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Published: March 20th 2019
Well, here we are on the road again, this time for a brief visit ‘across the ditch’. The genesis for this trip was a light-hearted comment made a couple of years ago by Joan’s sister and her husband (Highlanders rugby supporters) that sometime when the Hurricanes (who I support) are playing the Highlanders in Wellington, we should all go across and watch the match and then do a brief tour around. Now, dear reader, if you think that an account of ten days travels by four old farts is going to be riveting reading, you’d better switch off right now - about the biggest excitement we could hope for was having none of our carefully prepared travel plans screw up on us (more on that later)! To be honest, I write these blogs for my own records, with my memory rapidly deteriorating, and if they are enjoyed by others then that is a bonus.
So, with the match at the famed ‘Caketin’ in Wellington on the Friday night, we made it over the previous day and settled in for a couple of
nights at a B&B in Oriental Bay, owned by pure coincidence by a lady whose ex-husband I found out had been in my year at school in Wellington 55 years ago - it's a small world! Speaking of my old school, just before the game, I had the pleasure of catching up at one of Wellington's craft beer outlets with 6 of my old school friends from my NZ days, 5 of whom I hadn’t seen in that whole 55 years. When you get to our age, I think it becomes a competition to see who can tell the most lies and who has the thickest set of hair, but the reunion was a lot of fun.
As though to make us feel totally at home in Wellington, it poured with rain all that day. So the planned drive around, including a planned visit to some of my childhood haunts, was instead replaced by a visit to the famous Te Papa Museum, where they had a very impressive Peter Jackson-inspired Anzac exhibition, along with the normal Maori history exhibits always available.
However, the weather was kind and finally gave us a break just before the evening rugby match, which fortunately lived up to the reputation of the two excellent Kiwi teams, with the scores in fact tied at full time only for the Hurricanes to be awarded a penalty in front of the posts after the bell for a narrow, and slightly undeserved, win. Bad luck, brother-in-law!
The weather cleared next morning for our ferry trip across the Cook Strait to Picton, although sadly not enough to allow us the normal magnificent views of the Marlborough Sounds. Our southern trip first took us from Picton through the Marlborough region, where unsurprisingly we cleansed our palates with some wine tastings at a couple of the many excellent vineyards in the region. But the majority of our time down south was spent around Nelson, where none of us had previously visited, and it didn’t disappoint. It’s hard to specify exactly what it was, but we all just felt that Nelson seemed to be a very relaxed, liveable city. This feeling might well be enhanced
by the fact that it is well off the beaten track and doesn’t have to cope with the flocks of tourists that frequent the southern half of the South Island. I know it doesn’t sound too adventurous, but we chartered a small boat for a couple of hours to do a bit of a tour of the harbour (which is largely protected by a 13 kilometre long stretch of rock substrate called Boulder Bank) and the coast, which was a lot of fun, assisted in many ways by our local very knowledgeable and charismatic ‘ferryman’. The meals in this region were generally terrific, with Seafood Chowder (naturally accompanied by a Marlborough sav blanc) often being the order of the day.
On the way back to Picton, we indulged ourselves in a set menu meal at the Twelve Trees vineyard in Marlborough (straight opposite the famed Cloudy Bay facility) and as an added bonus were entertained by the antics of a bus load of French old fogies also dining there, many of whom had neither English speaking nor social skills. The trip back to Wellington on the ferry was made in good weather this time, allowing us great views of
the Sounds (which in many ways resemble Milford), and while we weren’t lucky enough to sight any porpoises, we did get to see a dead cow floating by!
The second part of our trip was a planned few days at the Tongariro National Park in the middle of the North Island. After arriving back in Wellington off the ferry and having to pick up our next rental car, it was early afternoon before we set off. Instead of rushing to get to our end destination on the same day, we decided to break the trip around half way at a small town called Marton and hope for some good old Kiwi country hospitality at a local B&B. And we certainly received that in spades, staying at a fully restored 1905 villa with all the original character but modern comforts, along with a superb home-cooked breakfast in the morning. I'm not normally in the business of giving free plugs on my blogs, but if in that area you could do a lot worse than a stay at 'pukepapalodge.co.nz'.
The next day was planned to be a relatively short drive to our end destination, but given it was pouring with
The three mountains in Tongariro National Park
What they would have looked like if we could have seen them - this photo clearly not taken by me!
rain, we couldn't see a lot of point arriving early and then sitting in our rooms for the rest of the day, so we drove the long way via Taranaki and then from Stratford to Taumaranui along the very aptly named 'Forgotten Highway'. This has been described as one of the most scenic drives in the world, with which we would not disagree, but also this "highly memorable driving journey is remote and mysterious to the extreme. This scenic route winds over four mountain saddles, alongside the spectacular Tangarakau Gorge and passes through the 220-metre-long, single lane, Moki tunnel. It has been ranked as one of the 10 worst roads in New Zealand by the Police". We wouldn't disagree with the last statement either and after a day of torrential rain, the windy, unpaved section was a real driving challenge. During the early part of the day's drive, we passed very close to Mt Taranaki, but not unsurprisingly given the weather we could see nothing of it, and when we reached the National Park, we also had no sightings whatsoever of the three well known mountains, Ruapehu, Tongariro and Ngauruhoe (an active volcano) that comprise this park.
weather the following day forecast to still be pretty bleak, precluding the thoughts of any walks that day, we decided instead to sign up for some whitewater rafting on the Tongariro River. This ended up a good call because not only had the weather lifted, giving us a much clearer day, but the recent rain had meant that the river flow was faster than usual making it a pretty good day all round. By the time we got back to the resort after a brief visit to Taupo, at the northern end of the lake of the same name, the clouds were starting to lift off the mountains but unfortunately not enough to give us a good view.
Sadly, on our leisurely drive back to Wellington, we heard the news of the terrible shooting at the mosque in Christchurch, which put a bit of a dampener on the day and that evening. The next day we were due to fly back to Sydney at 6.30am (which meant getting up at 2am Sydney time) in order to make it back to Sydney in time for our daughter Greta's 40th birthday lunch function she was holding for 20 guests at one
of Sydney's finest restaurants (where she once worked). But a combination of the shocking weather on the Oz east coast, which prevented our plane making it back to NZ the previous day, and the problems in Christchurch, which stopped any chance of a replacement plane, we had to return to Sydney via Auckland, finally arriving late in the afternoon. Fortunately, Greta's lunches are long and boozy so it was still in full swing by the time we arrived, knackered but intact, and still feeling a lot more fortunate than many South Island families right now.
So my next trip, and what looks likely to be my 100th blog, will take place in June when I start a solo visit to Africa in Madagascar. I'll try to celebrate this milestone with a little more excitement than that above!
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