I’d LOVE to write a longer entry about this trip, but given that it’s now less than three days until I leave Wellington I’m afraid there just won’t be time, so it’ll have to be a quicky.
Though the planning for Sarah and I’s trip home had been going well, there was still one major hurdle to clear: obtaining a US visa (if you want to miss out the upcoming rant, please just skip the following paragraph.)
Anyhow, despite the forgoing, we decided to make the best of a necessity and take the trip up to Auckland together, doing a bit of sightseeing on the way.
We started out by picking up our rental car on Fridya moring at the ferry terminal. It’s very common for tourists in NZ to fly into Auckland, then hire a car for a one-way trip down the north island to Wellington. Thus there are usually significant numbers of cars just sitting around in Wellington needing to be driven up to Auckland. Often if you’re willing to drive the car one-way in that direction relatively quickly (48 hours in our case) you can arrange for a free rental, paying only for fuel.
Unfortunately I didn’t “arrange” quite as thoroughly as I’d thought and when we arrived at the rental agency the only car they had available had a manual transmission… Uh oh… Some of you may be aware of my limited experience in driving manual cars before, and a few others may also be aware of the one or two uncomfortable spots that trying to do so has put me in.
Nonetheless, with the rental lady’s assurances that it was a really easy clutch to use soothing our minds we decided to give it a shot.
Things went generally smoothly and by early afternoon we’d made it up north to Napier, which sits by Hawke Bay on NZ’s east coast (oddly, the region of land surrounding Napier is known as “Hawke’s Bay” while the body of water itself is “Hawke Bay.” Huh?)
Anyhow, our early arrival allowed us to check out a few of Hawke’s Bay’s many wineries. We made it to three of them before retiring to our backpacker’s for the night. (Our stay at Wally’s Backpacker’s was very pleasant, being only slightly marred by the one mishap of my manual transmission experience: as we were departing in the morning, I was so fixated on shifting back and forth between reverse and first that I didn’t pay enough attention to where the car was actually GOING and backed into the owner’s 4WD. Fortunately no damage was done, save to my pride when the owner ran outside, looking very irritated, shouting and later commenting “that was some pretty poor driving mate.”)
The Craggy Range Winery near Havelock North, Hawke’s Bay. The Craggy Range in question is actually behind Sarah (who’s the photographer, of course)
The next morning we hit the road again, bright and early, with stops at a couple more wineries. The grounds at Mission Estate were very pretty, though I couldn’t help but be somewhat biased against the place due to its practice of making “ice wine” (a style which requires reasonable wine-growing conditions, coupled with extremely cold winters, and in which Canada is a world leader) by simply picking and pressing regular grapes, then freezing the juice. (I did actually buy a bottle, and while it wasn’t BAD, it was definitely missing a lot of the richness and power of flavour you get from real ice wine.)
Our two final winery visits completed, we climbed back in the car and started inland towards Taupo. The drive to Taupo was very pretty, and even featured a bit of early winter snow along the way as we reached the top of the Napier-Taupo road.
Our day’s drive more than half done, we paused just outside Taupo to revisit a favourite spot of mine from a previous visit:
Craters of the Moon geothermal area.
Craters of the Moon would be a fun place to visit any day, but on this particularly chilly, windy one, it was especially nice as the warm ground and wisps of steam did a lot to help keep us warm
Sarah and I got out and stretched our lefs here, going for an hour’s walk amongst the chugging, whistling fumeroles and bubbling mudpots before climbing back in the car and heading for the highlight of the trip: Hamilton.
Now those of you who know New Zealand may think I’m trying to be funny here. And those of you who don’t may be helped to undesrstand what I mean if I tell you that Hamilton, New Zealand has a lot in common with Hamilton, Ontario.
In fact it wasn’t Hamilton ITSELF that was so exciting, but what was going on there: An All Blacks rugby match. The All Blacks are, with little doubt, the most storied and presently, the best rugby team in the world. Seeing ANY All Blacks game would have been a delight, but even better, on this occasion they were playing my home team, Canada.
Sarah and I had just enough time to get set up at our campsite, perhaps 2.5km from the town centre before heading out for Waikato stadium on foot. As we got approached the ground we saw more and more people with black jerseys, face paint, flags and so on. To my surprise, in addition to the hordes of New Zealand supporters there were also quite a few wearing red and white.
We arrived at the stadium just before kickoff and set ourselves up with a big group of Canadians in the general admission section at the end of the ground. This rowdy lot made sure we had a fun evening (if one that was less than entirely focussed on rugby…)
The game itself was a very entertaining one. Canada played a fabulous first half, defending tenaciously and taking advantage of almost every All Blacks mistake, including an errant Dan Carter pass that was intercepted by Canadian fullback Mike Pyke and run 85m down the field for Canada’s one try of the game. With seconds to go before halftime, the score was 19-13 New Zealand.
The All Blacks performing the Haka (a traditional Maori dance [often a war dance]) that the NZ rugby team (as well as a few other Pacific Islands team) perform as a sort of challenge to the opposition before each match
An All Blacks try just after the halftime siren (but before a stoppage in play that would have ended the half) gave some indication of what was to come… The All Blacks offence started to click in the second half, and the endless hard work on defence started to take its toll on the Canadians. Never mind… They’d done enough in the first half (and we’d drunk enough Steinlager) to ensure that all of the Canadian supporters would leave happy, no matter what the final outcome. In the end it was 64-13 New Zealand, but everyone agreed that the Canadians had made a good game of it and could be proud of their performance. (By way of analogy, most would agree that a New Zealand ice hockey team that finished a game with Canada 6-1 had done very well indeed…)
Sarah and I at Waikato Stadium in Hamilton. This photo doesn’t give a very clear idea of the size of the crowd, as most of the seats are along the sides of the pitch instead of at the ends. There were about 25 000 there for the match, about 2000 of whom (at a rough estimate) were Canada supporters. Interestingly that would be a pretty decent number of Canadian fans at an international match IN CANADA
We had a long and complicated trip home, going via the bar where most Canadian supporters were and a kebab shop that made fabulous falafels. Despite the late hour of our return we still managed to make Auckland by 10:00 the following morning, returning the car just a touch later than we were technically supposed to.
It was a quiet day in Auckland, mostly due to our inability to link up with my friend Margot, whose presence was sadly missed.
Nonetheless, we did manage to enjoy ourselves in the few hours before my flight back (Sarah was staying until Monday for her visa interview.) We had brunch at a restaurant on the viaduct basin, then spent another couple of hours at Shakespeare’s, a brewpub that I seem to find myself in every time I go to Auckland (whether I’m planning on going there or not.)
My flight home was smooth (and given some of the weather that Wellington airport gets I’ve been very blessed in that respect) as was Sarah’s the next day, and by Monday night both of us were home and happy, having thoroughly enjoyed our mini road trip north.
P.S. The queues at the consulate were long, she had to be fingerprinted two separate times, and the interview consisted of a bunch of questions about the weather, but Sarah did eventually get her US visa, with more or less no difficulty. Yay!
Tags: Llew Bardecki, Napier, New Zealand, North Island, Rugby, Travel