Tuesday, 26 February 2013

New Island, new experiences

Its Tuesday today (26th Feb) and we’ve been on the North Island for four days now, but not actually done a great deal, mainly because we are on a ‘wind down’ and relax after the slightly faster pace when Pauline was with us. We had a great time, saw and did a great deal and we really enjoyed our time with her (and hope she did too), but it is nice chill out and do very little for a while. Although it’s been a couple of days without her it still seems strangely odd. We got used to breakfasting together and doing things together and now it seems so different, but also ‘back to normal’! Bound to feel a bit like that, but its coupled with the fact that we’re now in new territory, with all the old familiar town names like Ashburton, Christchurch and Lincoln no longer here. We’ve got to get used to new geography and place names – and a very different volcanic landscape a little further north! We’ll soon get into it…. I found myself crying into the washing up (having explained to someone we’d just put mother on the train), now I know I’d not done much washing up while she was here, but that is a bit of an extreme reaction!

We dropped Pauline at Wellington main railway station at 7:00am on Sunday morning for her, hopefully scenic journey up the North Island back to Auckland, where she has another couple of days before flying home to the UK tomorrow (27th). We returned briefly to the Wellington campsite for breakfast, a clean of the van windows, so we can actually see out, a check of oil and water (all OK) and then away. We decided not to stay another night as it seems a bit of a transit campsite, mainly for people moving between islands and, in any case, I really wanted to get away from the city. Nice as it is (and it is really picturesque right on the seafront) it is still a bustling city and I prefer ‘away from it all’ countryside!

We moved only an hour away to a place called Martinborough, which is a small wine producing town, which apparently gets very popular at weekends. Pretty quiet when we were there and the campsite was suitably chilled out (though a little expensive and basic – no oven, how was I supposed to cook apple crumble from the apples we picked from the roadside!). Everyone there was very friendly and we got talking to an English guy who had moved out to Wellington 15 or so years ago as a software engineer and now seems to do very little, plus a very talkative Swiss lady and her (less talkative) husband who enthralled us with their tales of sailing halfway round the world (including a Pacific crossing) in a boat they built themselves. Sailing across oceans always sounds so romantic and, although she is very glad she’s done it, she has had enough of it after 12 years. On one trip, 25 days non-stop without sight of land, never able to sleep for more than a couple of hours and confined on a 40 foot yacht does sound a bit ‘trying’. Great to do it for the experience, and she says they have so many tales to tell, but we can both understand why she wants to go ‘back home’ to her house in Switzerland, maybe buying a campervan and touring Europe (bit like us really!).

The 'wild coast' Pacific to the left, Lake Ferry to the right
The lighthouse at Cape Palliser
Yesterday we went out for the day to visit the South East of the Island, stopping at Cape Palliser lighthouse (the most southerly point of the North Island, although there is no plaque there to signify it), to visit the very vibrant seal colony that exists there. 

And the 252 steps to get up to it!

Mum and dad have a quick discussion! Jackie thinks they're babies (but she's wrong!)
There were literally hundreds of pups and mum and dad seals all over the rocks and we felt privileged to be able to view their normal everyday lives, pups splashing about in a safe sheltered rock bay while their mum and dad’s snoozed (but also watched them and us), we could have watched them for hours. We decided being a seal would not be a bad life!

The pups playing
The amazing Putangirua Pinnacles we saw on the way
The journey to Cape Palliser is 60km along a cul-de-sac, mostly along a sealed (tarmac) road, with only the last 5km or so as gravel, with most of the scenery along the coast very wild and isolated. There was a southerly breeze blowing and as this part of the island has nothing between it and Antarctica, it bought in amazing surf, that was taken advantage of by quite a few locals, who obviously decided to have Monday off, knowing the ‘surf was up’. Our lunch was therefore taken beside the wild sea watching numerous surfers (many of which were pretty good it has to be said).

The Tinky Winky bulldozer!
About the only town along this isolated stretch, other than Lake Ferry (a small town by a sea lake, with very little to detain you except to look at the inhospitable breakers crashing in – don’t go swimming we were told!) is Ngawi, which the Rough Guide describes as ‘a small fishing village where all manner of bulldozers grind out their last days hauling sometimes massive fishing boats up the steep gravel beach’, which was a very good description! Apparently devoid of life as far as we could see, there were numerous examples of massive boats and very old tractors and bulldozers quietly rusting away, including the one with sad painted eyes called ‘Tinky Winky’!

On our return we decided not to go back to Martinborough, but instead try out another near town called Greytown (which is better than the name implies!). A pleasant town with quite a few shops (and 2 supermarkets!) and a campsite set in a park which is fabulous! Cheap, good facilities, within walking distance of the town, yet set in a secluded park and wood that makes it feel a world away. It has a very open feel and is inhabited by locals with their caravans and such a laid back feel it’s hard to describe. We instantly felt at home here, so booked in for two nights (at least). Hugely friendly locals it’s just great! Jackie’s happy as there’s a cat and the couple in the caravan next door live in a retirement home in Wellington and come here for a break. He can talk like nobody’s business, and she seems to be grateful he’s got someone to talk to! When we arrived one of the locals came over to say that the owner’s father died last night (he was 91), so he’s away tending to it. Just park up he said and he’d be around sometime later. He did turn up and we commiserated with him but he was very philosophical about it, but still sad (obviously). Today we have stayed around Greytown, doing our laundry, uploading photos using the free wi-fi at the local library and generally getting finances and things up to date, this evening just sitting outside in the evening warmth.

Earlier another car arrived looking to camp, so Jackie went over to welcome him, tell him about the owners bereavement and telling him to just set up and he’ll be round later. I could hear him telling her his life story and I heard the First World War, the Second World War and Margaret Thatcher mentioned, all in the space of 10 minutes! A bit later another couple arrived in a campervan, so I went over and did the same. How laid back is that! A bit later, while Jackie and I were eating our dinner outside by our van another car turned up. Not wanting to break off in the middle of dinner, the guy in the campervan I’d seen in was just coming back from the shower with just a towel round him, so I shouted to him ‘it’s your turn’, so he turned around and welcomed them in! It’s just great here – I want to stay another night! Mr Talkative next door has however recommended a DoC (Department of Conservation) $6pppn camp just up the road – it’s where they are going, is that a god reason to go, or a good reason to avoid it?

Now for those of you who think B has gone on a bit, it’s perhaps because he now only has me to talk to, so if you want to start a “return Pauline to NZ” petition feel free! I’m now missing her as I seem to have started a hobby of bin raiding for cryptic crosswords which are harder than the ones in the S Island paper that I was just coming to terms with, so really need a hand!

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