Wednesday, February 24, 2010

New Zealand 2010: Rotorua to Wellington (Friday, February 19)

Written on the ferry to Picton (on the South Island), 11:00 am on Sunday, February 21; and some at Los Angeles airport at 5:15 pm on Monday, February 22

This was our big long travel day, about 9.5 hours from Rotorua to Wellington.

We left Rotorua a bit before noon and headed south to Taupo.  Mom needed to change some more US currency, and there was a CD shop I wanted to visit that had been closed when I got back from the kayaking the day before.  In the early 1990s, I had an Internet friend in New Zealand who I met because of a mutual love for Days of Our Lives.  She would send me New Zealand music, including several tapes and CDs from The Warratahs (a country group), and I would send her Calvin & Hobbes collections.  The Warratahs broke up around that time (I’m told), and I’ve always wanted to finish off my collection.  A buddy visiting New Zealand around 1997 picked up their last album for me, but it got ripped off from him in a hostel he was staying at.

Yay!  In the New Zealand music section, they had an 18-track Best Of collection, including several songs from that missing album.  I also bought a Welcome to New Zealand album, a Kiwi Country album (with two Warratahs tracks and one from lead singer Barry Saunders), and a John Denver collection (hey, I’ve only got one song from him in my DJ music!).  The store owner said he was partly responsible for that Warratahs collection being produced: he kept getting requests for Warratahs disks, so he phoned them up (the band, the record company.  I don’t know) and got them to put it out.  We also chatted about American country music for him to stock, and I turned him on to Randy Houser.  To hear him describe it, his distributor is baffled by why he would carry any American country music, much less order dozens of units of various artists.

(He also reminded me that New Zealand does have one famous country singer in its output: Keith Urban.)

(Woo!  I checked out Wikipedia and saw that The Warratahs did re-form and have released two further albums this decade.  Must find!)

We had ice cream cones — I had passionfruit (which they leave the seeds in, oddly), something you never see as ice cream in the States.  The primary ice cream company in New Zealand is Tip Top, and their stuff is indeed fantastic!

I also stopped in at a thrift store we spotted two days before, just so I could tell my boyfriend that I had done so. (Sorry, hon, nothing of interest for sale.)

Next stop was Turangi at the south end of the lake, for gas.  Then we headed down the west side of Tongoriro National Park, home of the three volcanoes (Tongoriro, Ngauruhoe, and Ruapehu), which were given to the country by a Māori chief in 1887.  (The cynic in me wonders if that was magnanimous or an effort to keep them out of the hands of mining companies and the like.)

We stopped for pictures a couple times and at Chateau Tongoriro at the skiing town of Whakapapa, the main entrance to the park.  The Chateau was used as headquarters for the Lord of the Rings crew when filming the Mordor sequences, many of which were done in the park.

(Māori pronunciation: “wh” is pronounced as an aspirated “f” or “fh”, so there is a t-shirt out there that I didn’t see which says “Whakapapa – Your momma did”.  Also, a leading “ng” on words has the “g” almost silent; I think you press the tip of the tongue slightly into the soft palate at the top of your mouth, maybe 1/4" back from where an “n” sound is made.)

We continued down to Wanganui, on the southwest coast.  I slept for about an hour through very windy road; probably good so I didn’t use my phantom passenger foot brake on every curve as Mom drove.  (You know the one, I’m sure.  You use it whenever someone else drives.)  Heading south along the coast, we stopped for snacks somewhere outside Palmerston North (Otago, maybe?).  I got a bag of Bluebird-brand (with a penguin on the bag) “Rashuns”.  On the bag, they looked like Fritos, but inside, they were closer to Cheetos, but “cheese and bacon” flavor and truly foul!

At Foxton, we stopped for dinner at the “66 on 1” American-style diner, and then proceeded to Wellington, where we stayed at the Comfort Inn on Cuba Street.  This turned out to be a block from one of the two gay bars (S & M’s; not a leather bar!) and near a major pedestrian shopping area.  That night, I also tramped up to Dixon Street, which was incredibly loud and full of 20-something drunk straight kids.

New Zealand has sported more motorcycles and scooters than any place I’ve seen, including the good numbers we have in Seattle and even last summer in Europe.  I’ve been incredibly homesick for my own scooter (but in weather like we’ve had here in New Zealand, whether that’s slightly drizzly or super sunny), and envious of the guys (and girls) we’ve seen riding.  New Zealand is unquestionably well suited to riding.  My scooter could have easily handled anything we encountered in the Auckland/Rotorua/Taupo area, although it probably would have struggled with the hills south of Turangi.  I would love to come back in a couple years with my boyfriend and rent motorcycles for our transportation through the country.

We’ve also seen a lot of “Backpackers” hotels/hostels on the North Island.  Daniel, from the Lake Taupo kayaking trip, was one of them: they apparently do most of their travelling by bus (or train), staying in these cheap, small hotels along the way.  They are mostly under 25.  It sounds like a great way to encounter the country for someone of that age, someone less tied to luggage and laptops.  But maybe it could be good for motorcycle tourists, too.

Updated on March 1, 2010

Updated on April 12, 2010
General updates and spelling corrections.
Added links.
Added travel map
Updated on June 7, 2010
Moved part of this post to the Sounds Kinky-er blog:

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