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Published: March 24th 2016
We hadn't needed a car while in Wellington but we were about to commence our travels around North Island so a car was our chosen form of transport once again. We'd arranged this in advance, using the Ace car rental company who had done us so proud in South Island both in terms of service and vehicle so we hoped for the same standard from the North Island Wellington office. Well, dream on .....
We had arranged to be collected from our hotel by Ace but, two phone calls later and still no show, we hopped into a taxi instead. When we arrived at the offices we found a lovely young girl who had been in the job all of three weeks trying to manage the telephone, the hotel pick-ups, the customers and cars all on her own and on the NZ equivalent of a busy bank holiday weekend to boot! It was an impossible task made all the worse when she finally managed to get to deal with us and found she knew nothing of our specific requests and had no car to fit the bill! Oh well, gotta be flexible ... Unfortunately, our flexibility had limits on this
occasion as we absolutely needed a car with a boot big enough to take our luggage but not too big that it guzzled petrol. In the end we came to a compromise. We took the biggest car they had that was older than we wanted and hoped for the best. It was actually the best car in the garage and was an imported-from-Japan Nissan Bluebird. And I mean imported from Japan, not manufactured in Japan, which meant it came with a Satnav that only spoke and wrote in Japanese and we couldn't figure out how to turn it off because all the instructions were also in Japanese! Over time, we finally managed to mute the volume which was a blessing because the car obviously thought it was still in Japan and the blue arrow on the map got terribly confused and kept plonking us in the sea or up a mountain in completely the wrong continent whilst all the time chuntering the Japanese equivalent of 'Turn around when possible' I'm sure.
Just to get out of the poor girl's hair we took the car uncleaned and unchecked, apart from the tyre pressures which Steve did himself. We had urged
the young lady to ring for help and she must have done so in the end because someone from another office arrived just as we were about to set off. I took the opportunity to ask him if he knew what the unidentified pedal on the floor was. We had decided it was in such an out of the way place it couldn't be too important - oh, that's the handbrake, he said. On the floor?! Good job we asked - you never know when you might need a handbrake that is a footbrake really. Anyway, the car seemed fine. It reminded me of a Sierra we once had - remember those? If so, I too am your age!
We were heading to Napier and immediately noticed a difference in the geography of the two islands, as well as in the volume and type of traffic. Our initial observation that North Island was the 'business end' of the two was eventually confirmed with experience. There were many more heavy lorries, mostly carrying tree trunks and logs, and the scenery was very pretty in an understated way, but not spectacular as it had been on South Island. Our journey into
Napier took us out of Wellington and over mountains, through towns and a village occupied at one point, if not settled, by Vikings at Dannevirke and there was lots more agricultural activity in terms of crops (maize, corn on the cob, wheat) and fruit (peaches and grapes). The river in Clive was very full but as we followed the Classic NZ Wine Trail onto the Pacific Coast Highway, it emptied out into the sea, providing us with lovely views over the ocean. Due to the long holiday weekend some towns were very quiet (no, please don't let us revert to the Australian 'close mid-afternoon' scenario!) but thankfully others were open and bustling, carrying on with business as usual. We arrived at the Sunset Motel in Napier just after 6.30 pm and were given a very warm welcome to Room 22 which was spacious and clean but very 70s in style - I was back to singing disco songs again, bopping around the room pretending to be Gloria Gaynor.
Remember my holiday wish list of things to see? I'm reluctant to put in writing what's on that list in case it puts a hex on it, but a particular species
of butterfly features on it. Anyway, I was sitting on the patio one morning complimenting the gardener on the splendid work he did and I mentioned to him that the flowers were attracting a lot of butterflies. They looked like the NZ version of a cabbage white to me. 'Do you mean the Monarchs?' he asked. 'Monarchs? You have MONARCH BUTTERFLIES??' My wish list butterfly that we had scheduled our later itinerary on an entirely different continent around? Oh yes indeedy. So, for anyone who saw us, that explains why an elderly man and a woman still in her pyjamas were furtively creeping round a NZ garden at 7 am one morning! When you knew where to look, the butterflies were everywhere and as the day warmed up they took to the air and fluttered around in vast numbers, like a cloud of ephemeral, fragile orange petals. They were wonderful. We were told later by the gardener's wife, who also worked at the motel, that her husband had spent most of the day trying to catch one for me but, by the time he succeeded, we had gone out. No matter. I was able to have my wish fulfilled and
I spent the rest of our time in Napier pointing them out to Steve who got fed up of hearing it.
I mentioned previously that Steve is a fan of Art Deco and we had stayed in a Sydney hotel that captured the style really well. Our reason for visiting Napier was that just about the whole town is built in the Art Deco style. The whole town!! Apparently, the place was just about razed to the ground by an earthquake in the 1930s and the Art Deco style was popular at the time so that was the style used for the rebuild. I normally like gentle curves rather than sharp angles but, even so, I was impressed that the architecture had been maintained, even down to using authentic paint colours of the period. We bought a book which provided suggested walking routes to take but it was pretty useless and we did better just ambling around in the sunshine ourselves. The shops and street signs tended to use a font typical of the time for their names. Interestingly, the street names were also embedded into the pavements. We were told this was so that, in the days before
street lighting, people could look down at an intersection and see which street corner they were on. I love stuff like that! There were several old cars dotted about the place (I don't know if they still functioned but they looked as though they should), all the street statues reflected the period and the town has an annual Art Deco-fest where everyone dresses up in appropriate apparel and jazz and swing bands play. It sounded amazing and we just loved it.
We drove around Napier town to explore its streets as it isn't big enough to offer anything approaching a city bus tour. We noticed LOTS of train tracks, everywhere, criss-crossing the roads, the roundabouts, the pavements, and we fully expected to see trains using them, especially down by the docks but nope, not a train to be seen. I suspect lorries are the favoured form of transport these days as there were plenty of those, some hauling four trailers piled high with tree trunks.
Anything else about Napier? Well, yes, it's quite close to a town called Hastings which just happens to have a hospital. That niggling problem of mine that wouldn't go away had got progressively
worse and I really, really needed medical advice now, not wanting the problem to escalate when we'd moved on to a country that didn't speak our language or offer the same standards of medical care. Finally we were in a place long enough and with appropriate facilities to seek this out. Most of you will know that I'm forever ranting about the abuse our Accident and Emergency departments get, being used for Anything and Everything. Well, having no GP in NZ meant that I became one of those people who wander into an A & E department for something that was neither an accident nor an emergency. Shame on me. In fairness, I went to ask for advice on how to address the issue and they very kindly said they would happily see me, given the circumstances, so that was good and I was very grateful. Several hours later (the waiting times are just like ours), following examinations, x-rays, a prescription for massive doses of painkillers and the advice to see my GP as soon as I got home, we left the hospital feeling somewhat reassured that it was nothing too dreadful. At one point it had looked as though
we might have to change our travel plans; instead we would be able to carry on worry free. Thank you New Zealand!
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