On Thursday, I left my comfy home in Gizzy and set out on my own. Now, you may be thinking to yourself, “Claire, haven’t you been traveling on your own for like two months now?,” but no, my friends – this was really the first time I’d set out to travel, sleep, drive, and eat completely and totally alone. It’s really not as sad as it sounds.
I left Gisborne on an InterCity bus bright and early on Thursday morning for a good reason, at least: I was headed to Waipukurau to buy my first car! My very first car, the one where I’m in charge of paying for all of the insurance and gas and everything and anything that could possibly go wrong. The one where all of my stuff, everything I’m depending on for the next year, is housed. The one that has to get me through this country for the next year. That one. Adulthood is terrifying. (Plus, if cars are this nerve-wracking, I don’t know how people have children!) I sat on the bus mulling over this fact for a good few hours while we passed through Wairoa and Napier, until the bus finally stopped in the little sleepy town of Waipukarau (or Wai-puk, as the locals call it). Vena, the happy little older lady selling the car, was waiting for me at the bus stop, and we headed back to her place to fill out the change of ownership papers (you’re required to notify the government of sales within 7 days). I finally got to test drive the car on our way to the post office, and while she’s not so pretty, and not so new, and not exactly the most powerful thing on the roads, she’s a tough little cookie! Plus, when I opened the door, this was in the ignition:
I’m pretty sure it’s fate.
Wai-puk is probably most famous for being the home of the place with the world’s longest name – Taumatawhakatangihangakoauauotamateaturipukakapikimaungahoronukupokaiwhenuakitanatahu, which is the shortened version (!) of “The Brow of a Hill Where Tamatea, the Man with the Big Knees, Who Slid, Climbed, and Swallowed Mountains, Known as Land Eater, Played his Flute to his Brother.” Crazy Maoris. I didn’t exactly go there, because it’s a hill in the middle of nowhere and you have to pay $15 just to stand on it, but it’s there! Now you know.
instead, I drove straight from Wai-puk through Hastings to Napier, the art deco capital of NZ, at the heart of the Hawke’s Bay area. After a major earthquake in 1931 which levelled a large part of the city, Napier was rebuilt in the popular style of the time and now plays host to tourists who travel from all over the world to see its signature buildings. They even have an annual Art Deco Weekend! I got there late in the afternoon, but managed to spend a good hour or two walking along Marine Parade, a beautiful tree-lined avenue that runs the length of the city next to the beach. Sunken gardens, parks, scupltures, fountains, and even a skate park, aquarium, and a museum are dotted along the way, and I loved being surprised by each new beautiful thing. I even managed to spend some time on the beach, where huge bleached logs formed perfect benches just a few meters from a perfectly-maintained walking track. (Yes, I used perfect twice in that sentence. It was appropriate.)
As if the gorgeous beach weren’t enough, Marine Pde. also has this:
After checking into my hostel (Criterion Art Deco Backpackers, a rather swanky one if I do say so myself!), I walked right back out and took myself on a little tour around the main part of the town to see the historic architecture. I wasn’t exactly as blown away as I expected to be given all the hype, but I’m definitely a fan of the style! I passed by the Daily Telegraph Building and the Munster Chambers along the way, which pretty much summed up everything I needed to see. Eventually I found myself following a lovely winding path through the small but densely-wooded Tiffen Park, and at the top I emerged into an upper-class neighborhood full of historic houses and rose-covered fences. (A tidbit about Kiwi households: almost everyone has a tennis court and/or pool, and they are obsessed with roses. Seriously.) I poked my head over some fences and creeped on some yards, but I exerted some self control and made myself walk back down the hill before anyone caught me. The classic home styles, narrow streets, and steep hills behind Tiffen Park reminded me very strongly of San Francisco though, which warmed me up a lot more to the vibe of the city.
At the bottom of the park I headed back out to the beach since I’d read that the best time to view the Tom Parker Fountain was at night when it was colorfully lit with neon lights. (In fact, much of Napier is probably best seen in the evening/at night, because a lot of the historic art deco buildings are similarly lit all over the city.) Right next to the fountain is Pania of the Reef, a sculpture of a local folklore figure which Lonely Planet describes as “a little Maori and a lot Disney, her forced toothy smile framed by Rita Hayworth’s hair… with a tiki lying between her overly pert breasts she’s the perfect embodiment of the dusky maiden”…. and that’s basically everything you need to know about her. At the same time I also got to see Napier’s version of Christmas decorations – one or two strings of lights draped over the ubiquitous New Zealand pine trees lining the beach – and I was once again reminded that I would soon be enjoying a very different type of Christmas. The barely-there Christmas advertisements, sparse decorations, and the combination of ‘White Christmas’ carols and warm temperatures are hard to get used to!
The next morning (Friday) I woke up bright and early, eager to visit the local AA (NZ’s Automobile Association – not Alcoholics Anonymous!) to buy some insurance and avoid the terrifying possibility of hitting someone without being insured. While I was indoors with an agent (with my vehicle’s registration card), I also managed to get a ticket for $200 for driving with expired registration! (New Zealanders are really serious about their automobiles, and all cars must display current registration tickets in their windows, as well as current Warrant of Fitness certificates. WOFs certify that your car is safe to drive on the road, and all cars must have them in order to legally drive. Pretty cool!) I got the ticket revoked, but it also resulted in my having to walk halfway across the city to get there – at least I got a tour of their City Council building in the process!
Heading out of town after several hours of frustration (i.e. spending lots of money on groceries, insurance, and camping supplies), I took one final detour and drove up to the lookout point of Bluff Hill, just north of the city. I was expecting a view of the ocean but instead got an eyeful of the timber yard on the shore below – the sight of timber yards and clear-cut hills always makes me sad – but the scent of pine wafting up from the ocean was a strangely lovely combination. The lookout point itself was a brick structure framed by a barely-flowering pohutukawa tree, and inside the local Lions Club had constructed a compass showing the directions and distances to cities around the world. I stood at the top, faced homewards, and thought about where I came from and where I was headed. Then I got in my car, started the engine, and drove on down the road.