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Our Travels in New Zealand Part 3

Author: Mal Part (More Trip Reviews by Mal Part)
Date of Trip: March 2007

A little research on the Internet back in England, including a scan of Wellington on GoogleEarth, has helped me identify an umbrella-covered area outside The Event Centre on Queen’s Wharf as a meeting point. At the appointed hour (7pm), we make our way down to Queen’s Wharf and sit in a sports bar looking out onto the large umbrellas outside.

Just after 7pm, Jim and his partner. Sheila, wander into view. Although I’d told Chris about the meeting, Jim’s kept Sheila in the cark, and it’s a big surprise to her when I come running out of the bar shouting, “Jim Campbell! Sheila Campbell!”. I think we’d met Sheila twice before, but she doesn’t recognise us – just another vague person at one of Jim’s many “work’s dos” I suppose – I sympathised, I’m not very good at remembering people casually met, especially when you meet them again and it’s completely out of context. Anyway, they join us for a glass of wine (and then a bottle) as we discuss ‘war stories’ about our travels so far – Sheila is keen to pick our brains for ideas about places to go and things to do in NZ.

Jim is as enthusiastic as ever – for as many times as Sheila says she’d like to take it easy; see a few places in New Zealand and take a leisurely look around, Jim suggests driving to Auckland the very next day (409 miles). I think it’s Jim’s plan to do the trip we’re on in 15 days verses our 44 days! He’ll be saving time by flying out of Christchurch, but not that much!!!

I try to make constructive suggestions; in particular, I propose the option of using Wanaka as a base and taking a flying or helicopter visit to Mt Cook, the glaciers and Fiordland. I’m not sure Jim accepted this but Sheila was very enthusiastic.

After a meal in the sports bar we return to Jim’s and continue the discussions over a cup of tea and to collect an address I needed. Jim told me that Peter Clarke (another work mate who’d worked for Jim and I) and his wife, Christine, were celebrating their ruby wedding anniversary, and I wanted their address so I could send a card. (This I later did, in Napier).

Late for us, we leave at 11pm after fond farewells and good wishes for the travels ahead.

Day 36 – Travelling to Napier

We have a steady (206 mile) drive today to Napier – much of the journey north of Upper Hutt (just north of Wellington) is flat, with few towns, so we make good time (see About: Driving in New Zealand in Section 4 below).

We skip breakfast in Wellington and stop around noon in Dannewirke – there’s a 10-foot high, steel Viking statue as the town’s welcoming sign and the main square’s called Copenhagen Square, so I guess that this is where immigrant Danes settled in NZ. It’s a bit of a shabby town, but the coffee’s okay!!!

The towns of Hastings and Napier, and much of the surrounding area were completely destroyed by a earthquake in February 1931 – we’re again reminded that we are driving along the “ring of fire”, where the Pacific tectonic plate rubs against neighbouring plates! Both towns were re-built from scratch, and both in the art deco style; the only difference being that Hastings adopted more of the Spanish influence on art deco than did Napier.

Hastings is a handsome town, and we spend an hour or so walking the main streets and town centre, enjoying the colourful buildings - we have booked our accommodation ahead in Napier, so we’re in no hurry.

Booking ahead has its drawbacks as well as its advantages – see About – Booking Ahead in Section 4 below. One of the drawbacks is that you never know exactly where you’re going to end up. Chris giving directions, and as we pass through Napier’s centre and out the other side, and then through the port area and out the other side, I’m full of trepidation about exactly what we’ll find when we arrive at our motel. But, it turns out well. An area of newly developed properties arises, and we see our motel is right on Napier Bay – we get a room that opens directly onto the Bay with an unobstructed view across it to the hills beyond – it couldn’t be more picturesque.

I still have a ‘middle of nowhere’ fear, so we take a short walk, mostly to get a wine supply, but also to see what’s around us. Surprise, surprise, just to one side of us is a restaurant and across the road and down another we have a few shops and more restaurants. But, no wine shop. The woman in the grocery tells us that there’s a Liquor King down past the fishing harbour and “past all the restaurants”. A 15-minute walk takes us there, and we are ‘replenished’.

The sun and the views are too good to waste so we spend the rest of the day relaxing and re-planning the back end of our trip. I’d originally planned two days in Auckland on the way back, but we decide to stay on the Coromandel Peninsula (our last port of call) for those two nights, and drive straight from there to the airport. We don’t fly until 2300 on 16th, so there’s plenty of time to make the drive, dump the car and get to the airport. It’s a good plan and gives us 3 full days at the coast relaxing before we have to head home – magic! We sleep on it.

Day 37: Art Deco, and all that

We’ve come to Napier to see the art deco buildings (and to be by the seaside), so we decide to do a guided tour of the town in the morning. Our party is 31, so we’re broken into three smaller groups, and 3 “volunteer” guides walk us through the main streets and give us a lot of interesting information about the re-building of the town and how it was done.

We didn’t know that the whole area had been up-lifted by 7-feet by the earthquake, and were surprised to find out that the old sea wall, which had survived the devastation, was now high and dry at pavement level and had been incorporated into the sea-front promenade.

The town had been re-built from scratch in less than 2 years. In a stroke if genius, the local architects restricted the height of buildings to two storeys, made then of steel re-enforced concrete, and finished them with art deco decoration, a style that was highly fashionable in the early 1930s. Napier has now the world’s highest concentration of art deco buildings, and is the most complete example of the style anywhere.

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