Friday, November 12, 2010

The Southern North Island, NZ: A Sampling

Leaving Tongariro National Park, we avoided Highway 1, the most direct route to the southern port of Wellington and our eventual destination. We had been warned repeatedly about the volume of trucks on that route, and the sound of  engine brakes and the sight of big headlights up high in our rearview mirrors was already causing a bit of stress.  We have been asked many times by the natives how the drivers have been treating us, since they seem to regard their fellow countryman's driving skills as less than stellar.  But we have found the drivers to be respectful of our space on the road, many times waiting to pass until there is an opening.  It is just that many places have narrow shoulders, and big trucks form their own wind system when passing.  So we go on side roads when possible, but sometimes highways are the only route.  So we headed south on Highway 4 to Whanganui, then Highway 3 to Woodville and then south on Highway 2.  Even though these routes are labeled as highways, they often are really just a two lane road etching a line through the countryside.

Fences, pastures, sheep, and cattle -- perpetual icons along North Island rural roads.
This route took us out of the way of the standard tourist track.  There are already many foreign travelers moving about the country in rented camper vans and small motorhomes.  It is a good time to travel -- the New Zealand children are not yet out of school for summer break, so it is still early season quiet.  So we see these rental vans everywhere, most are hugely labeled with the rental company logo or wildly painted, and just scream TOURIST.  They often arrive into campgrounds late, and sometimes I think my day is not complete until I hear the sound of a camper van door sliding shut as I drift off to sleep.  There are occasional signs on the road reminding drivers to stay on the left -- it is easy for us visitors to forget sometimes.

Somewhere out there are some folks with one tender foot.
It did not take long to adjust to the grocery options in this country.  As expected, apples are plentiful, crisp, and tasty.  And no lunch is complete without a kiwi apiece. So far our favorites:  free-range eggs, cheese, honey, and kumara.  The the canned soups are nice, in favors not available at home -- butternut squash, pumpkin and kumara.  Bread and peanut butter leave a bit to be desired.  Prices are equivalent to at home.

A near perfect lunch spot -- at the top of hill, with sun to dry the dew off the tent, and a picnic table to spread our tablecloth on.
Now let's talk campgrounds -- the rest of the world could learn something from these Kiwis.  We have stayed in the "Holiday Park" variety -- they seem to be the most modern, with amenities such as a playground for the kiddies or a TV lounge. Pricing is per person, and the these higher end campgrounds run $20 or more per person per night.  But in the last week as we have traveled this rural stretch, we have found an assortment of camps, some semi-private, some run by the local council.  The are cheaper -- $10 to $15 per person, but we are currently waiting out a rain event for $5 per night at the Eketahuna Camping Ground.  The common theme is that every campground at a minimum has a kitchen with a stove, hot water pot for tea, sinks with scrubbing brushes, refrigerator, and toaster.  Kiwis survive on tea and toast for breakfast.  And a place to sit and eat or relax after dinner.  We have barely used any camping fuel, and we can spend our evenings sitting at a table (like civilized people) instead of in a tent.

Near Ashhurst the town domain includes a campground next to the cemetery with views of the Te Apiti Windfarm on the distant ridge -- a juxtaposition of the departed and the perpetual.
The place names in this country continue to trip me up.  They are generally still the Maori names, spelled like they sound, but sometimes really long and hard to remember.  Even though we are in an English-speaking country, it is still challenging to communicate where we have been and where we are going.  Trying to remember these is like being introduced to a room of 100 people and trying to recall each individual's name.

Manawatu Gorge -- a narrow, winding corridor connecting east to west, where there is not much room for error.
We have not sampled enough of the local beer and wine or participated in the coffee culture to pass judgment.  But we still have four months to go -- we'll work on it.

Tui -- the name of a New Zealand bird and a brewery located in Mangatainoka since 1889.  The iconic tower is constructed of wood and corrugated iron. 

We are still a few days out of Wellington, where we will board a ferry and cross to the South Island.  We have been told the people of the South Island are more laid back, but we find that hard to believe.  The Kiwis we encounter each day have been exceptionally polite and gracious.  It is not just the daily encounters John has when he is waiting outside the grocery store while I shop for supplies, when locals come and ask where we have been, where we are going, and advise us on the best route or what we shouldn't miss on the way.  But also the gentlemen who gave us a freshly caught trout for us to cook for dinner.  Or Robyn at the YMCA camp, who washed and dried and folded a load of laundry for us.  Or Terry and Christine who invited us to stay with them when we get close to Wellington.  It is the people that have made cycling in this country such a positive experience so far.

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Monica said...

Doris- Your blog is getting better and better. Lots of pictures is great. We forgot that we changed email accounts and that's why we weren't getting the alerts that you were busy writing again. Carry on!

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