(For the purposes and good storytelling and enjoyment, let’s forget that I was ill with pneumonia the entire time we were in New Zealand.)
Rotorua stinks. Sadly, I am being literal, due to the vast amount of sulphur emanating from Lake Rotorua, 90% of the time we were outdoors, the air stank!
Smelly lake aside, having driven nearly 150 miles from Auckland, we had started to learn a few things about New Zealand, namely:
- 3 cars = a traffic jam – you can go for hours without seeing another car, person, or even sheep for that matter.
- All hamlets, villages and towns have signs pointing to their ‘City Centre’. These centres can consist of a shop, a pub and somewhere that sells pies (a legal requirement in NZ it seems). What they are not is a city. Not even remotely. I’m beginning to think this is part of the dry sense of Kiwi humour.
- Always check your Sat Nav settings – our Sat Nav, christened Janae so we could shout at her with conviction when she led us up the garden path, did, literally send us up many a garden path. Or across farmland. Or up dirt tracks up mountains. It turns out there is a setting named ‘Do not use unmarked roads’. Who knew? We only found that gem a few days after we ended up on a gravel path with small birds for friends and where a farmer might have come out and shot at us.
On this expedition, we had a quick lunch stop in Matamata. It turns out we had unwittingly stumbled upon the home of Hobbiton, where teenagers with rich parents can stump up $80 to go and hang out some fake Hobbit village and generate a ton of content for their Facebook pages. As a result, I think the residents of Matamata see us tourists as both a blessing and a curse. Money is good. Hoards of backpackers getting run over, trying to have their photos taken in the middle of the road by the ‘Home of Hobbiton’ sign is probably not. $5 pizza though, awesome.
We ended up in Rotorua later that day at our first hostel, The Backyard Inn. I think it’s fair to say at this point that we are a couple of things.
On the good side, the receptionist was friendly, the room was clean (mostly) and the bathroom functioned as it should. On the bad side, for me at least, I suddenly felt like I was on a school trip (a la Hindleap Warren when I was 10), stuck in a wooden hut and surrounded by weirdos (not unlike Hindleap Warren again where there was no room for me in my school’s dorm, so I got thrown in with another school entirely..,) Thankfully Ian was there, and we had a car, so we could escape anytime we wanted.
And escape we did! We spent a fabulous night out at Tamaki Maori Village, where amongst many things Ian learnt to do the Haka (he wasn’t too bad actually, but could work on the crazed eyes and sticking his tongue out in a threatening manner a bit more) and we got to eat a sumptuous Hangi.
After a few days we travelled down to Napier. It had been recommended by several as the most amazing Art Deco town you’ll ever see. What this actually meant was two streets of a mixture of Art Deco and present day buildings, full of modern day shops and a museum. Not a bad effort, but Napier councilmen might want to hop on a plane to the UK to to some research, just sayin…But these bold claims also come from a country where one of their soft drinks strap lines is ‘World famous…in New Zealand’.
What Napier does have is New Zealand oldest winery, Mission Estate. Better still, this winery has free wine tasting!!! You can easily get a bit pissed, so much so you end up buying their wine, as the staff are so damn nice to you. Also, do not be fooled by the posh exterior, they’ll let anyone in. We are reliably informed that their Pinot Gris (my new favourite wine, and absolutely nothing like Pinot Grigio) is available online from Laithwaites, so we’ll be grabbing a case of that when we get back home.
We got to stay at the lovely Parkside Lodge, which sounds and looks suspiciously like and old folks home. Probably because that’s exactly what it used to be, and not that long ago either I’m guessing. This does mean that you get good sized rooms, a ton of vintage pieces smattered around the place (record players, suitcases, books, radios) and a disabled bathroom (wet rooms with grab bars are totally underrated). We had a shared kitchen and some nice fellow inmatesresidents to share our dinner times with.
When we finally reached Wellington, we ended up utilising good old Air BnB for our accommodation. We managed to get this nice chalet style place which came with a TV (but no aerial), a stack of DVDs and torrential rain! Our hosts were lovely though, providing us with fresh eggs and even more DVDs when the found out that I was somewhat under the weather.
We did make it into Wellington for a day when the sun finally decided to shine. I would highly recommend checking out The Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa. We only had a few hours on the car, but could have easily spent the whole day there and it was free. Wellington is not a bad town (seriously, you can’t call it a city, unless of course Tunbridge Wells is now a city, then all is forgiven), but like a lot of NZ (maybe with the exception of Auckland) is stuck firmly in the 90s. Clothes shops appear to be full of patterns you would only ever find in Tonbridge market. But all this is part of NZ’s charm. The laid back, self depreciating, retro feel of it all is very relaxing indeed (unless of course you are coughing your lungs up every five seconds).
So our trip down the North Island had swiftly come to an end. It was time to head south to be confronted by, more lakes, mountains and enough beautiful scenery to make you feel sick. As Ian once said ‘Alright New Zealand, you win, stop being so damn picturesque’.