Well, Andy and myself eventually stopped driving when we reached Wellington. I'd been behind the wheel so long there was literally an imrpint of my ass on the driver's seat! Driving into Wellington City was easy enough, although we did get initially confused with the one way system and ended up out in the Ferry Terminal. But we were just too tired to keep going to the South Island!
Found some great accommodation in Wellington. The YHA hostel there is like a 2 or 3 star hotel! And so, we spent two nights there, cooked some good dinners and even did our laundry! (It;s always a mini-celebration when you get laundry out of the way!) Unfortunately, the eather in Wellington was ANTARTIC while we were there, so it was difficult to get any real sightseeing done. Every time we put our heads out the door iof the hostel there was a gale force wind howling and rain battering the docks, so most of our two days was spent indoors in the excellent Te Papa Museum! Its a must see if you go to Wellington, but you need at least a couple of days to do it any justice.
The first day, we thought we'd do the tourist thing and visit the Lord of the Rings exhibit! When in ROme and all that....
But it turned out to be areally great exhibition, with very little focus on the Hollywood stars, providing a really in-depth look at how the film was made and the artists behind it. A great way to spend an afternoon if you are a Tolkien enthusiast! The following day, we returned to look at some exhibitions on New Zealand and Maori culture (of which the Kiwis are extremely proud!) and to learn about what's causnig NZ to move a little every year! Here we are right on the Pacific Ring of Fire! Without doubt, Te Papa is one of the best museums I have ever been in. It;s really interactive...having lots of computer screens for you to play with and keep you interested during the long hours there. And to make it even better, ITS FREE!
While, we were in Wellington we also managed to get out and see some of the nightlife. Sunday night was a bit dead, understandably, but we stumbled across an after party for a hip hop/gangster rap band called Mobb Deep. Apparently, the band had \, in fact, never showed at the venue...but there were a few hopefuls lining up att he after party in the hope that they were there. Mysefl and Andy forked out $15 to check it out. The night had great potential - if the band had showed and there were more people, it would be have been great, but as it was, the place was a bit empty. We still enjoyed it though, and since South America I'm really starting to develop more of a taste for this kind of music. It was funny to see all these Kiwis dressed up in their ganster gear.
Our second night there turned into Lord of the Rings fest in the TV room. Due to the sub-zero conditions outside, no-one from the hostel was venturing anywhere! so we cooked dinner, made some tea and settled into our beanbags for the 9 hr marathon! I lasted until the end of the second movie before I started nodding off.
Rain was hammering down the next day as we left the hostel. We tried to pull a not so ingenius car park scam before leaving, but it went against us! but it was worth a shot! As darkness fell, the traffic started to jam up on Route 1 out of Wellington. Landslides and fallen trees. An hour later, we had clearde the other side and were on the open road, heading for wine country of Martinborough. The drive over the mountains was quite treacherous in the fog and slippy conditions, and it was a relief when we FINALLY reached Martinborough, which appeared to be in total darkness except for the hotel and a small restaurant with a glimmer of light behind its fogged up windows. In we went, in search of food. We were met by a nice old man and his wife who served us up some good food and wine and even helped us out trying to find some accommodation for the night.
In the end, however, after long hours driving , passing what appeared to be ghost towns in total darkness, stopping at many a hotel and motel with no results, we arrived in Napier, about half way up the east coast of the country. Every hostel, hotel and B&B said "No Vacancy", and about one in the morning we were starting to accept the fact that we would have to kip down in the local car park for the night. Ugh. As we were driving up a side street, we suddenly spotted a lit up sign in a little alleyway. "Toad Hall". It was or last resort. Andy hopped out and rang the bell, and after what seemed like hours, a creature vaguley resembling Mole from Wind in the Willows opened the door and peered out at us. She has small wirey, thick glasses and interesting slippers. "You're lucky I'm a night owl", she winked at us. She guided us up the stairs to her office where a half empty glass of wine and some accounts sat on the table. A ginger cat regarded us from the corner of the room. Before long, she had provided us with a room, some sheets and blankets and bade us a good sleep.
In the light of day, Andy said she looked so much older and he was right. Also, she seemed less like a mole. She and her husband ran Toad Hall, which definitely has the most character out of any of the hostels Ive been in so far. They also owned an art gallery and cafe around the corner, which we paid a visit to before we left. They were extremely helpful and friendly, and very relaxed vis a vis checking out, etc. If anyone is heading towards Napier anytime, I recommend checking it out.
Napier is a really interesting little town - full ofArt Deco style buildings, which were constructed in the 30's after the earthquake that devastated the city. It's situated right in the heart of Hawke's Bay wine country, where you can sample the best reds in New Zealand! And we did. We booked a half day wine tour and were picked up by a lovely old man called Graham Ferguson. We really didnt feel we were on a tour with him - he was so laid back and chatty. It was just myself and Andy, and after the wineries he took us on an extra little tour of Napier to point out the historical sites and places of interest. The wineries were great! Some of the best I have been to so far..which is saying a lot after Napa Valley, California and Mendoza, Argentina and Chile! The first one was called Mission Estate. It was originally set up by an order of priests who used to make altar wine, but they eventually sold up and moved. The woman who arrnged our tasting was really informative and had a sarcy sense of humour. Probably my favourite of the three we visited. NExt, was Trinity Hill wineries..which wasnt as good but they did give us around 10 different bottles to taste. Finally, Graham took us to Church Rd. where were met a lovely man called Don who seemed really interested in what we thought of his Malbec compared with the Argentinian varieties. It was a really enjoyable afternoon and we bougght some really nice Reserve bottles in each of the estates.
And so, that brings us to nearly the end of the week. We left Napier the next morning and drove back towards Taupo again. Just North of Taupo we stopped, on recommendation, at the geothermal site of Wai-o-Tapu. This was excellent! and you really could get an idea of what the earth was probably like millions of years ago before humans came along. We enjoyed boiling mud pools, simmering water holes, and multicoloured lakes with steam rushing up from the 100 degree water underneath the earth. We were hoping for a swim, but were told that if the boiling water didnt kill us first, the acid definitely would. Hmm..right so. No swimming then!
Further up the road, we spotted some cars pulled in on the side of the road next to a little bridge and saw one or two ppl draped in twoels running furtively from the bushes! So, we had to check that out. It turned out to be a natural hot spring in the middle of the trees, deep enough to swim in. Off with the clothes, on with the wet swimwear yet again! It was a overall a nice experience, marred slightly by two pervy local NAKED types paddling in the water. They seemed friendly enough to begin with, but just got a bit weird on us, so after an hours soakage, we fled their nakedness!
Hamilton was, once again, a stopping point and we bedded down there for out last night, tired from our weeks adventures. We edned up sharing a room with a lovely SIngaorean girl called Madeline, who is here in NZ to set up her own jewellery business. She talked A LOT! but was a very nice genuine person. The next morning she dragged us out of bed and frog-marched us to the kitchen for breakfast with her, before piling various jewellery samples upon us and sending us on our way back to Auckland.
So, we're back in Auckland again. Andy is flying out on Monday to Brisbane, after which I have to get down to the seriuos business of finding somewhere to live and a job. Fingers crossed, as I have no idea what's out there. I meeting my friend Fiona this evening, and Im hoping she might be able to give me some good tips on how to get settled here.