Driving up from Wellington to Napier

This is one of a series of stories written for us by UK based customers Glynis and Graham, following their travels around New Zealand last Summer.  We hope you enjoy them as much as we do...

Sun 1 Feb

We got picked up at the apartment by the Omega Car Rentals people at 10 as promised and left to go directly North along the coast on the State Highway 1 as the sat nav now calls it. It is no longer the SH1. A real sign we are no longer in the deep South Island, but in a different type of country. 

Where it rains!! Hard! Stair rods! Buckets! Could be something to do with it being the West Coast again but it was actually forecast so comes as no shock. Also, the temperature is still in the 20s. The grass is very brown, they have been having bush fires in this region and I suspect they are all very happy to see it. As we have a 4 hour journey to the East coast we are not too stressed by the weather. Especially me as I am only driving by proxy and only braking every now and again!

There is a big motorway out of Wellington and then a fast main road. The towns on this road are bigger, meaner versions of  the little colonial towns in the South. They look like American frontier towns turned into modern America. Unsurprisingly, they never look like little English market towns.

After the one road North from Wellington the road splits three ways.  As we took the route towards the north East the road got smaller and emptier and the towns calmed down and looked more like something out of Bonnie and Clyde.

Most of the way up we either had the sea on our left and/or the Tararua forest park range on our right. I don't know why Jek was so concerned about it being less dramatic in the North. The forest was steaming in the rain and then disappeared into a white cloud of nothingness which then reappeared fleetingly as a ghostlike shadowland from time to time. Plus when we get to see them they are the weird bumpy hillocks which look like ancient funeral long barrows at home but which say volcanic when you see them here. Graham says glacial. When I come and do my geology course at Otago university I will know. Or I could look it up on www.

Manawatu Gorge is how you cross SW to NE and is as impressive as anything in the South. Inclined to say better as it gives road access to a very steep, high sided, very narrow pass with a railway line precariously balanced on the opposite edge. That would be a very scenic train ride! The track around the mountain on the other side of the gorge is just a bit wider than the rails!  The river carving through is not glacial as it is not white, blue or braided. I feel my geology degree is in the bag!.

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To my delight the sat nav tells us we are on SH 2 on the other side of the pass. Not urban enough to be a state highway then! The mountains are now on the left and as we near the coast the weather eases. The proximity to the sea must be why there are Vikings here. As an exception to the Maori and English names we get Norsewood and Dannevirke. And adverts for Vikings. And the SH becomes State Highway again.

Turning off a road just south of Napier we happen upon Ongaonga. Maori names often repeat the same sound twice. It literally is Onga. Twice. It competes with anything in the South Island. It is an historic town (pop about 200) and is a joy. An amalgam of 1950s English feel and colonial buildings dating back to the earliest years of the 20th century. And I think it was what I was secretly expecting/hoping all NZ to be like when I'm honest with myself.

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We had brunch in the general store where a lovely lady prepared us wonderful scrambled eggs and bacon on toast with tea that could have come from any little cafe in England. It felt like my childhood. Not that we ate out when we were children! There was nothing on that menu that my Grandmother would not have recognised. It really felt frozen in time but had the radio playing so we knew we could still get to a Pak and Save up the road. I like this NZ a lot. I suspect there are parts further North I will find more urban. Carole, you should run that place when the present owners retire.

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However, continuing along the road we crest a hill and below us is Dorset / Devon. Attractive and greener as there are fewer farms here than in the Canterbury plain which is grazed to exhaustion. Then through the extensive Hawkes Valley vineyards.

Finally the Art Deco town of Napier, prone to destruction by earthquake. Always the worm in this apple! Last time was February 3 1931. Our timing is very good.  We know the exact date as we saw the film in the visitors' centre and then joined the 90 minute town trail to find out more about the earthquake and the concrete, one style rebuild. Fascinating! Loads of people died again. Tragically. Gruesomely. Many squashed under falling bits of Victorian masonry. The hill was ok. Mostly! We are staying on the hill!

Shame we won't be here for their famous Art Deco weekend. Sounds like fun. Bad timing. It's the weekend we leave............. Next time! 

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