Windy Wellington lived up to its name this morning. In fact all the weather reports for New Zealand today spoke of strong winds of 40 – 60 kmh with gusts up to 120kmh later in the day for most parts of NZ. The South Island was also going to cop even more rain so we are glad that we are in the North. As we drove out of Wellington we could see low cloud and a mizzly atmosphere ahead. We bypassed the fabulous motor museum at Paraparaumu because I have seen it before, albeit about 25 years ago. The rain held off until we reached Otaki, about 70km up the road. Even then the rain was not heavy and didn’t distract from our enjoyment. At Levin we stopped for a short ‘necessities’ break and found the toilets were space age stainless steel cubicles that talked to us in an American accent and played soothing music before warning us that we had 10 minutes to do our ‘stuff’ before the doors opened. Maree was quite bemused and amused by the whole experience.
Lunch was in a lovely riverside town of Wanganui or Whanganui (both spellings are official). Apparently, on this side of the island, the Wh is not pronounced as an F as it is on the East and Central regions. We had lunch here and then took a visit to the Sarjents Art Gallery which had some fabulous contemporary art as well as some older stuff, all by New Zealand artists.
At the Hawera junction we decided to take the Surf Coast road which, although longer, seemed to offer a more interesting route. By now we were getting some great views of Mt Taranaki (formerly Mt Egmont) which is another conical volcano. This mountain is 2518 m high and there was quite a bit of snow still on its upper flanks. As we drove around the mountain however the clouds came in and by the time we reached Cape Egmont you couldn’t tell that there was mountain there at all. We drove out to the lighthouse at Cape Egmont and looked across the water towards Australia. The shoe was all black rocks and the surf was not good due to the roaring wind. We finally reached New Plymoth at about 5pm and found our motel tucked away at the end of a dead end street. It should be quiet here tonight. We walked a kilometre or so into the centre and had Indian food for dinner at a very nice restaurant called India Today. There were many Indian families dining there so that is a good sign.
We woke late this morning and did a bit of catch-up washing before setting out for Mt Taranaki. The day was overcast with low cloud and we could not see the mountain. It looks like we were lucky yesterday morning to get a shot of the famous volcano. Arriving at the visitor centre we spent a few minutes familiarising ourselves with the story of the mountain before heading out for a walk. We chose a route that went up the mountain in the hope that we might get above the tree line to see what we could see. As we walked along a well formed track, with lots of steps, through a lovely dense rain forest we could hear the wind howling above us on the mountain. We were nicely sheltered on the track and only felt the wind where there was a gap in the vegetation. Apparently the wind speed can hit 140 kmh and many of the taller pine trees had a distinctly windswept aspect. Maree went berserk with the camera taking photos of vegetation. After a half hour of going up it became clear that even if we did clear the tree line we would not be able to see anything so we turned back. The walk back down was much easier of course and we were back in twenty minutes. There is a walker’s hut near the visitor centre which is reputed to be the oldest prefabricated building in New Zealand and it is made from hand-made corrugated iron sheets. It used to be a barracks building during the Maori wars and was transported here when it was about to be demolished.
On our way back to New Plymouth we stopped in at a couple of the other walking sites and explored each for about 40 minutes or so, having lunch at Lake Mangamahoe. On our way up Maree had noticed a garden at Tupare. This turned out to be the garden of a house called Tupare which used to be a private home but is now managed by Taranaki Regional Council. The garden was simply fabulous and reflected many years of painstaking work by many gardeners. Our next stop was back in town at the Puke Ariki centre which include a series of displays. One of them would be of interest to Craig because it was all about prefabricated buildings. It seems that New Zealand has quite a history of prefabricated building construction and there were many innovative designs to be seen. We even saw some of these designs outside along the beachfront later on. Further displays were based around the settler and Maori experiences in the New Plymouth area.
After dinner we wandered down to the world renowned Pukekura Park which is located in the heart of the city. The park contains a variety of diverse landscapes and includes a number of lakes. During summer the town council organises a Festival of Lights and there are lots of activities, music and of course lights. We wandered about the lakes, heard a bit of music and watched a display of model aeroplane flying (with some spectacular model helicopter aerobatics). Since we had just about worn our feet away we decided not to stay for the light show and returned to the motel for tea and a rest.