November 3rd, 2006


No divinity but water

When we're in Marahau, breakfast always means the Park Cafe (as does dinner and sometimes a carry out for lunch): eggy french roast with bacon and banana and big lattes. The landlord at the cottage promised to look up ferry times for tomorrow for us so we ran away over the hill: back to the main road and over the marble mountain where grey teeth of rock stick up. The road climbs by curves and hairpins in what turns out to be a gentle fashion compared to the descent to Golden Bay. Soon we get glimpses of the sea and then the whole valley back to Motueka creeps away beneath us to a flat plain with red fruit netting, blue sea and distant mountains beyond. There's a ridge and suddenly we see down the other side, first to Marahau and Appletree cove and then to Golden Bay. The marble sticks up like teeth and the road fishtails and hairpins and zigzags its way down with a lookout on the way to stop people just dawdling to gawk down at the view.

Even in the valley the road is still twisty, but then there's 10k of unpaved road hugging every countour of the hills up to Totaranui, with bare rock on one side and tumbling bush on the other. The beach is almost orange: the sand was rock five minutes ago. The water is blue but around the cliff egdes it's deep green.
Alas, the beach is most popular with sandflies.

Back at the main road we turn off for Pu Pu Springs, where the underground springs fills a sinkhole with amazingly clear water. You can see feet down and it looks like inches. A set of mirrors shows just how deep and clear it is - under the flat water is a deep slope studded with huge plats. The water dances with the force of the springs. Divers get a great view but diving is discouraged because the springs 'have cultural' significance' to the Maori, as the sign puts it. No feeling of sacred presence here as such, just a place that is utterly itself: I felt no divinity here but the waters themselves.

The last of the south

Last morning in Marahau so breakfast at the park cafe where the owner smiles and says they obviously haven't offended us yet. A tui feasts in the flowers outside our window, no shier than the fantail at the springs the day before, under the moon in the manuka. A quick stop at Kaiteriti, traffic and roadworks on the road to Motueka, and then again on the road to Nelson, plus a traffic jam for some public gathering on the beach, with a big French flag, so we drove straight on to make the ferry, over the Pelorus bridge, through Havelock and off up the scenic and twisty Queen Charlotte Drive round the bays and into Picton.

The ferry was late so we had time to grab a Havana roasted coffee from Le Cafe (well worth a visit for food some time); Expresso House has gone alas. A very smooth crossing, with gusty wind, shining sunset on the sea, gannets, shearwaters and a lone penguin. Takeaway from Monsoon Poon and a rather long diversion until we found a hostel for the night, so very large coffees at Expressaholics in the morning (and apologies to the friendly hiker from the hostel who stopped to say hello - I was too dopey to be as friendly as a I meant to be and I think I stared rather blankly over the corn fritters and eggs benedict).

A wander through town, a haul of Phryne Fisher novels at Dymmocks, a glance at the rubber and steel shock absorbers under Te Papa, a stroll across the bridge to Civic Square where ferns hang in the air and a scenic circuit of the peninsula. Then off to our meeting at Weta Workshops where we had a fascinating conversation about the tech they used for Jane and the Dragon, distracted only by the fascinating collection of pictures, photos, clippings, oscars, models and memorabilia along the walls of the boardroom. We were very professional and I restrained my fangirl squeee at meeting Richard Taylor of Weta too. A quick stop for supper at the ever delicious Chocolate Fish (halloumi, bacon pesto pasta, black forest milk shake and mango pasasionfruit smoothie) and we headed north.

We got as far as Bulls but had to turn back to Sanson for a room. And tomorrow it's more driving, all the way to Coromandel.

Driving to Taupo

We weren't up as early as the helicopters and planes already doing circuits at the Air Force museum down the road. Excellent coffee from the expresso hut in Bulls, with a tiny square of velvety chocolate fudge. Hunterville home of Huntercasting also has a taxidermist with a weird sense of humour and stuffed deer on his lawn, a yellow and black shark fin in the pond, superb moist lemony sultana cake from Annabelle's cafe and a line of humpelty bumpelty army trucks. Also sheep that ricochet down the hill bouncing off one another...

Flat Hills has a jet boat on a stick. The road marches straight at a respectful distance from the sheer cliffs across the valley (cliffs of insanity). The plane cafe at Mangaweka is now covered in cookie print and the corrugated figures start here with a man playing golf with a chainsaw blade...

A lilac cadillac and peach pontiac pass us: the metallic red roadster 34 Oldsmobile is still behind us. Then a turquoise Buick roadster, a red mustang... They catch us up, show off in the passing lane then move on.

Through the desert to the Army Museum (restrooms and stickers of a kiwi in uniform and pack). Nothing in the desert but tussocks, sand, pylons, snowy volcanoes peeping out from the clouds - and trucks following the state highway. 1074 metres at the summit and a glimpse of lake Taupo in the distance. Scallloped colour slices of sand beside the road - and the occasioanl tumbling river in the desert.

Lake Taupo stretches and stretches and stretches along the road. Cormorants hunch like vultures on every rock or hang their wings out to dry. One large rock is a miniature island, with grass and a sapling. A line of rocks run out from a corner of the lake studded with cormorants. Stopping by the lake to gaze across: grey blue water, a tree with yelllow flowers, white pumice pebbles that float when you throw them in. A cacophony of birdsong: croaking, thumping, booming and cawing before a tui flies out.

Warnings along the road of overconfident drivers with heads too big to fit in the car gaily proclaim 'locals crash too' and 'I can crash anywhere' as well as 'I can't TXT and drive'. We see our first mynah bird on the way into Taupo, just before a line of parachuters descend. Lunch at Villino (asparagus risotto, griddled aubergine/kumara/polenta/portabella that goes very well with the aioli from the pesto bread and a perky sauv blanc called secret stone).

Spotted in Taupo: Scottys Electrical Xpertise. The van says 'PHONE for SEX' and the licence plate is IMKUMN.

Rolling green hills north of Taupo, with gleaming steel pipes in the valleys from the hydrothermal plant and a plume of steam jetting from a hill. A very impressive volcanic plug and forestry warning signs with lines like 'trees growing: do not disturb'.

The Matamata of hobbits

Tirau is home to a host of corrugated iron whimsy; poppies, cats, fish, bees - and the isite is a pair of sheds on the form of a sheep and a sheepdog. Matamata is the nearest stop to the Hobbiton set, complete with painted hobbit hole doors, welcome to Hobbiton sign and the rest. Matamata is also home to cars with the licence plates TEAZER and VYBR8R :) the next town along was much tamer with DARING.

Some good mailboxes recently. A folded metal pig. A painted wooden castle. A small tractor digger with eyes and two mailboxes held in its gripper. No hobbit hole mailboxes though...

Kumara and pineapple

We stooped at Te Aroha for a soak in the soda water hot pools; the water comes from the geyser (4 minutes every 40 minutes) piping hot and they pipe it into wooden tubs where you can soak for half an hour. You can't not float - the minerals make it very bouyant and you come out somewhere between molten and melted.

On to Paeroa, where we saw the giant bottle of L&P (lemon and, though it's not the local water now) and decided not to stop. The main road veers off half way down the high street having made the same decision. A very pretty drive to Thames through rolling green hills with the sun throwing rays of light through the clouds over a backdrop of multilayered misty mountains.

Thames sprawls along the coast hiding the sea very effectively behind a shopping mall. Checked into a pretty motel that's by a brook (the Brookby in fact). Dinner at The Old Thames, which looks like a slightly tacky diner but has excellent food. Rare steak was rare, garlic king prawns were enormous and redolent of garlic, Andrew Harris Mudgee Shiraz was smooth, rounded, fruity and chocolatey as promised and the vegetables were quite different. Broccoli, cauliflower, lyonnaise potatoes, carrots with dijon honey mustard - and kumara mashed with pineapple under a sour cream egg mouse. You have to taste it to believe it, and it's delicious!