracker to the ducks. After a blinding skirmish of beakks and feathers the lucky duck that grabbed it then spent the next 45mins being chased by the rest of the pack. Every few minutes he'd run past me clutching the cracker apparently unable to eat it and with the others hot on his tale. You had to to be there!

I ended my day in Wanganui, a river town of no particular interest but nice enough. It was here I met Tom from Banbury, hiding out in the lounge from a hoard of girl guide style marching girls (complete with matronly guardians) that had taken over our YHA. He became my travel buddy for the next few days since he was also heading to Wellington. In the morning we set off, stopping only for a windy lunch beside SH1. He had a friend to see in Wellington and I met up with my lovely second cousins Pam & Johnnie and their old dog Bodie. It was great to see them again and they showed me endless hospitality. I spent the following day being guided around the best sights in Wellington by Pam and surprisingly getting a good tan at the same time since the weather was suddenly gorgeous, although a little windy but that's just typical of Wellington. We saw the old and new buildings of the town hall and council halls as well as the legendary Te Papa Museum. We were lucky enough to stumble across a band rehearsing for the Arts Festival concert that evening and heard a beautiful track accompanied by traditional Maori Poi dancing. Being the avid photographer that I am it was also a treat to see the EARTH FROM THE AIR photographic portrait exhibition by Yann Arthus-Bertrand set out along the harbour. That evening we all went to a 21st birthday party for the granddaughter of a friend of Pam and Johnnie's and I was once again privilledged to experience great NZ hospitality.

After a slightly sad farewell to Pam and Johnnie the following day, I was back in my car with Tom and heading for the Art Deco capital of the world - Napier. THis place was flattened in 1931 by a devastating earthquake but luckily for architectural history it was therefore rebuilt almost entirely inthe 1930's Art Deco style. It rained most of the way there but once we arrived it cleared and we found ourselves a bar to settle into. Having spent so much time relaxing I now felt ready to party a little but that was to prove a little more difficult than we thought since despite there being so many bars, they were all empty. THe whole place appeared to be strangely like a ghost town. Both Tom and I also seemed to lose all sense of direction and memory at this point and spent half the night trying to find the car, bar, backpackers etc. We did eventually settle down for some drinks and exchange travel stories over Guiness and red wine in an Irish Bar that seemed to have the most action.

For accommodation we contemplated staying in the local prison that had recently been transformed into a backpackers but decided the novelty of staying in a cell would probably wear off pretty quickly and since prisons aren't exactly designed with space, comfort and sound proofing in mind we decided against it. The following morning we booked ourselves a tour of the Church Road winery and had a lovely lunch with proper posh nosh. Then we took the do-it-yourself walking tour of all the art deco buildings and were suitable impressed withthe style and character of the place. It was actually a really pretty and nice town to see and a worthwhile stop. The weather was very good also and we had high hopes for the event that was now looming ever closer - the Tongariro Crossing.

Right, sorry I now have to go and catch my flight. More later. C Y'all!

Next: Arty Farty Napier
Previous: Goodbye Bay

Diary Photos

Hundertwasser's Loo

Hundertwasser Loo (inside)

Big Tree - Tane Mahuta

Backpacker's delight in Te Awamutu

Beach at Mokau

Mount Taranaki

Inside a carved Marae in Te Papa Museum

Me, Pam & Johnnie in Wellington

Old Man Bodie

Old Houses of Parliament - Wellington

Another Wellington building

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