Ah, braindump at last. We've arrived in Wellington, city of wind and (intermittent) rain, home to the cheapest Internet facilities since Waitomo. Thoughts on the holiday so far follow.
There's not much to be said about Auckland except that it's a city. Admittedly we only saw the central, most typically urban part of it, but general impressions are of blandness. Many non-Aucklanders seem to agree.
Pedestrian crossings in Auckland are a bit special (see, this is the level...). They bide their time making "Pong" noises - this effect is most noticeable at crossroads, where you get two competing sets playing against each other. And then, when the green man appears, they make a noise like a fruit machine being goosed.
There is one other special thing about Auckland, and that's the Skytower, its sole prominent architectural feature. It looks (and, with a name like "Skytower", sounds) as though Dr Hans Zarkoff had designed it. However, it had its own stall at the Auckland jobs fair, and from this we know that inside it's nothing but solid casinos.
We met some relatives here, wandered around a bit, had some coffee, left again.
The furthest north we ventured, the midpoint of a day trip up Whangarei. With its exposed rail line running down the middle of the dusty high street and its worn verandas, Kawakawa looks like a small town in Mexico. (Mind you, so do some of the suburban parts of Auckland that we drove through.) But Kawakawa also has a lot of colourful tiling and some very ornate shop fronts, thanks to an Austrian artist by the name of Hundertwasser. Apparently he came and personally designed the town's public toilets, the most famous public toilets in NZ. Naturally we had to drive up and see them. And use them. Not every day you get to relieve yourself over a work of art. They were very nice lavs, too.
A halfway stop between Auckland and Taupo. The campsite is a small strip across the road from the Waitomo Cave Museum and next to a trendy cafe. Mere minutes down the road is the entrance (and gift shop) to Waitomo's Glowworm Caves, one of three well-publicised caves in the area. This was one of the things we'd vowed to see when arranging our holiday, and well worth it it was too.
Readers might think that there's nothing to Waitomo but caves, but that just isn't true - visitors can also indulge in extreme sports. In caves.
Is not the home of, and has nothing particularly to do with, NZ's own favourite cartoon strip, Footrot Flats. We weren't the first people who'd asked, said the woman in the information office. She didn't know where we'd got the idea from. I'll tell you where - from the Lonely bloody Planet guide book. That thing has steered us wrong more than once this holiday.
What Otorohanga does have, besides a disturbing urge to crown itself the king-town of "Kiwiana" (i.e. of tourist tat), is a rather nice bird sanctuary. We were still seeing the birds in aviaries rather than in the wild, but at least we were seeing them. The chief attraction is the kiwi house, where the staff have tinkered with the poor nocturnal creatures' body clocks sufficiently to get them active at midday. If you were to draw yer most basic cartoon bird - big ball of feathers, feet and head - it'd look like these. They behave like basic cartoon birds too.
A facade of false bonhomie fails to cover the campsite's drab, colourless features. Empty 300 sqm fields masquerade under absurd names like "Dinosaur Valley". The receptionist makes it implicitly clear that, through gritted teeth, he and you will have fun at all costs. The staff police the site in tiny motorised buggies. Happiness will prevail.
The Lake Taupo area has one fairly obvious feature of tourist interest, which it plies with scenic walks and spa resorts. It appears to be the school holiday destination of choice for the locals. Lake Taupo was caused by a large volcanic explosion mumble hundred years ago, and the area now boasts a selection of hot springs, bubbling mud pools and sulphurous smells. We spent a couple of hours strolling up to the Huka Falls and back, but that and a few bayside photos pretty much covered it.
Probably the nicest campsite so far, albeit stuck in the middle of suburbia. If you could put this campsite in the Taupo campsite's location, you'd have the perfect combo.
Napier has many things going for it. For a start it has the southern hemisphere's biggest collection of Art Deco architecture - thanks, 1931 earthquake! Smooth pastel-coloured buildings line the streets like block after block of elaborately decorated wedding cakes. If we'd had more time it might have been worth taking an organised tour, but a couple of hours with the camera and a glossy souvenir book will have to do.
Then, like the rest of Hawkes Bay, it has wineries and wine tours. A couple of friends recommended a particular tour to us, and it made for a very pleasant afternoon of mild alcoholic fug. Winery tasting notes follow:
Matariki. Looks exactly the way you'd imagine a wine ranch would look. You drive up the dust path to the wooden offices where a hearty fellow in a big straw hat bounds forth to greet you. Seems to specialise in fruity reds and red blends. Plenty of body.
Trinity Hill. Looks like a trendy wine bar, but don't be fooled. Specialises in whites, including a nice smooth Sauvignon and a cheeky dessert wine. We spent a little while in here.
Sileni. With its big metal triangle-in-circle logo out front, it looks rather like a sinister corporation of some sort. A very small one, obviously. Has an extensive shop. Good reds, but pricey.
Ngatarawa. Previously a racehorse stables, which gives the place a very homely look. Offers a range of wines in a range of prices. A nice end to the afternoon.
And so to Wellington, where we'll be spending a few days scoping the place out before hopping on the ferry to the South Island on Saturday. Further thoughts may follow.