A Turning Point

March 4th, 2006

The wind blew cold and strong against me as I stood on deck. The ferry was slowly making its way into harbour. As I watched the lights of Wellington glide by on either side, I couldn’t help but think that this is the best way, the most beautiful means of entering a city at night. I had the same experience in Auckland coming back from Great Barrier Island and here once more it was confirmed for me. I took a deep breath of the fresh air and thought, “This is the way to travel.”

In contrast the journey from Christchurch to Picton had been nowhere near as magical but still fairly eventful. The weather was constantly shifting between a cold cloudy day and a moderately warm sunny day. Looking at the outside temperature on the dashboard display, I saw 8 degrees Celsius at one stage, the coldest I believe I’ve seen it at since my arrival to New Zealand.

The road between Picton and Christchurch is becoming quite familiar, this being the third time we’ve travelled on it, although admittedly it was the first time I stayed awake for the entire journey. It’s a long drive for Diarmuid but he handles it fine once he takes a break to stretch his legs every hour or so.

At an early stop we turned off the main road and went down a secondary road for a short bit. About 40 feet from where I stood, there was a crossroad, where a secondary road parallel to the main road and the road we were on joined. It struck me as odd that there was a secondary road running parallel to the main State Highway 1. It was so quiet and looking straight ahead, the road stretched on for miles. Not 50 feet in the other direction was SH1 with lorries and cars racing by but with my back too all that, all I saw and heard was the long empty road ahead.

Just past Kaikoura, which was perhaps our longest bottleneck due to road works, we made another stop. This time beside the sea. Diarmuid spotted a seal among the rocks and while he went looking for his camera, I started to climb over the rocks, getting a better view of the seal. Then I noticed another seal, it appeared that he was the male and the other the female. I pointed him out to Diarmuid and watched as the intrepid photographer crept closer. He didn’t escape the notice of the bull who was eyeing him before yawning, making a few warning grunts and lying back down again. Diarmuid continued on, for the most part ignoring the seal which continued to complain in a lazy fashion. Having got close enough, Diarmuid got his photo and we left.

As we were getting into our car, a police squad car raced past with sirens blaring. Our first guess was that he pulling over a car for speed and then when he kept on going that a high speed chase was in progress. However, after an ambulance, another police car, and two trucks from the fire brigade: one a rescue truck and the other a full blown engine, it was more than clear that an accident had occurred. With this many vehicles I expected something major but when we did reach the site, it wasn’t as serious as feared. It looked like two cars had been involved and that one had gone off the road. Nobody seemed to be seriously hurt thankfully, though I suspect a tree may have suffered the most.

Back on the ferry, the thought struck me that this was the first time I had been in a truly large city with skyscrapers and lots of light pollution since my last visit to Wellington. It came as a bit of a shock at the time, since that was almost three months. Once off the ferry, we checked into Nomads Capital. While it is not my favourite hostel in New Zealand, I find it cold and clinical, I had not serious objections to it. A quick dinner in Burger King, the only place at midnight and afterwards a visit to iPlay, the internet café we frequented on our last visit to Wellington. Diarmuid settled in to play computer games. After eventually remembering my password, I use the remainder of my credit to check my email before heading back to the hostel.

There I notice a sign that ensures we’ll only be in Wellington for two nights. Nomads is fully booked on Saturday night. The following day, when I get talking to Diarmuid, he tells me that it’s because wrestling is coming to town, so everywhere is booked up. For most backpackers, it means they’re frantically looking for a place to sleep. For us, this means we don’t have the flexibility to extend our stay. It didn’t really matter to me as I only had a short list of things to do.

First, I had emails to write, so I sat down in iPlay and for the first time in quite a while I managed to reply to those awaiting emails and even sending off a much overdue group email.

Next, I wanted to go to Te Papa Museum as Diarmuid had really enjoyed his visit there in December. Perhaps it was due to the fact that I wasn’t quite in the mood for museums or the fact that the exhibition Diarmuid had been enthusing about was closed, but I found myself mostly bored in Te Papa.

There were two notable exceptions and they were both art exhibitions. The first was a sequence of paintings from Cézanne to Picasso. The other was a truly entertaining display of commercial art by a New Zealander, Bernard Roundhill. It was colourful, exciting and fun. As I think back on it, it possibly interested me due to a similarity of technique used in comic book art. Mostly however I liked it as it was that kind of advertisement from the 30s, 40s and 50s which just don’t get made any more. There was one particular piece depicting a city in the year 2500 or thereabouts, that I would have love to get a copy of. George Jetson would have felt at home in it.

I also went to, after my previous visit, my favourite cinema in the world. In the afternoon, I saw the entertaining and light “Casanova” and then “Syriana” that evening with Diarmuid who had been waiting for it to be released. A complex and interesting film. It will require another viewing.

I believe the most important thing that happened though was a shot innocent email from a friend of mine where he suggested we make a short film when I get back. Having read his email, it was like the world clicked into place for me. I could feel something coming in Oamaru, a slight change in the wind, I began to think about writing again. Then in Christchurch, the feeling of having come full circle and how much had changed for me and had happened since I had last been in Christchurch. Here then was the culmination and I found myself on a road. Unsure of where it will lead me or how I will progress, the instant of that click brought a tremendous amount of relief. I now knew what I had always known I wanted to do, but more than that I had subconciously made the decision and commitment to be a writer. This was followed by a flurry of emails between my friend and I and we both promised to send our thoughts on what we could do for the short film.

Forced out of Wellington by wrestling fans, myself and Diarmuid hit the road for our long since planned destination of Whakapapa, gateway for Tongariro. My thoughts however were on a different road and the beginnings of an idea were forming. I felt that a turning point and just occurred and that I’ve entered the third phase of my journey.

Wandering around Wellington

December 19th, 2005

Huffing and puffing, I increased my speed and started to gain some ground on the fast departing car. Waving and shouting at Diarmuid in the driver’s seat, he seemed blissfully unaware of me racing behind him trying to catch up. Thankfully, there was an intersection at the top of the hill and I was able to jump into the passenger seat. As I gulped in air to ease the burning in my lungs I managed to get out, “It’s a no go, the place is fully booked.”

Rosemere Backpackers was the second hostel we had checked out since we’d arrived in Wellington, we weren’t impressed with the first place so had decided to check out Rosemere. Diarmuid was going to find some parking for the car, since we couldn’t leave it outside the hostel while I checked ourselves in. When I asked if they had any rooms, the girl at the counter asked “Have you booked?” Not all that worried, I replied in the negative. It hadn’t been a problem anywhere else we’d gone. She smiled at me in a bemused way. “Sorry, we’re fully booked. You really need to have booked, especially for the weekend.” She suggested a few other places and pointed them on a map. I grabbed it and then headed out the back to where the car was. Diarmuid was just pulling away, hence my uphill race.

We started to look for Nomad Capital, as we tackled the one-way system of Wellington. Unfortunately we couldn’t find it, so we pulled over and parked to go look for it. Having paid for the parking, I took two steps to cross the road when I saw that Nomad was right across the road from us. Diarmuid wanted to stay in a Dorm to save some money, and in truth, anything else in Nomad’s was far too expensive for us. I didn’t particularily like the Dorm experience, I prefer my own space, and sharing a room with 9 other people doesn’t quite provide that possibility. Add to that the fact that 9 people go to bed at different times ranging from 22:00 to 06:00 can provide for a disturbed sleeping pattern. Nomad’s itself was a very clean and nice place, obviously recently renovated from being an old hotel into a hostel, but it’s quite cold in style and not extremely welcoming, too modern and the facilities weren’t excellent, particularily the kitchen which felt cramped. I didn’t bother to use it the few days we stayed there.

Once we’d checked in and sorted out the car, parking it in a nearyby carpack and getting what little gear we needed, myself and Diarmuid then started to explore the streets of Wellington. We quickly found what we were looking for, an internet cafe. It had a familiar name to us, iPlay. While it function in much the same way as the iPlay in Auckland, they are in fact two seperate companies. Diarmuid was suffering from computer game withdrawal symptoms and quickly got himself hooked up with Battlefield 2. He stopped for a while to move the car and eat some food, but ended up playing to 05:30!

While I left Diarmuid in iPlay, I went off to try and find Courtenay Place, where the main cinema is and I had heard was a popular spot at nighttime. I spent the next two hours wandering around Wellington, not quite lost, but at the same time, never sure where I was and I didn’t find Courtenay place. It was fun though to just wander through the dark streets. Street lights don’t seem to be a big thing in a lot of Wellington. Over the next two days this happened to me several times, there was something that just confused me about Wellington. Although I did eventually figure where most places of interest to me where, this didn’t always guarantee that I could make my way there without first heading in the wrong direction.

On Courtenay Place itself is Reading Cinemas Courtenay Central cineplex. This has got to be the most luxurious cinema I have ever been in. I went to see King Kong on the Saturday and was delighted when I walked into the theatre. It was huge and I had managed to get a really good seat in the center of a row, that while I would have thought was too close to the front back home, was perfect. Each seat is in fact an armchair with enough legroom to stretch my legs out. The guy sitting beside me started chatting, and we discussed the King Kong premiere which had taken place a few days beforehand, and of course where I was from and what I was doing in New Zealand. As it got closer to the movie, I started to get worried that he’d be one of those persons who talked throughout the movie, but he soon quieted down. By the by, I thought King Kong was an excellent movie, though perhaps the T-Rex fight went on a little too long. I also went to see The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe again. The sound hadn’t been brilliant in Napier so I wanted to see it in what for me was now the best cinema I’d ever been too. I enjoyed it just as much as the first time I saw it.

As the kitchen didn’t encourage me to do any cooking, I ended up for the most part returning to Burger King. I don’t fully understand this, since I would never go to Burger King but here I’ve been to it on a fairly regular basis, especially in Auckland and Wellington. I guess it’s because it’s cheap and quick. I don’t know if free refills is typical everywhere outside Ireland, but it’s something I wouldn’t mind seeing making it back home. Not that I normally go for a refill, but it’s good to know the option is there.

On a much more tastier and better note is Crepes A Go Go, which is a small shop on Manners St. which serves real crepes made by a French woman trained in Brittany. She also serves Galettes, savoury pancakes which are a Breton speciality. I managed to have a small conversation in French with her, but I really need to practise speaking. Understanding French is not a problem, but I’m quite slow at times when speaking. Two of my breakfasts were provided by Crepes A Go Go and I still remember with watering mouth the one I got on Sunday overflowing with cream and raspberries.

The last day in Wellington was eventful. We were booked on the ferry that evening, but my day started a lot earlier than that. Parking was a bit of a problem in Wellington, though Diarmuid did find a carpark where we could leave it for the weekend and it was comparatively inexpensive compared to the other options. There was however a catch, as there always is, which meant that the ticket needed to be renewed at 05:30 in the morning everyday. For the first two days, Diarmuid had done the needful and in part was why he had stayed up so late that first night playing computer games. It was my turn that morning, the only problem I had no idea where the carpark was, Diarmuid provided some concise directions the night before but based on my previous experiences in Wellington, I was far from confident. 05:15 arrived with the blaring of my alarm from my mobile phone. Groaning I quickly switched it off and got up. I’d only gone to bed around midnight and it had taken me my usual half hour or so before I’d drifted off. Completely on autodrive and nowhere near awake I headed out the door and out into the morning light.

The next 45 minutes were spent wandering once more around Wellington, this time close to the docks. Diarmuid had said it was only a short walk away opposite a petrol station, so anytime I saw a car park, and especially when it was close to anything that looked in anyway like a petrol station, I checked it out, but none of them proved to be the right one. Still half asleep and much discouraged I headed back to the hostel and woke Diarmuid up. “I can’t find this place.” He groaned and in an annoyed tone gave me the exact same directions. Myself now quite annoyed, headed out once more and decided to keep on walking until I found this damn carpark. I laughed when I did see the petrol station, if I had taken ten extra steps instead of turning back I would have seen it. With my duty fufilled I headed to iPlay, it being still too early for breakfast.

Just after 09:00 I headed back to the hostel to finish checking out when I found that I’d lost my keycard for the room. Thankfully I’d already taken all my gear out of the room and left it at the car, but I’d now lose the $10 deposit. So really disheartened and by now very hungry, I made my way back to the car again, retracing my steps and looking for the little rectangle of white plastic. I didn’t find it. So I explained myself at the counter and checked myself out. Starving by now I went in search of food.

By this time it was 10:00 and I needed something substantial. I wanted a fry! A nice plate filled with sausages, rashers, beans, white and black pudding, toast, grilled tomatoes and if I was lucky some mushrooms and hash browns. I popped into the cafe next door to the hostel since they seemed to provide cooked breakfasts and I figured in my, by now, near delirious state, that they must provide some kind of fry. Having sat down and looked at the menu, I realised that they didn’t in fact serve anything that I wanted in their breakfast menu. The side orders however, had most of the ingredients I needed. “You don’t exactly have what I want, but your side orders have everything I need.” I then listed off what I wanted. I think the waitress was amused, but I didn’t care, I was starving.

My coffee arrived quickly and having drunk some of that I felt a little better but the actualy food was a while in coming. When it did arrive, I couldn’t help but smile. I was obviously in the wrong kind of place. The sausages were fairly narrow, almost dainty in size, the tomato was really only heated, not properly grilled but what really made me laugh was the toast. It was two small slices of ciabatta. It was actually quite nice and I wolfed it down but it just wasn’t right. I thought that it wasn’t their fault, they’d done their best, they just had no idea of what a proper fry was.

Stuck in the 1930s

December 15th, 2005

Once we had decided that Napier would be our next stop after Lake Waikaremoana, I looked it up in the tourist book I have. The inner city of Napier was all but destroyed by an earthquake in 1931 and it was extensively rebuilt afterwards resulting in most of the buildings being in the Art Deco style, much in vogue at the time. More interesting than the history was the map of the city, because Napier’s streets are themed. I don’t know if the streets were renamed after the 1931 earthquake but in any case, I was delighted to glance through the names and find street after street named after writers and poets; Shakespeare, Tennyson, Emerson, Browning, Dickens and Kipling to name a few. Not only has the city planner honoured writers, but scientists such as Faraday, explorers such as Shackleton and Hillary and politicians such as Lincoln and Gladstone. To walk through Napier is to walk through a Who’s Who of the 19th and early 20th Centuries.

There’s something special about Napier, something different from any other city that I’ve visited in New Zealand. It’s not just the Art Deco architecture that dominates the inner city though it plays a part. Nor is it the bright colours that are frequent bathed in the bright sunshine. It is both of these mixed with an overriding sense of ease and relaxation that permeates the air. During many of the days while I was there, it was overcast with occasional drizzle but some of the nights were clear with the stars blazing overhead and the roar of the waves drifting into me through the open window of my bedroom.

The ride to Napier was pretty much non-stop since Diarmuid didn’t want to stop the engine until we arrived at a garage where we could leave it. Of course before we could do that, we needed to unpack the car. Once we’d checked in to Wally’s Backpackers (which was a while as there’s nobody in the office from 13:00 to 16:00 and we’d arrived at 15:10), we ran up and down from our room emptying the boot and cars while the fumes from the exhaust continued to sputter into the air. With that done Diarmuid went in search of the garage recommended by the girl in the office. It wasn’t open but he left it outside for the mechanic to park the next day. We couldn’t leave Napier until it was fixed so I settled myself in for a few days.

The following day Diarmuid took me down to a market that was on down by the beach. There wasn’t much that really grabbed my attention, but it was fun just to walk around the stalls and look at the varied goods from vegetables, books, clothes and jewellery to general bric-a-brac. Walking back into the main city I was struck by how pleasant Napier is.

The shops in Napier all seem to have their own niche, particularily in the city centre where you can find almost any kind of product in their own shop. One that stuck in my mind is Plastic-Plus which sells plastic containers of all kinds from small plastic jars to gigantic laundry baskets.

Just around the corner from the hostel is an antique store which contains all kind of stuff but specialising in the Art Deco period of the 1930s. There were some fantastic old books including huge tomes on medicine and animals and a Household Manual by Dr. John Harvey Kellogg of Corn Flakes fame. Another display case contained old match boxes, lighters, cutthroat razors, pipes and false teeth.

I spent most of my time over the few days, hanging around the hosetl, occasionally making a trip to the local PAK’nSAVE. On one trip I picked up a bottle of wine but was asked at the checkout for some ID. “Huh!” I said, astounded at being asked, but seemingly it’s the policy in the supermarkets that if you look under 25, you’re asked for ID. Selling alcohol in supermarkets is only a new thing and a lot of kids have been going into them to get their alcohol. I also believe my scraggly beard didn’t help.

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was released while we were there, so myself and Diarmuid made our way to the local cinema. It reminded me a lot of the old Adelphi Cinema in Dundalk, the seats had as little legroom as it did. After the film we were in the lobby when Ben strode over to us. He told us that himself and Jenn were in a nearby fruit farm picking boisonberries for around seven hours a day. Jenny then walked up and we updated each other on what we had been doing. Not for the first time, nor the last would Diarmuid remark that New Zealand is a really small place.

Since the internet was free in the hostel, I spent a fair amount of time adding photos to the gallery. Diarmuid added some photos of his walk round Lake Waikaremoana but for some reason the software didn’t agree with him and he pretty much killed the machine. I also organised my USB drive so I can more easily get my email. For anybody going travelling and like myself has a need to keep connected to the internet, an excellent website is PortableApps.com which has customised programs to run off USB flash drives so you too can leave home but take your web and email setups with you.

There must be something contagious about fault starter motors. Four German girls who were staying at the hostel had to cancel their plans to do the Tongariro crossing as their car’s starter motor also wasn’t working. Our car meanwhile was fixed, so we packed up the morning after we got it back and set off for the capital of New Zealand, Wellington.