Tuesday, October 07, 2008

New Zealand, day 14

Much fun was had in Wellington, which is still the preferred destination once we start the emigration process in earnest. To be honest, I'm cheap and can be won over with a sufficiently large second hand bookshop and a nice inexpensive sushi bar, both of which Wellington offers. It also houses Te Papa, NZ's national museum, as well as some very nice looking suburbs, Weta's new visitor facility and the Karori wildlife park. The noble idea behind Karori - and an especially surprising one considering it's part of NZ's capital city - is to section off a large valley, remove all non-native animal and plant life, and restore it to the condition it is presumed to have been in before the settlers arrived. Apparently it'll take 500 years to get there, but it's already a very impressive place. Sadly we only discovered it an hour before closing time, so a full exploration will have to wait until we've moved out here.

The ferry crossing between islands wasn't much different from the ferry to Jersey or France - smoother, if anything, and obviously much shorter. And so here we are in the South Island. People have been telling us we'll love the South Island since we arrived in NZ. It got to the point where I was prepared to loathe it out of sheer stubbornness. But on sober reflection, having now been here for a few days, I think I can honestly say that the inhabited areas are better laid out and nicer to look at, the campsite amenities better, the tourist attractions more attractive, the shop and site staff more friendly, helpful and welcoming, the motorists less aggressive and the scenery no less enjoyable in the North Island. It's the North for me. The weather was nicer, the children happier, the recycling facilities more complete and the Wagon Wheels larger too, since you ask. But seriously, I prefer the North.

One thing that bothers me about the South is that it's been made to look so much more like the UK - the brick buildings, big stone municipal buildings, low brick garden walls, over-familiar trees and plants muscling out the bromeliads, tall hedges partitioning the countryside all over. I realise that was exactly the intention for the 19th century settlers, and maybe that was why people thought we might love the South Island, but we didn't come all this way to be reminded of home. We haven't come out here to look at fields and hills and villages that look just like bits of the Black Country - we've come out here to look at NZ.

Christchurch takes it slightly to extremes by having a River Avon along which one may punt. On the plus side, the city centre is peppered with diverting sculptures, and it does have its share of Art Deco and weatherboard, so it's not all Victorian homesickness made urban flesh. And just the other side of Christchurch's nearest mountain there's the attractive Lyttleton Harbour. On Monday we visited the Antarctic Centre, with its penguins, its Antarctic storm simulator and its surprisingly large entry price.

Now we're in Dunedin, where we're experiencing the first proper day of rain all holiday - we've done pretty well with the weather so far. The campsite is a jumble of brightly painted wood, with board games laid out on the bench tops, and blue and yellow wooden cubes scattered around the grounds like computer game furniture. In a small outdoor cage huddle some very ordinary budgerigars - I'm pretty sure they're not even native. Disappointment falls with the rain. Tomorrow we drive out of town to see NZ's biggest albatross sanctuary, then in the evening it's the Mikelangelo concert, so tomorrow should be a much better day all round.

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