ellington to Auckland 2010
March 6-12, 2010
We left Wellington on a sunny Sunday morning and meandered up the west coast en route to Auckland. Our first stop was for a pretty good Sunday lunch at a beach cafe on Raumati Beach, a quiet little place that suited us perfectly. After lunch we continued to wend our way up the east coast towards Wanganui/Whanganui (see box below), where we spent our first night.
Our backpacker's was just across the road from the river and we had a room with a nice bay window that looked out in that direction. We explored the town a bit, finding a lookout tower that gave us great views of the city, the river and the ocean beyond it. We made it down to the beach, like most others on this coastline made of black sand. No matter that intellectually we know there is no real difference between black and white sand beaches, the color turns us off.
By mid-day, we had to say goodbye to Wanganui/Whanganui and head further north, via Patea to our lodgings that night at Wheatley Downs Farmstay. We had a little trouble finding the right turnoff from the highway, but it wasn't too far and we weren't in a great hurry. We got there in time to unpack in a leisurely fashion, make some supper and sit outside in the sunshine and enjoy playing with the little piglets that the farmer introduced us to.
The next morning we headed out again, our goal for mid-day was Mt Taranaki, where we planned to drive as far up as the road would allow We got only a short way up, maybe a quarter, along a narrow winding road that squirmed its way through a rather exotic tropical-style forest to emerge finally on a huge flat plateau of rough black volcanic cinders. It was clearly meant to be a parking lot for the horde of winter skiers that ply the mountain, but now, in summer, it was nigh on deserted. We parked the van and wandered the couple of trails that took us out to the edge of the mountain for views of the plains below. The views would have been spectacular except for the haze. We met a couple of hikers coming down from the peak and vaguely wished we were in shape to emulate them.
So, instead of launching an assault on Taranaki, we retraced our drive back down to the plain and continued on our way north towards New Plymouth. En route we stopped in Hawera and found an almost new swimming pool, where we stretched our muscles a wee bit. We gave ourselves a tour of the city too, eating lunch by the pond in King Edward Park and then continuing on to New Plymouth.
A night in New Plymouth allowed us to explore the waterfront before moving on northward again, heading for the least populated part of our journey. We hugged the coast as much as possible, stopping at Three Sisters Beach to take a walk out on the sand flats and take a peek into a cave or two. We saw a lucky resident sculling out to sea in his little row boat. It looked like such an idyllic life on a sunny late summer's day.
We didn't have any real plans for the night, except that we hoped and expected to find somewhere to stay between New Plymouth and Raglan, but weren't sure where that would be. It turned out to be quite a surprise. We were tootling along a country road and spied a sign for a backpackers' called 'The Lazy Hedgehog'. It sounded like our kind of place, so we followed the signs hoping we would find the place itself. When we did, however, it was rather strange. We drove up a long steep driveway and reached a nice looking farmhouse, with an elderly lady sitting outside in the sun and hoped that the house was what we were looking for. 'Twas not to be. The lady explained that the backpackers' was further on up the hill. There we found another farmhouse, this time in much poorer shape but with a reasonable living room and an equipped kitchen. When the elderly lady's daughter caught up to us, she explained that they weren't really expecting visitors. The business had fallen into abeyance when the property changed hands. We were welcome to stay, however, and share the house with the owner's mother-in-law, the friendly lady we had already met. Having checked out the bedrooms that were available, we decided we much preferred to be in our tent and so paid a tent fee that gave us the right to use the kitchen and lounge and bathroom. We enjoyed getting to know Barbara, a feisty 70-something, who was recovering from a fall and a broken arm and itching to get back to her own home over on the east coast of the North Island.
The next morning we made our last leisurely drive from The Lazy Hedgehog to Raglan. En route, we stopped for an hour or so at the Tainui Museum. It was chockablock full of objects once treasured and then hoarded by the farmers of the region. The guy at the desk, one of a group of volunteers that keep the museum going, was a bit of a curmudgeon even by his own lights. A lone libertarian in a world of socialists and unhappy at his fate. Somehow, he had found a calling in the museum and was as proud of it as if it had been a prodigal child.
But we had to move on. We had a booking in Raglan and wanted to be sure that it didn't slip away because of a late arrival. Even though we weren't more than a few tens of kilometers away, we didn't know how good or bad the road would be and so how long it would take us. As it turned out, we made it just around the witching hour of six pm including a brief stop to admire the Bridal Veil Falls.
And so we arrived at the penultimate chapter of our New Zealand Odyssey. We had booked two nights in Raglan and were planning just to kick back and relax before what we expected would be a more stressful time in Auckland. So, relax we did and were just about to book ourselves in for an extra two nights when we re-read our guidebook and noticed that the car market we were planning to go to was only on at weekends and that today was FRIDAY! A quick change of plans and the next morning at six found us packing up the van for our last hectic three-hour drive to Auckland, where we arrived and pulled into the car market at 10:30 a.m., just a half hour after opening.