I’m going to take a slight detour from the usual topics of this site to talk about my recent New Zealand and California trip. After all it was pretty much all I was thinking about for three weeks! If you just came here to read about obscure 1970s artists you’re welcome and there’s lots of that in the sidebar. If you want my music (and I’d love it if you did) there’s a shedload of that too. If you want an abridged travelogue, read on.
Edinburgh to Auckland
Madame and I flew from Edinburgh to Heathrow to Auckland via LA for our third visit to New Zealand. These visits are mainly arranged to see some much-loved family members but also because we just love being in New Zealand. This was our third visit, so it was partly about seeing places we hadn’t seen and revisiting favourite places.
Long-haul flights aren’t the most enjoyable way of spending 12 hours but New Zealand Air do their best to make it manageable. Despite my most charming smile at the check in desk, there were no free upgrades going, so we settled into a media binge. In my case it was Spiderman: Homecoming (Yes!), Alien: Covenant (Meh) and when my eyes were too tired, the remastered Sergeant Pepper, an album I haven’t heard for years. All the airlines seem to be competing for the quirkiest safety briefing video. Air NZ’s one is calculated to offend religious fundamentalists, beginning with a trendy young designerery man and woman (white-clad and American of course) giving names to all the countries they’ve created (We should call that Japan!), before reserving their attention for their greatest creation, NZ of course. (“Do you know anyone who flies there?” Airline coverage being of course part of the original Creation.) They then go through the safety features of the plane, by doing it all over the landscape of New Zealand. It’s utterly bonkers and it’s hard to know just how firmly tongues were in cheeks. (More about it here)
Auckland to Taupo
Arriving in Auckland we got our hire car and set out on the motorway south. I noticed the car kept beeping – seatbelts on? door closed? It was telling me I was wandering out of lane. Considering the number of roadworks and contraflows we went through that was a lot of beeping. In the opposite direction commuters were sitting in miles-long queues to get into Auckland. We were soon out in the country. It was not dissimilar to southern Scotland – hilly but not mountainous. But the hills seem to be a different shape – more conical, like a kid’s drawing of hills.
Other differences we noticed before we got used to NZ: buildings are low, mostly one storey, and made of wood more often than stone. This is all consistent with a country prone to earthquakes. We also saw a lot of corrugaged iron – roofs, walls, even whole shops. (Like this woollen goods shop in Tirau).
Our first destination was Lake Taupo, where we would stay with family for a few days. On the first afternoon we went for a walk by the lake. The lake is fed by many streams coming from underground springs. These come with warning signs – Caution: hot water! And it is hot – as hot as a cup of tea. Very strange, a hint of the furnaces just under the idyllic surface.
A highlight in Rotorua was a walk in a redwood forest. The trees were planted in the early years of the 20th Century and, along with the giant NZ ferns, make a stunning environment, strangely quiet as the soft wood seems to absorb sound. They’ve built a suspended walkway through the trees, all tied on without damaging the trees themselves. There are also lanterns for night walks.
Taupo to Napier
From Taupo we headed across the hills to Napier, a town rebuilt in Art Deco style after a devastating earthquake in 1931 that killed 256 people. The town was lovely but the most striking thing I saw was this 30-string guitar in a shop window! Two sets of sympathetic strings, with their own pickups. No idea what it sounds like or what it costs (“price on application”) as the shop was closed. That may be a Good Thing.
Napier to Wellington
The drive to Wellington was uneventful until the last moment when we discovered Rimutaka Hill. The wildest drive of our visit, more like the mountain passes of the South Island. Kiwis just laugh when you mention this – for many this crazy switchback is a daily commute. I don’t understand why there isn’t a huge pile of car wrecks at the bottom. Probably because it’s too far down to see.
We spent a few days with family in Wellington, visiting the profoundly moving Gallipoli exhibition at the Te Papa museum. I’d seen photos and knew that it was centred around highly detailed but giant size statues of soldiers, but it was the stories built around them, the day to day action starting from the almost jovial call-up to futile slaughter and withdrawal, that really made the emotional impact. We couldn’t speak when we came out.
The final highlight of our Wellington stay was Zealandia, a huge nature reserve in the centre of the city, where they’re attempting to preserve New Zealand as it was before the first people visited, bringing the first mammals. That’s right – there were no land mammals at all in New Zealand for millions of years, before the Maori arrived from the Pacific Islands bringing with them predators like cats and rats, who devastated the native flightless birds (who hadn’t needed to fly as they had no predators).
That’s a highly abridged version of our North Island trip. I’ll do a little about the South Island soon.