Posted by: Carol | January 18, 2009

From North to South Island

2009 New Zealand

cbpphoto_d3_20090118_wairapara-812From Treetops we continued south to Hastings. Driving in New Zealand takes some getting used to – we’ve conquered driving on the opposite side of the road – but the two lane highways that wind through mountainous terrain with little or no shoulder and 100 km speed limits and a fair amount of traffic definitely make for tense and tiring conditions…even though the scenery can be spectacular.

Hastings is set in a completely different landscape from the heavily forested northland. Here vineyards thrive and the hills are barren and brown, more like California in September. Greenhills The Lodge is a century old Victorian mansion out in the countryside sited atop a hilltop overlooking sweeping terrain and surrounded by beautiful gardens. Again we were served elegant 5-course meals (and of course scrumptious breakfasts as well) – too delicious to turn down but four days in a row was a bit much!

Our tourist activity in Hastings was meant to be a wine-tasting tour by bicycle, pedaling down country roads and stopping in on approximately ten vineyards along the route. However Mike and I came to the unanimous conclusion that the seats of the provided mountain bikes were highly uncomfortable – so we cut the bicycling short and finished up exploring in our rental car before crashing in our hotel room for a nap.

From Hastings we left early for Wellington with the intention of stopping for Wings Over Wairarapa, New Zealand’s largest air show taking place that weekend right on our route for Wellington. The weather forecast was for rain and we thought it a good possibility the air show would be canceled or curtailed – but although we drove through rain and mist on the way down, it cleared by the time we reached Wairarapa. Some 45,000 spectators attended over Saturday and Sunday, and the air show was terrific! On display and in the air were some of the finest privately owned collections of First & Second World War aircraft in the world. Althought there was a strong emphasis on the historical aircraft, New Zealand’s Air Force had an impressive showing of their jets and helicopters. The action was non-stop as the aircraft followed each other into the sky, while spectators camped out on grassy fields by the runway overlooking a scenic rural landscape.cbpphoto_d3_20090118_wairapara-762

One of the highlights for me was a World War I dogfight staged with three German Fokker Dr.1 Triplanes versus three New Zealand built replicas of Royal Aircraft Factory SE 5.a’s. In concert with the dog fight, on the ground a vintage WWI tank drove alongside the runway firing its guns (blanks) and across the field a mock infantry battle took place with soldiers dressed in WWI uniforms – while the sound of simulated gunfire and mortarfire was accompanied by suitable plumes of smoke. All quite exciting and entertaining…and probably the first dogfight to take place between these aircraft since about 1918!

I put my longest lens on my camera, cranked the shutter speed up to 1/1000 second, and fired off nearly 1,000 shots (in motor-drive) filling up two 8 gigabyte cards and getting some fun action shots as a result.

Last night we stayed at a Wellington B&B in a lovely old home facing out onto Wellington’s Oriental Bay which, as I mentioned previously, the wind had whipped up a frothy white-capped turmoil. And this morning we caught the ferry from Wellington to Picton. We rode the Kaitaki (Maori word for Challenger), New Zealand’s largest ferry which is the size of a small cruise ship, with ten deck levels and capacity for some 1650 passengers and 600 vehicles, both cars and trucks. As we disembarked in Picton I saw a semitruck pulling a flatbed trailer loaded up with a backhoe drive off the ferry.

We are done with rental cars for the rest of the trip – we were met by a driver who chauffered us from Picton to Nelson on the Queen Charlotte Highway, a picturesque coastal drive, winding and mountainous yet again. It was a pleasure to sit back and admire the scenery without having to take responsibility for the driving, while entertained and educated by our driver’s comments.  As an aside, our driver was another example of the eclectic New Zealand personality we enjoy so much.  A former Brit, he emigrated to New Zealand some 20 years ago.  Summers he works as a driver for a tour company, but his passion and winter job is the tango!  He dances the tango, teaches the tango, and once or twice a year escorts his students to Buenos Aires, apparently the homeland of the tango!  

Tonight we’re in another B&B, and tomorrow morning we’ll be picked up by coach and whisked off to our adventure in the Abel Tasman. We are only allowed a limited amount of belongings for our hiking and kayaking adventure – the remainder of our luggage will stay here at California House awaiting our return. No internet, no cellphone service – so we’ll be back in touch next Saturday (Friday in Tucson) night.


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