Mon. Jul 15th, 2024

By Samuel Strait – May 17, 2023

When I stepped off the plane from Nuie, I could tell that fall weather
had come to New Zealand.  A bit over a week to see some of North Island
before returning home.  The first night was spent barely thirty miles
south of Auckland at Pokeno, yet Auckland sprawl had already visited
this small rural community.  The hillsides to the west were a sea of new
development trying to escape the high cost of housing in the
metropolitan area around Auckland.  Too late for dinner, so the deli at
Countdown, New Zealand’s version of Safeway, where food prices were
relatively similar to California’s. 

Stayed in a rather plush room with
kitchen and three beds for the one of me, all for less than $100 US. 
Accommodations in New Zealand were a bit of a surprise as they tended to
be very well appointed and less than the equivalent in the US by a third.

Up early the next morning for a sprint to Napier on New Zealand’s East
Coast where early European settlers began their occupation of the
island.  First a stop at Rotorua where New Zealand’s second largest lake
is and a grove of Coastal Redwoods..   A 1200 foot aerial walkway was
suspended through the grove about thirty feet in the air.  While the
trees themselves were fairly small by comparison, it gave a pretty good
idea of how fast redwood trees can cover an area after only seventy five
years.  Next stop Craters of the Moon  near Taupo alongside New
Zealand’s largest lake.  Much of this part of New Zealand is subject to
thermal eruptions and mild volcanic activity.  Craters of the Moon has a
series of pools where you can subject yourself to outdoor warm mud
baths.  I was told by several participants in the baths that it was
quite relaxing.  As it was getting towards noon and Napier was still
over the mountains, it was time to move on.

Leaving New Zealand’s main Highway, Highway One, I split off towards the
Coast on Highway Five where reaching the summit of the range of
mountains on the way to the coast, the blue Pacific spread out before
me.  Hawke’s Bay and Napier were wiped out by volcanic eruptions several
times, yet still manages the picturesque scene of 1930’s tranquility on
its main street.  I managed to stumble on New Zealand’s National
Aquarium here and was captivated by their penguin enclosure.  Hungry
little buggers. 

On down the Maritime Drive to spend the night at a
beach front hotel with a view of the ocean.

Up early for another day south to wine country, a lot like the Napa
Valley.   As I drove south there was almost constant stopping for road
construction on Highway Two and thought it must be the construction
season in New Zealand only to find out later that the Kiwi’s work on
their roads constantly.  A stop at Carterton to try and find New
Zealand’s version of Stonehenge proved to be a challenge, but managed to
stumble across the road to it after I had given up and was prepared to
give it a pass.  Not a faithful reproduction, but a full scale working
model of what Stonehenge was meant to be after being built.  I guess the
astronomer in me bubbled up  and I spent a fascinating couple of hours
touring the site.  On to Greytown, a delightful small town that has
resurrected its older buildings into a magnet for day travelers from New
Zealand’s capital, Wellington.  Plenty to tantalize while taking in High
Street.

Up over another winding mountain road the next morning before a day and
night in Wellington.  I happened to be just in time for the weekly
street market, and another valiant try at a plate of “Bangers and Mash”,
sometimes I think its the National Dish.  The mash was fine, mashed
potatoes, but the bangers must be an acquired taste. 

A bed in an old
updated inn, the next morning the Cobblestone Museum, the harbor, and
the local Tram Museum before I am off for Southland, New Zealand’s
largest collection of old cars, left hand drive of course.  The facility
did not disappoint.  A car lover’s paradise.  Three floors of cars, a
couple of planes, motorcycles, bicycles, and Mickey Cohen’s shot up
Cadillac. 

Last electric tram 1964

North and West out to New Zealand’s West coast, where the
Surfing is fine along the “Surf Highway”.  Whanganui for the night and a
local bakery for dinner.  Into town the next morning for a look at a
local steamer that had sunk in the river one hundred and twenty five
years in the past, then up the quaint ten blocks of Victoria Street to
rejoin the “Surf Highway”.

The “Surf Highway” spends way too much time traveling through dairy
farms for my taste, so after dozens of short detours to the beach, I
ended up at Opunake for the day.  Checked into the venerable Club Hotel,
1885 vintage, for the princely sum of $47 US, restaurant and lounge
included.  Must have been a week night as everything was quiet after
9:00 pm.  I was left with the key to the front door and pointed up the
street where it appeared the sidewalks had been rolled up for the
night.  So much for a rousing Saturday night in New Zealand.

Around Mt. Taranaki in the morning to New Plymouth, black sand beaches
along the way, then down to Stratford where Shakespeare has a
following.  Enroute between New Plymouth and Stratford is a town called
Inglewood.  Not much there except on Sunday’s once a month where cars
from far and wide line up in the local park in rows with their boot lid
open.  Your car’s trunk for those that don’t know, and the selling of
your cast offs begins.  Its quite the party.  A visit to the ever
popular Restoration Village, a collection of houses and stores from
around the area with its very own miniature train to ride.

From Stratford to Taumarunui is one hundred and fifty five miles of
winding road through kilometers of chasms, narrow one land bridges, a
unique tunnel, also one lane, and the Republic of Whangamomona since
1974.  At the hotel in Whangamomona you can get your passport stamped
and purchase a shirt that proclaims you have driven the Highway that the
World forgot.  Except for the bridges and the tunnel, it reminds me a
lot of how Highway 199 used to be when I traveled on it in 1954. 
Spectacular four hour drive for a ninety five mile trip.

I ended up in Te Kiti for the night, close to the Waitomo Caves. A
stroll down main street with an eye on the local bakery for breakfast
then a meal in the old train station.  Early to bed then up to stop at
the Caves before heading back to Pokeno for the last night in New
Zealand.  A thirty mile three hour adventure on the road to Auckland’s
airport and I am on an eleven hour flight to LA, then home.  Great trip.

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