Archive for December, 2005

Wandering around Wellington

Monday, 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

Thursday, 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.

Camping at Lake Waikaremoana

Friday, December 9th, 2005

The journey to Lake Waikaremoana was fairly uneventful, we left Rotorua on the 5th of December, early in the morning. It was a fairly calm day with a little drizzle and some rain. The roads were quiet and we drove on stopping occasionally to allow Diarmuid to stretch his legs. We knew however that the hard part lay ahead, State Highway 38 would soon start. It began well enough as we turned off from Route 5, it wasn’t quite as good as a motorway, but the roads were sealed. I began to think that maybe the horror stories we’d been told weren’t true or that major roadworks had occured. A sign soon put paid to that hope, “105km of Unsealed Road.”

Eventually we reached the gravel stage of the road and Diarmuid greatly reduced his speed to around 50kmph. SH38 winds through Te Urewera National Park and the deep valleys are quite spectacular. Unfortunately, it was quite a miserable day in the high places of the park but the clouds added their own mystique to the views. The road was a new experience for me as I’ve never been on a gravel road that continued for such a length of time, add to that the constant winding nature of it and the frequent hair pin bends with steep gorges just outside my window.
It was a lot of fun. Diarmuid didn’t find it as much fun but then he was driving and had to dodge the locals who though infrequent would come tearing round these hairpin corners at close to 80kmph possibly some of them pushing higher speeds. If cars were stuck behind us, Diarmuid would pull in and let them pass when he could and I’d watch in amusement as they tore ahead of us. New Zealand drivers are very interesting (read as dangerous) at times. Though I jibed Diarmuid at how slow and cautious he was driving, in truth I think he did an excellent job.

Shortly before we arrived at the Lake Waikaremoana Motor Camp we stopped at the Aniwaniwa Visitor Centre, a DOC visitor centre for Te Urewera National Park. Diarmuid wanted to get as much information as possible about the walk and also had to confirm his booking for the Great Walk. While I was waiting I took a look around the place and there was a small display on the Maori who lived in the area during the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries. The dominant theme of the display was their conversion to Christianity and the subsequent rising of one of the Maori from the area who claimed to be Jesus Christ come again. It was reallly quite an interesting exhibition with a few museum pieces and colourful displays about the history, geology and plants of Te Urewera. Seemingly Lake Waikaremoana is just above a fault line. I pointed this out to Diarmuid who is very hopeful that he’ll experience an earthquake while we’re here.

We checked in to the Motor Camp and picked a site. After taking a closer look at it, I suggested we move to another site. This is when we found that the car wouldn’t start. It had a problem in Rotorua and it had now reoccurred. Diarmuid still believed that the battery was to blame, I wasn’t sure. The battery seemed fine to me and it had been fully charged in Rotorua. I pushed the car most of the way to the new site I’d picked before it got stuck and I couldn’t push it any further. With Diarmuid’s help, we got it parked on a reasonably good site. We set up our tent and Diarmuid then took a look at the car. He wasn’t so sure about the battery anymore, he thought it was fine as well, though we still hoped a jumpstart would fix it when we needed to leave like it had in Rotorua. We were miles away from the nearest town and I didn’t fancy getting stuck at the lake.

The car was forgotten about for the time being as Diarmuid was heading on a four day hike the next day and he had to get his bag packed. A few hours later, he was eventually happy that he had everything he needed and that he had cut the weight of his bag down as much as possible. The next morning he got up early to catch his taxi to the starting point, I wished him luck as he left and then rolled back round in my sleeping bag and went back to sleep. I spent the next three days and three nights while Diarmuid was away, having a very pleasant time just resting up in my tent, reading a few books and occasionally doing some other things such as cooking.

For the first time on this trip I cooked some proper dinners. It was nice to be able to eat a simple dinner of some meat, potatoes and another vegetable. I had to be a little creative in the kitchen though as no cooking utensils were provided and I wasn’t bothered enough to go round to the office and hire out some pots and things. It worked out very well though, I would bake the potatoes in the oven and cook the meat under the grill and boil the carrot or brocolli in my steel mug on a hotplate. As an added bonus, it saved on the washing up.

Camping can be very restful, since it tends to be quiet and you don’t have to go rushing around doing anything. Unfortunately the silence of the lake was disturbed by two school groups on a trip, as its the time of year for school trips here in New Zealand. Indeed, Diarmuid when he came back complained about the number of school kids on the walk. All in all, they weren’t too bad, indeed compared to some scout camps I’ve been on they were exceptionally quiet. Mealtimes were a bit awkward though, since they tended to take over the kitchen and one night I didn’t get eating my dinner until 10 o’clock. For the most part, they were away on canoe trips or fishing. I meanwhile was quite content in my tent listening to the rain tapping on the canvas above my head. There is something very soothing and enjoyable about listening to rain falling on a canvas tent. When the tent was dry the first wave of drops would create patterns on the canvas that the sun would then shine through.

My appetite for books was voracious, I finished “Oliver Twist” on the first night and the next day I finished reading the third part of “Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell.” Next I read “The Princess Bride” in 24 hours and started to read “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” which I finished on the third day that Diarmuid had been away on the walk. I would occasionally grin evilly to myself as I thought of him out in the rain, while I was dry and warm in my tent.

As Lake Waikaremoana is in the middle of nowhere with no major urban centres for many miles around, light pollution is non-existent and one night in particular when there were no clouds in the night sky, the stars and moon were very visible and it was easy to pick out Mars and Venus in the evening sky. I also got one of my clearest views of the moon that I’ve ever had and the craters were extremely crisp with the aid of a pair of binoculars I bought in Auckland.

One morning I was eating my breakfast and there was a German couple sitting fairly close near by. As I was walking back into the kitchen I noticed that the man was videoing the man and I stopped, muttering “Entschuldigung.” He waved me on saying it was OK and I thought nothing of it. A few minutes later we were all in the kitchen, they were doing their washing up and I went over to the water boiler which was right above their sink and got some water for my mug of coffee. There were talking to each other in German when next thing I see the guy’s hand waving in front of my face and I suddenly realise that they’re actually talking to me. I then explain in English that I’m actually Irish and not German. The woman then says…”But, outside” and I finished the sentence for her, “Yes, outside I said Entschuldigung” and then explain that I know a little German from studying it about seven years ago. It’s fairly easy to be mistaken for English, Scottish, American or even Australian here but the fact that a German had mistaken me for a German really made my day.

I also went on some of the short walks in the vicinity of the motor camp. One evening I made up way up the Hinau walk to Whaitiri Point and the site where the Lake house Hotel used to be situated. It was a very pleasant walk along a light dappled track and some fascinating trees, including some mighty northern rata and many silver beech trees. I started up the Ngamoko track just acoss the road from where the Hinau walk ends and got some very good views of the lake from clearings in the trees.

The next day I made my way along the Black Beech walk which takes you to the Aniwaniwa Visitor Centre. The Black Beech walk follows the old road which was replaced when the lake was lowered 5 metres in 1946. It was really clear that it was an old road and you could easily imagine a horse drawn cart coming round one of the many corners. The walk provided some more spectacular views of the lake and there were one or two points when I wished I hadn’t given my camera to Diarmuid for his walk.

When I reached the centre I followed the Hinerau Walk and the Aniwaniwa Falls Track which take you close to the three different waterfalls in the area which are collectively known as Aniwaniwa falls. I was able to climb down from the Hinerau walk to the rocks at the edge of the river and I scrambled over these huge boulders to get a better look at the roaring falls. The Aniwaniwa river was clearly deep and very fast flowing and it was exhilirating to clamber around and jump from rock to rock. I noticed a small beach on the other side of the river and I tried to figure out how I would get down to it. After clambering back up the slope to the track grabbing on to convenient roots and rocks I returned back to the track and then the centre. The Aniwaniwa Falls Track gives some better views from the actual viewpoints but was more difficult to climb down. I did find my way down to the beach and there was even an overhanging cliff face at the edge of the beech. I considered whether it would be suitable for camping and I think it might though DOC might frown upon that. I found a stick lying on the ground and used that to see how deep the water was, it would have reached well up to my waist and that was more than enough to keep me from even considering taking one step out in a more shallow part. Using the stick to help me back up the slippy slope I finished the walk where it reached a dead end beside the river bank. It was truly a sight to behold this huge winding river, I thought it would be fantastic for canoeing and possibly fishing if wasn’t too deep. Unfortunately, when I tested the depth right at the edge of the riverbank, it couldn’t reach the bottom and hence would at least have been up to my chest.

Speaking of fishing, I did try my hand again a couple of times but no luck, indeed I only saw one fish jump in my time at the lake and maybe one or two other rises. It was infuriating to see the hatches of flies but not a single fish was rising for them. From talking to another fisherman there, it just seemed that there was nothing happening with dry fly but that spinning out on the lake in a boat was worthwhile. This was proven to me when I saw a man come back from a day’s fishing on the lake with two fine trout in his hand. I saw him put the fish into a plastic bag in a freezer and when he actually left for home a day later, he collected two large plastic bags full of frozen fish that he’d caught.

Diarmuid back from his walk on the 9th and he had somewhere found Marcus along the way. It turns out that they’d met at the start of the track and Marcus and walked round the lake with Diarmuid. After having settled himself, Diarmuid then turned to business as he always does and got cracking on the car. He got talking to a man who worked round the motor camp and tried to jump start the car with the use of his tractor. This didn’t do a think like we had half hoped since it had worked in Rotorua, a few more attempts at trying to figure out the problem but to no avail. He told us about a local mechanic and Diarmuid rang him up. He promised to come by the next morning with a specialist electrician who happened to be visiting. Sure enough the next day around noon, the mechanic turned up with this electrician in tow. I was just about to head back to the waterfalls to take some photos when they arrived and decided to stick around. Within two minutes and about 30 seconds work, the electrician had got the motor running with a quick short tap at some part of the engine. It turned out that the brushes in the starter motor were worn and needed replacing. With the engine started, Diarmuid didn’t want to turn it off, so we quickly broke camp, packed our stuff away. (All of which had been taken out of the boot as Diarmuid wanted it empty in case the mechanics had to take the car away.) Within half an hour we were on the road and I never did get to take those photos.