Day 4 - Friday 22 February – From gumboot to Wellington…
Awake at 4:05 yay! We both got up and had a coffee. I wanted a bit of Tongariro memorabilia so Jeff and I walk briskly down to the visitor centre about 400m from our hotel. Alas they didn't have anything specifically about the long Tongariro Crossing walk and my enthusiasm for a validatory fabric patch dwindled. The group had breakfast and loaded up luggage ready to head off at 08:30, or at least we would have done if Neill’s watch hadn't been about 20 minutes behind time. Neill finally turned up to the bus and set his watch to the correct time.
We started our journey southwards to Wellington driving through the undulating fertile farmlands of Levin and stopping twice along the way; firstly to ‘wang’ some gumboots as far as we could in Taihape (Gumboot capital of the world); and secondly to visit a Manuka honey maker. It was fun wanging the well-worn boots and Jeff threw his gumboot the furthest I think. I managed to throw mine a safe 5 yards in front of me, which is good given that I normally throw things backwards. I struggle to let go… The Manuka honey maker’s shop was interesting. Every possible use of honey for food, medicine, alcohol, skin care and for ice cream! Yes! I bought a ‘cookies ‘n’ cream and honey’ ice cream. Jeff had honey and ginger ice cream. Manuka is a type of honey, native to New Zealand, and produced by bees that pollinate the flower ‘Leptospermum scoparium’ (or ‘Manuka bush’). I had no idea, however, that Manuka came in grades of ‘Unique Manuka Factor (UMF)’; with anything between a UMF factor of 5+ to 20+… The 20+ was too strong to enjoy on toast and should only really be used as medicine.
When we arrived in Wellington (after a 6 hour drive) Gabi took us to a very high viewpoint known as Mount Victoria lookout. The roads were so steep that I was reminded of my old phobia of driving uphill (even though I wasn't driving). The viewpoint was pretty spectacular though; and we watched aeroplanes landing sideways in high winds at Wellington airport by the harbour.
We respectfully admired the Admiral Richard E Byrd memorial installed (on 11 March 1962) in recognition of Byrd’s expeditions to explore Antarctica and the North Pole; and their contribution to ‘international understanding’. It’s a bustling city not unlike many at home, except that in the UK we don't have to retrospectively shore up buildings in case of earthquakes. I'm going to bed tonight with my backpack and clothes right next to my bed. Sleep in suitable clothing for a swift evacuation and keep your passport in grabbing distance. Apparently that's what you have to do and the hotel information pack includes guidance on earthquake (and tsunami) safety. After checking into the hotel we went out for a walk into town. The architecture is a real mix of old and new and despite the scaffolding and work being done to ‘quake-proof’ older buildings, there is a real sense of creativity, culture and industry. In the arena by the docks, close to the hotel, a ‘Ke Matatini Ki Te Ao’ National Kapa Haka festival was being held. Te Matatini is a significant cultural festival and the pinnacle event for Māori performing arts. Held every two years, it is one of the most highly anticipated events for performers, their whānau and the mass of passionate Kapa Haka fans throughout the world. Many of the Maori performers were staying in the same hotel as us.
There was an extensive choice of venue for dinner; loads of cafes and restaurants, so we settled for a noodle bar.