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Archive for the ‘Wellington’ Category

Not a bad night’s sleep in the Youth Hostel, once Kirsten had silenced the Dutch backpacker who decided just before midnight that she’d make a lengthy phone call from the corridor outside our room. (That sounds a bit sinister – we’re talking polite requests here, not body bags…)

Down to the spacious communal breakfast area for our muffins and fruit. Next to the Post Office on this end of the Burger King street; we tried various envelopes for size before settling for an A4 box which we stuffed with booklets, brochures and leaflets for all the touristy things we’ve done since we left North America – all to be stuck in a bigger scrapbook once we get home. Nearly three kilograms for $70, even at the super-extra-slow-economy rate, delivered some time within the next century by a team of sea-snails.

We cleared out of our room and returned to our car just before it turned into a pumpkin at 10am (well, when the free parking ran out) and set the SatNav for the Apex car rental depot. All very efficient there; we handed back the keys and they offered us a lift to the airport – no other formalities.

Since our flight was scheduled for 3.30pm, we had ample time in hand at Wellington Airport – indeed, the Qantas desks wouldn’t open until noon, a full hour after we got there. Time to get magazines for Kirsten and the girls, and I tracked down (at last) the Rough Guide to Australia – it’s generally Lonely Planets everywhere.

Another dent to the wallet as we were requested to pay a whopping $70 in departure fees. I thought they were a South American thing, with all other fees being included in the ticket price; I was clearly mistaken. We dropped off our hold luggage (two big rucksacks plus our new cool bag stuffed with fleeces) and sat in the departure lounge for a couple more hours. The one saving grace is that we got free internet access for our $70 (even if it wouldn’t let us upload any more photos – they are on the way, though…).

A nice cappucino.
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At around 3pm it was time for the self-loading freight (as I believe we passengers are termed); we had a block of three seats and one in front (Kirsten today) about half way down. We sat and waited. The take-off time came and went. Nothing happened. Then some barely-decipherable announcement that they needed to take all the hold luggage out to be weighed back in the terminal before reloading it all. We were never quite clear as to why.

In the meantime, a selection of humorous videos for our entertainment. I thought Mr Bean would have run his course by now, but here he was again. And his ‘suitcase packing’ episode does hold an extra resonance now that we have faced a similar situation (weighing items to the nearest gram). Although we never resorted to trimming our toothbrushes down to the head…

We took off perhaps three-quarters of an hour late, but favourable winds over the Tasman Sea would gain us half an hour to Australia, they cheerily informed us. A beautiful day in Wellington, with clear views from the window of such-and-such an island (I really can’t remember – anyone care to identify it?).
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The usual customs and immigration forms to complete in blue or black pen in your very best handwriting. Any fruit? We hurriedly scoffed our dried apricots and final banana. ‘Do you have any criminal convictions?’ Of course I didn’t stoop so low as to reply ‘I had no idea that it was still a requirement’.

An uneventful flight; a scattering of clouds below us, and featureless blue below the clouds. As we neared Sydney we were warned that we’d be stacking for a while – cloud and a light drizzle slowing things down there. Great – we drag the bad weather everywhere we go in Australasia…

So the final descent showed us little of the city’s magnificence (we recall the Opera House and Harbour Bridge in brilliant sunshine from our previous flight here), just grey suburbs once we came below cloud level ready to land.

We touched down at 5.45pm local time (watches go back two hours); just over two hours to reach our apartment in Ryde – would we make it? But fortunately things were exceedingly efficient: our quickest-ever baggage reclaim, no queues at the passport desk and hardly a pause at Customs where I flashed our bag of Freddos and fruit strings. I extracted a wad of Australian Dollars from an ATM and by 6.15pm we were in a taxi, our ‘ticket to Ryde’. And it was a relief to see big signs stating that cabbies should never approach us to solicit business – we still haven’t got over the Sucre scrum when they mobbed us, forcefully attempting to prise our bags from my grip.

The meter flicked up five cents every second, $20, $30, $40 – oh, and there would be an additional $12 charge for the airport fee and toll roads. Did we really once complain about paying £7 for a taxi in Bolivia? A glimpse of the Harbour Bridge to the east as we crossed the water, but otherwise more grey, wet suburbs in the rush hour. After perhaps half an hour we were there. $60 fare, plus $16 (he ‘remembered’ yet another toll). Ouch!

Yes, reception was still open so we got our key and dragged our seven bags up the stairs. Room 42. But who’s been sleeping in my bed? The sheets were dishevelled, dirty towels on the floor. ‘Er, that room hasn’t been serviced; do you have an alternative?’ ‘So sorry, yes, I’ll just check it first.’ So we traipsed down to Room 21 on the ground floor. Marginally smaller, but at least it’s ready for us.

I looked at TripAdvisor after we booked this place, and several of the comments made me uneasy. It looks like they’re spot on, yet again. The apartments are tatty and run-down with some items missing; the website is misleading (the promised washing machine is in a communal laundry); Ryde is a long way out from the city centre. It would rank in the middle of our South American accommodation – we had some better, some worse. But I suspect that a nice apartment in Sydney would be way beyond our budget – you get what you pay for.

One final gripe – there is WiFi internet access here, but it will cost us an outrageous £8.50 every time we wish to connect (you can only purchase three-hour blocks of time, which cannot even be used up bit by bit; the time runs out whether you’re on line or not).

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Back north

Our last day on the South Island and after showers, breakfast and final packing we left Kaikoura and headed back north.

The weather started off being slightly overcast but as we drove on it slowly cleared with a little sunshine.  The journey was pretty smooth, albeit windy at times and with several lorries and road works to slow us down.

Kaikoura mutant crayfish.
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After a little over an hour’s  journey we stopped at a picnic place just outside Ward (Opa’s town) for a mid-morning snack of biscuits and fruit strings.  Then Tim offered to drive the second half to Picton. 

As we neared the town I noticed the petrol light had come on, one of my main worries when driving,  and Tim happily drove past one or two petrol stations!  Fortunately, as we got closer to the ferry port we managed to top up the car with the minimum 2 litres – all to do with returning the car to Apex in Wellington with an empty tank.

Now that the fuel was sorted we could check in the car.  But where was the ferry?  Where were we meant to go?  We could actually see the ferry but couldn’t get to it.  We had ended up in the long-term/short-term car park!  Because we had been so focused on finding a petrol station, we had missed the one and only sign to the check-in point.   I suddenly spotted a queue of cars behind the station, so we drove back past the petrol station and turned right across the railway line and joined the queue with still 20 minutes to spare.  (If you miss your check-in time you automatically lose your place!)

Once we had parked our car on Deck 5A we headed up the stairs and settled ourselves in the family area again.  We had our jam sandwiches in the car whilst waiting to drive onto the boat, but we were still feeling a little peckish so I went to buy a couple of sandwiches and muffins to share.

The crossing was very smooth, but seemed to take forever.  There were lots of families with screaming tired little children, a clown to entertain them for a good half hour (Ellen came back with a balloon in the shape of a giraffe) and two television screens showing Disney Channel (Mickey Mouse and The Little Mermaid) or the Oprah show.

It was gone 4.30pm before we drove off the ferry and into Wellington.  Within ten minutes we had parked at New World supermarket, which is pretty much opposite the Youth Hostel.  We checked in, received our key and found out about the post office (just around two corners) and clothes recycling (we could leave our bag with old clothes in a box on our floor and YHA staff will sort it out).

We left our two bags in our room and went to park the car at the waterfront.  If you park at the other side of the swimming pool, it’s free until 10am tomorrow morning.  We managed to find the last parking space and walked back towards the hostel. 

Whilst Tim and the girls carried on, I popped into the supermarket to buy a little food for breakfast and lunch (muffins, rolls, ham, fruit and dried apricots – pretty healthy!).

Tim quickly checked emails and then we all went in search of Burger King, we had promised the girls we would eat out there when back in Wellington.  We opted for a “midnight feast” again, and there were no left overs and even room for a small dessert.  There was a lot of to do about Ellen preferring her 60c ice cream in a cup rather than a cone.  We were told to buy her a $2.30 ice cream in a cup, although the customers in front of us were allowed to buy a 60c ice cream in a cup!  Anyway, after we pointed that out to the staff we were offered a tiny cup, which happened to be exactly the right size for Ellen.

Back at the hostel we made our way to the “lounge”, two comfy sofas and a coffee table where we sat for over half an hour reading, blogging and playing lonpos (12 puzzle pieces to be put in a rectangle – sounds easier than it is).

At about 8.30pm we retreated to our bedroom and got the girls ready for bed.  Time for me to write today’s entry and for Tim to update the blog with other recent entries.

View from our hostel window.
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Not a very early start tomorrow.  Our flight isn’t until mid-afternoon, so that should give us enough time to visit the post office (send home leaflets) and return the car.

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We woke up around 6am after a quiet night in our Youth Hostel (which apparently has won awards). A quick pack of our overnight things and we were soon in the car and driving up along the waterfront to the ferry terminal.

Wellington waterfront.
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On the way we encountered a police roadblock. Kirsten was driving, and she was politely asked to count to ten while a little electronic gadget was thrust in front of her. Some confusion initially; was it count to ten and then blow into it? No, just count to ten in its vicinity. Anyway, all seemed well (somehow the policeman guessed that we might be on the way to the ferry) and we were soon on our way. But it’s a bit odd at ten to seven in the morning.

We showed our ticket and drove onto the InterIslander almost immediately, parking on a sloping section which was later raised hydraulically. When we got out of the car, the English/French signs raised suspicions that this was a recycled ferry, and later on we learned that it had previously been The Pride of Cherbourg (and indeed some deck signs were still branded ‘P&O’). Must have been fun getting it down here…

we found ourselves four comfy chairs and settled down for the three-hour crossing (plus the one-hour wait until departure). Before long my parents appeared and joined us for the voyage; they had had a rather weird night at their B&B. We made do with a ham roll and muffins for breakfast and ventured out on deck from time to time. The weather was a vast improvement on yesterday, but still quite windy (so I hung on to my glasses).

The crossing is such that you see land at close quarters for most of the time; first leaving Wellington harbour and then entering Queen Charlotte Sound. Another InterIslander ferry passed us about two hours into the journey; they have three ships altogether.
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Nigel Kennedy – children’s entertainer.
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Ellen on deck.
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First glimpse of South Island
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We reached Picton around 11.30am (as expected) but it then took at least 20 minutes for us to disembark. I’m sure Dover-Calais cross-channel ferries are far slicker at loading and unloading, but there again they have to be.

we drove towards Nelson and Havelock along a tortuous but picturesque road with fine views over the sound; this 25-mile stretch took us a good hour.
Charlotte Sound

Now winding roads bring various scientific thoughts to mind (sadly).

First, here’s a good idea for GPS manufacturers; calculate the radius of curvature of bends from the map data and (i) use this to derive a safe cornering speed and (ii) apply this information when calculating driving time.

Second, one potential problem with the above suggestion is that undersampling sometimes occurs; yesterday Lady TomTom showed a twisty bit of road as being straight because the stored reference points were (quite by chance) taken from the mid-point of each wiggle, missing the extremities altogether and eliminating all trace of sinuousity.

Third, the best driving path through chicanes (allowing use of either side of the road) must be related to the shape adopted by an elastic strut inside a similarly-shaped channel. In each case the radius of curvature is to be maximised for greatest cornering speed or minimum elastic energy.

In Havelock we stopped to eat; a quick scan round and we chose a bakery and cafe (called Inlet, I think). Our sandwiches and pies did not live up to the high standards set by Oslers; my venison pie contained big fatty lumps and the pastry was not oven-fresh.

We walked back to the car, pausing to read the plaques outlining Ernest Rutherford’s life. He went to school in Havelock and (i) narrowly missed going on a boat trip during which two of his brothers were drowned (a fellow named Price came out very badly in this account) and (ii) nearly didn’t get a scholarship to secondary school (but his rival did unexpectedly badly in English). Would the course of science have been very different, or would someone else have come along to fill in for ‘Ern’?

A straighter drive to Nelson and beyond (bar the odd bendy bit) and we reached Motueka shortly after 3pm. We stopped there for toilets and to pick up some tourist leaflets, and then tried to find our cottage. On the third attempt we were successful, and just as we had introduced ourselves to the owner, my parents also rolled up! They had got off the ferry well before us and had just stocked up at the local supermarket; they had stopped for lunch at exactly the same place that we had, but we just missed them.

We are all impressed with our spacious and luxurious accommodation. It is certainly one of a kind (with a tree in the middle of each living area), and our bit alone could sleep eight comfortably. The kitchen is well equipped with a huge fridge-freezer and plenty of utensils and there are more than enough hangers for our clothes – for the first time on our trip.

We left the girls with the grandparents while Kirsten and I returned to town to stock up on food. We found the New World supermarket and piled the trolley high with fruit, fancy bread (tell me where is…), pasta, salad vegetables, washing-up liquid and cloths, tinned tomatoes, beans and tuna, yogurt, reduced desserts, flour and sugar for baking, a bottle of wine, cuddly toy (no, not really).

And after spending so much we still got only a measly 4c off per litre off petrol.

Back at Foley’s Creek we had pizza and salad, borrowing a bottle of dressing from my parents – it’s the ‘cup of sugar from the neighbours’ in action. It turned out that we had chosen almost exactly the same wine as they had – same winery, different colour (and there was a vast choice in the supermarket). Spooky, huh? Is there a gene for choosing where to eat and what alcoholic beverage to buy?

We’ll take things gently tomorrow after two long days of travelling, and start thinking about what we’ll do over Christmas. We hear that the uK (and Belgium) has been affected by snow – indeed, the disruption made the World News on the supermarket TV screens (‘Coca Cola 2.25 litre bottles only $1.89’, then ‘UK chaos as snow cuts power’ sort of thing). But over here, Christmas festivity still feels like a superfluous addition to the summer rather than a bleak midwinter necessity to warm the heart and lift the spirits.

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Or rather: Taumatawhakatangihangakoauauotamateaturi-pukakapikimaungahoronukupokaiwhenuakitanatahu.

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That’s where we went this morning, sort of on the way from Napier to Wellington. (It’s a bit off to the east and takes you through remote countryside far away from any petrol stations, but it means that you’re the only people there once you arrive…)

I remember seeing this place name in the Guinness Book of Records when I was about the girls’ age. It is indeed the world’s longest, and means “The hill on which Tamatea, the chief of great physical stature and renown, played a lament on his flute to the memory of his brother”. This was in the days before the G B of R got dumbed down and thinned out, and when it still used mysterious words like ‘protracted’. The name is one of the entries from the 1973(?) edition that has stuck in my memory all those years (along with that black-and-white photo of Robert Wadlow, the world’s tallest man), so it gave me an undeniable frisson to be there today. (I also vaguely recall it featuring in a song a few decades back…)

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The name is simply an agglomeration of many basic Maori words, a very few of which we now start to recognise: there’s the man’s name in the middle, almost immediately preceded by his flute – koauau – (and we even saw this type of instrument later in the day). ‘Whenua’ is land, ‘tangi’ tears (or funeral) and ‘maunga’ mountain.

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We’ll have to visit the French village of Y sometime, won’t we? (Which, incidentally, is twinned with Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch.)

Pongaroa, one of our loo stops…
Pongaroa panorama

We pressed on apace, pausing for a sandwich lunch by Henley Lake, near Masterton. It had clouded over and we retreated to the car to finish eating once the drizzle worsened. Then on along the main road to Wellington, finding even worse weather as we hairpinned up and down the Rimutaka Range.

Lady TomTom got us to the Youth Hostel with little difficulty; the problems started when we attempted to park. Round the block a few times, and then we paused in the New World supermarket car park while we asked for advice at the hostel. We unloaded a bare minimum of items for our overnight stay and then left the car down on the waterfront, ten minutes’ walk away.

Wellington waterfront.
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Our room has two sets of bunk beds to accommodate the four of us, sheets but no towels. The girls half expected their own TV, but this is their first Youth Hostel… We do get a sea view from our window, even if it’s a bit blustery and murky out there just now.

We walked along to Te Papa museum to see what we could cover in the two hours we had left before it closed at 6pm. It’s a vast, six-storey building and we only skimmed the surface of what was on display, but it’s certainly worth a visit (and it’s free). We began with their pièce de resistance, the half-tonne giant squid. This is only the second such monster ever caught – the first one exploded on surfacing – and there was a video loop explaining its capture, freezing, thawing and formalin preservation (giant squid go bad really quickly, it seems).
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All things New Zealand are exhibited: sea life to bird life, Maori culture to settlers’ stories. Lots of interactive touch-screen educational activities, and plenty of objects you are actively encouraged to touch, feel, handle – so the girls were engrossed.

An interactive floor map of New Zealand.
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A selection of koauaus, Maori flutes such as Tamatea played.
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We stayed until closing time and then went in search of somewhere to eat. A street just around the corner from the hostel looked promising, but on closer inspection we ruled out each option: too posh, too greasy caff, too spicy, too cold (we needed something hot, so even Subway was eliminated).

Somewhat embarrassedly we resorted to Burger King, but their Midnight Feast deal turned out to be just right for our appetites. We commented that my parents were probably in a gourmet restaurant somewhere else in town.

As we were getting near the end of our chips, who should we see queueing at the counter but – my parents! They too had scanned the options on offer on the street and come to the same decision. Now Wellington is not exactly small, so we were astonished at this coincidence – and we could still have missed each other if our timing had happened to be a few minutes different. Anyway, we squeezed around one big table and caught up on the last few days while some of us had a quick dessert.

Afterwards, we went our separate ways; my parents to an internet cafe, and we back to our room – where I was pleasantly surprised to discover a functional wireless connection (even if we do need to pay $12 for 24 hours). So for the first time since the start of December we can connect our laptop and start to eat away at our backlog of tasks – hooray! Not that I have got to the stage of uploading photos yet, and it’s already approaching 11pm.

A 6.30am start tomorrow to get to the ferry terminal around 7 o’clock; we’ll probably get breakfast on the boat.

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