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We've now lived in Wellington for nearly 4 months. In that time, we've only been able to escape the city for any length of time on 2 occasions. The first occasion was over the Easter Bank Holiday weekend. This page goes through what we managed to get up to and see over the weekend that we spent away.

Friday 14th April 2006

8am: The first thing that we had to do was pick up our hire car from Budget, just up the road from our flat on Ghuznee Street in Wellington. What had seemed like a good deal when we were in the Tourist Information centre in Porirua City turned out to be not such a great deal when they told us that there would be an insurance excess of $2,500 in the case of an accident. Obviously, we were not planning on having an accident, but you don't have to have been in NZ for too long to understand that the quality of driving here is pretty dire. The frequency of which you see dented cars due to little dings and dents because of poor driving is alarmingly high. For example, a couple of weeks back, we were out running when we saw a chap trying to parallel park simply reverse straight into one of the parked cars! What finally caused us to pay an additional $100 to reduce the insurance excess is that Budget told us that car insurance is not mandatory in NZ, thus if some chap without insurance crashed into us, we would have had to pay the excess of $2,500!! Bollocks to that! I've decided that the driving system in NZ is shit. Full stop.

Our Driving Route

8.30am: After attempting half-heartedly to argue the toss with Budget over the ridiculous car insurance situation, we set off on the road a little wiser, and a little lighter in cash. Before too long, the idiosyncratic nature of the hire car made itself clear. We had had to hire an automatic due to it being a busy weekend, but in addition to the alien nature of driving an automatic, this car had a foot-controlled 'hand brake'. Fortunately, after a bit of swearing and sudden braking due to trying to use the 'hand brake' as a clutch, I had a handle on how to drive the car and we were off on the open road. We took State Highway 1 up towards Porirua City, heading up the Kapiti Coast. Along the way, we took a little detour at Paraparaumu to drive through the little coastal resort of Paraparaumu Beach (great naming there by the way NZ!). Unfortunately, the resort was dead due to it being the off season, and we couldn't even see the beach due to the Baches (Kiwi beach houses) being in the way. We didn't stick around too long, and headed back to SH1 where we suddenly found ourselves stuck behind a load of holiday traffic which our early departure had seen us avoid up until that point.

10am: We arrived in the town of Levin, a place we had passed through back in 2002 but hadn't stopped at. Our main memory of the place were the huge banners that they had been displaying, exclaiming in large, friendly letters "GO LEVIN!". Unfortunately, these banners seemed to have gone, which took some of the interest away from the place. We stopped to have a drink and a snack, thinking that we wouldn't be stopping here again on our journey (sadly, this assumption was wrong). The sun was bright and the temperature was getting warm when we stopped our car at a public toilet block. We found ourselves to be extremely disappointed when we found that these facilities had been closed down in their prime due to "persistant vandalism". Frankly, we'd expect that in some dead backwater town back in the UK, not a thriving Kiwi town like Levin! We eventually found a parking spot next to Levin Rugby ground, which was big enough to even have a stand! We soon found a Mr. Bun bakery to have a drink and a cake in. It was hardly the most salubrious of cafes, but it did have the dubious honour of being one of the only places open in Levin on Good Friday.

The Levin Clock Tower
Having found nothing to stick around for, we were soon back on the road towards Bulls on SH1. Bulls is a small town of little interest except for the fact that the Kiwi driving tradition had led to a head on collision on the bridge into town (nice driving, mate!) and for the humourous signs that are plasted up all over the town.

I feel that its an important point to dwell on the slightly dubious sense of humour that the town of Bulls has inspired in its citizens. On signs in the town, they have made themselves famous for the lovely, intelligent word play involving replacing the suffix '-ble' with 'bull'. Hence, on the bank in town, there's a sign saying 'Bank-A-Bull'; on the interestingly named Friendship Centre, there's the sign 'Befriend-a-Bull' and so on. Although its tempting to call that practise 'A Load-A-Bull' it did result in the short lived game of coining all-new Bull phrases. My favourite has to have been our plan to put 'Flamm-a-Bull' on the petrol pumps in town. It was much to my chagrin that this hadn't already been attempted. In fact, it was Unbelieve-a-Bull! We departed Bulls as soon as we could, and started the next part of our journey towards Taihape.

Still on SH1, and still a good 100 miles from the Tongariro National Park, we could just about see the majesty of Mount Ruapehu, the active volcano that last unleashed its fury towards the end of the last Millennium and which marks the Southern end of the National Park. However, before we were to get there, we took a stop off at the Mokai Gravity Canyon, about 15 minutes off SH1 between Mangaweka and Taihepe. Our plan here was to do the 'Flying Fox', a zipline ride that goes for about a kilometre down the Mokai canyon, on which you reach speeds of up to 160km/h. However, we were informed upon arrival that it was temporarily out of service due to the age old chestnut, 'Technical Difficulties'. We stood around for a while to watch a man do a bungy jump, and shortly afterwards we were informed that the technical difficulties had been resolved and we could do the flying fox after all. Foolhardy as we are, we were not perturbed by the fear that the ride had been malfunctioning only minutes before and we went right ahead and took the leap. In fact, the worst part is that you have to walk the 1km to the top of the zip line from the bottom, and its a pretty steep uphill trek. Still, with the walk we had planned at Tongariro, this was pretty insignificant and was a pretty good little warm up, and the view from the top was pretty stunning as well. It took a while for us to get strapped into the harness for the zip line, but once we were in and locked together we were soon off down the wire at breathtaking speeds. In fact, the length of the ride seemed to take about 10 minutes as momentum takes you back and forth a couple of times at the end of the ride. Even after the momentum has been used, you have to be winched back up to the top, which took a little while as well. After being unstrapped and heading back down to the visitor centre, we were able to watch our ride on video over a spot of lunch.

The Flying Fox The Flying Fox in progress
You can see where the Flying Fox starts from at the top here The Flying Fox. Did you ever watch So Haunt Me? Mrs Feldman RULED! RULED I TELL YOU!!! SHE RULED!! And Relax
Mokai Canyon Mokai Gravity Canyon in all its glory!

2.30pm: Back on the road, and back on SH1 heading through the town of Taihape - the self-styled "Gumboot Capital of New Zealand". If ever you find yourself heading towards Taihepe, make sure you stay for the annual Gumboot Festival involving such well followed sports as... erm... Gumboot Flinging... Okay, so we left here pretty quickly as well and headed towards Waioroa where we finally left SH1 and took SH49 towards the Ski town of Ohakune. The first thing that struck me as we entered Ohakune was that there was a HUGE carrot sculpture by the side of the road. Apparently, as well as skiing, Ohakune is famous for being the "Market Gardening Capital of New Zealand". In fact, it has to be said that virtually every town in New Zealand is "New Zealand's Capital of..." something or other. The only exception seems to have been Levin, but I'm unsure whether they'd want to market themselves as "The Capital of Mediocrity" or "The Capital of Vandalised Public Toilets" Actually, that might work well as Taihape had a Giant Gumboot to advertise themselves, Ohakune had a giant carrot and maybe a giant vandalised public toilet on entry to Levin would pretty much sum up the attractions of that particular town. Still, Ohakune on the other hand was a very pleasant place where the afternoon sun shone down on us as we had a tea/coffee. Ohakune is only about 10km from the North Island's main ski fields on the Southern slopes of Mount Ruapehu and becomes very busy when the ski season starts around June. However, the snow on the mountain in April isn't sufficient for good skiing and town was pretty quiet. After an ice cream to cool us from the sun, we were back on the road for the last drive of our first night to the beautifully named town of National Park.

5pm: We arrived at the little town of National Park (really a village, but you don't get villages in NZ, places can only be towns or cities apparently!)and we quickly located our accomodation at the Adventure Lodge. After a quick run through of what to expect from the walking the next day, we were shown to our room. The room was pretty spartan and had very thin walls. In fact, you could probably hear whispering through them! After sitting down in the lounge in front of the fire and watching the news and having a quick read of the paper, we went for a short walk to the Station Cafe to have some dinner. Here, we enjoyed a very tasty, large, but reasonably priced meal accompanied by a vast amount of water to hydrate ourselves for the walk planned for Saturday. After a quick look around the Railway Station, we went back to the Adventure Lodge and went to bed.

Mankind has Gone to the Moon! Woosh! A view of the moon on the way back from the Station Cafe

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