I’ve been on the road and in the air a lot over the last few months. Travels come in all sorts of shapes and sizes one could argue though as I grow older I tend to use the more relaxed and mainstream modes of transport.
Moving house has had a lot of travelling involved in it. Flying to Wellington is slightly more time consuming and takes care of 3 different mode of transport in one morning. First driving to Auckland (all up 4 hours by car) on the windy and narrow roads of the North and through the dark and mystical Waipoua Forest at first light.
At this time in the morning in Spring the forest takes on a life of it’s own – mist wavering through the old Kauri trees, the odd bird awakes and gets spooked by the passing car, kiwi and their enemies (stoats and possums) are long back in their day quarters by then, hiding till night falls again.
The first sun is not yet strong enough to penetrate the thick layer of fog but as the minutes virtually tick by it gets lighter and lighter and not just the sun comes up behind the horizon – casting a bright yellow and orange glow over the trees – the forest itself gets thinner and thinner until it suddenly disappears and gives way to farmland.
18km long is the road through the Waipoua Forest – but that is only a fraction of what is left of the once mighty forests that covered most of New Zealand. Visitors stand in awe and gaze at 2000 year old trees and wonder what the world used to look like before human intervention – namely logging and introducing of pests. What stories could those trees tell if they where able to talk?
It is no small wonder that this forest attracts visitors from all over the world to gaze upon the majestic Kauri and other native trees and shrubs. The forest is home to many indigenous animals too – the most unusual must be the Kauri Snail – it is huge (size of the palm of a hand) and eats meat (worms etc or each other)… apparently rather unusual for snails.
Since moving to the Hokianga Harbour 3 or so months ago I have driven through this enchanting forest at least once a week and know the road quite well. There is a marked difference between early morning’s and the rest of the day though. I am usually driving through it around 5-6am – and hardly meet any other vehicles for a good hour or so – but anything later than that or beware after 10am it becomes a very different drive.
As mentioned earlier this is a major tourist attraction and thus many tourists drive through it and stop along the way to gaze at some of the old Kauri – but they don’t seem to care about “regular drivers” who just want to get from A to B – like me. As a consequence my usual 1 hour drive from our house to the next town (and self proclaimed Kumara Capital of NZ) of Dargaville can take about 1.5 hours in “peak hours” and it’s not adding to my calm spirit at all since from there it is another 3 hours to Auckland…
I don’t mind tourists at all – quite the opposite, they bring money into the country and I used to earn a living from Tourism in my younger years and let’s face it – I am a tourist sometimes too. However – I do still take my common sense with me when I travel – if I have a car behind me that clearly wants to go faster – I’ll pull over and let them pass. For some reason that works in some countries but not in New Zealand. Here not just the tourists but also some locals seems to think that they have the eternal right to the road and everybody not inside their own car is out to get them or hurt them. This is even more evident on our lovely Overtaking lanes. Even good old Billy Connolly had a go at that one a few years ago in his “World Tour of New Zealand” shows in 2004.
For some reason some drivers are sitting happily on 80km/h for ever and ever and as soon as a overtaking lane approaches they hit the accelerator and go 120 – only to slow right down to 80 when the lane is over. That drives not just me but most others mad I believe. I don’t like to break the law and speed just to get past such a person but on the odd occasion one has no choice. However at least I am prepared to wait until such time when it is safer to do this – rather than take the odd maneuver and overtake before a corner as I’ve seen twice today. That makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up in fear that I might get caught up in a terrible and preventable accident.
I could write a whole blog daily just on the almost misses and the stupidity of some drivers on our roads.. every time I think I’ve seen it all – there is a new and unexpected sight.
Sorry for rambling on about the pleasures of driving in our lovely small country with big attitudes now back onto modes of transport though. Parking at any airport is expensive – I am sure we’ve all had our experiences in that department – however when I only fly for a day or two I find it useful to use Air New Zealand parking – provided I fly with them of course – but given the lack of competition on our domestic market it’s most likely. So I park my car there – and use their very useful and efficient shuttle service that runs on demand. My car meanwhile gets a well deserved wash and blow dry:-)
Flying over that little country of ours has other advantages too – because the flights are usually short (Auckland to Wellington about an hour) the aircraft does not fly at very high altitudes and so equipped with a window seat one can actually enjoy the view – weather and cloud cover permitting of course. The flight to Wellington is always a favourite of mine as I can see Mt Taranaki on some days and what a sight from the air that is…
Wellington – or Wellywood as we call it (Thanks Sir Peter Jackson!) is a lovely little gem – if the weather wasn’t bad (or windy) very often I’d happily live there. It is easy to get around, has a nice defined city centre with great public transport – or at least better public transport than Auckland and the airport is not too far from town either – making it comparatively cheap to and quick to get into town by bus, shuttle or taxi – though I prefer the airport flyer bus. As far as capital city’s go – Wellington must be one of the smallest and best for a lot of reasons.
My personal “must do” on every visit is our National Museum – Te Papa Tongarewa – not as big as some of the notable ones overseas but in my opinion the best in New Zealand and it’s free. Very cohesive structures and something for all ages and interests with frequent special exhibitions (some of which need to be paid for though). On my last visit I had a very good reason to be there – I was fortunate to be involved in creating tukutuku panels for the UN headquarters in New York and before their final journey to the US all where exhibited at Te Papa and I went to attend the closing ceremony of that exhibition – what a moving morning and what a privilege. Unfortunately despite an invitation to attend the official opening also in New York (complete with a visitor pass to the United Nations) – due to the short notice and the high cost most of us who made these see ourselves unable to attend that event.
I felt it is a little hypocritical in fact that the Ministry for foreign affairs and trade will “help us find accommodation” but not help pay for it but some officials will get to go (or are already there) and of course the people installing them will also get to go (justified) – no doubt not paying their own way – but the grass roots weavers who created these don’t even get any help in applying for funding… sad really.
I am transgressing – this post was to be about travelling not ranting:-)
As mentioned in my last post I also made a short weekend trip to Sydney and was lucky enough to fly Business Class with Emirates – I gotta say it feels like a different world of air travel – well we always knew that anyway but I thought I just mentioned it again…that 3 hour hop over the ditch could have taken much longer in those seats for all I care:-)
Sydney is facing it’s own transport woes for sure – I don’t know how people can cope with the daily commute that I see there – an hour twice a day seems to be normal and the distances are vast and on top of it of course they have some toll roads (NZ be glad we only have two so far!). However there are also those hidden gems in terms of Nature Reserves and National Parks that are very accessible from the City or even within the city limits and that makes that iconic Aussie town a winner for a lot of people. But would I want to live there? I don’t think so – far too busy for me on a daily basis.
No I think living in a small village of just under 300 inhabitants (that’s actually 2 villages combined) on a sprawling harbour in the North of the North Island of NZ has it’s distinct advantages – hardly any traffic, no traffic lights for at least 130km around and tourists that hold up that little traffic only in summer… life can be so much more relaxed!
However – this also means apart from the occasional walk or cycle the only mode of transport up here is the car – not even a regular bus service for the older people into the nearest town to do their shopping is offered – yet alone one to Auckland… so it’s not all rosy in paradise when it comes to transport.