Napier, New Zealand – December 19, 2015
Leslie and I drove to Napier today. It was about a four-hour drive from our home, north on Highway 2. As we got closer to the mountains, the slopes got steeper. At times, it seemed as if we were driving on a cliff face. Regardless of the pitch, the hues of green were just amazing. It was like driving through the green-section of a box of 120 Crayola Crayons.
The road became very narrow, with numerous curves. The scenery seemed to get more and more beautiful. At a couple of the sharper curves, we encountered logging trucks traveling the opposite direction. It seemed mere inches separated our vehicles.
The road summit is at Rimutaka Hill. There was a turn-out there, so we stopped to look. The short trail to the overlook was dirt and gravel. It was also steep. Because of that, Leslie opted to wait in the car. Within 50 meters, I was at the top of the overlook. The view up and down the rugged valley was spectacular.
Signs at the turn-out told the story of infantry reinforcements crossing at Rimutaka Hill during World War I. The pass is at an elevation of 555 meters above sea level, about 1,800 feet. The weather there must be terrible in the winter. I make that assumption because of the drop-arm at the side of the road, near the bottom of the hill.
On the downhill side of the pass, we mused that the mountain road reminded us of Independence Pass in Colorado. The road was very narrow, especially on some of the curves. I am not sure how two logging trucks could pass each other on such a route.
In the valley, we drove through the town of Carterton. As we drove along the main street, I saw a sign for Paua World. Even though it was a kilometer or so off the main road, I thought we should see Paua World for ourselves.
Paua (pronounced pah-wah) is a fist-sized shellfish with beautiful mother-of-pearl on the inside surface. In English, we know it as an abalone. Paua World is a “factory” that makes a multitude of tourist trinkets from the shells. We bought a couple of things and then hit the road again.
About two hours into our drive, we approached the town of Pahiatua. It was nearly noon, time for lunch. Along the main street, we spotted The Black Stump Café. We decided that was the place for lunch. Inside, the lone waiter immediately brought us water and menus. I spied beer-battered Terakihi, fries, and Harrow’s tartare sauce for $18.50 (about $12 U.S.). I decided I would try that, even though I am not a big fan of seafood. However, I am determined to do better since we live on a beautiful island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Little did I know at the time, my selection was better described as fish and chips. I found them to be the absolute best fish and chips I have ever had anywhere on this planet.
Continuing our drive northeast, we turned onto Highway 50 shortly after the town of Norsewood. We understood Highway 50 had less traffic, and it was more scenic. The route was incredibly beautiful. It was a good thing there was not as much traffic because there were three one-lane bridges we had to cross. Luckily, one could see far enough ahead to determine whether one might meet another vehicle on the span.
Much of the trip wound through rural areas. We saw several hay fields in which there were the large round hay bales. The plastic shrink-wrapped hay bales look much different from those in the U.S. That makes sense, given the climate in New Zealand.
With the one-lane bridges behind us, we began driving through some rolling hills, which were thick with grasses. The wind had picked up speed. It was mesmerizing to watch the wind blowing the grasses. It made the hills look more like a green ocean.
For the last 30 kilometers (18 miles) or so, we drove through one vineyard after another. The Hawke’s Bay area is well known in New Zealand for its wine production. A local map touted the locations of 32 different vineyards near Napier. We were glad to know we would be contributing to the wine economy during our stay.
At about 15:00 we pulled into the parking lot of the Pebble Beach Motor Inn. It is located on Marine Parade, directly across from the ocean. We walked into our top floor room and immediately fell in love with the view from our terrace. It was stunning. If I had a stronger arm, I probably could have thrown a stone and hit the ocean. Just 400 feet down the road to our right sat the National Aquarium of New Zealand.
After checking in, we made a quick trip to the supermarket to get a few items to stock the kitchen of our room. When we returned to our space, we did not feel like going out. So we ordered pizza for dinner. It was brilliant, sitting in our room, eating pizza, drinking wine, and watching and listening to the Pacific Ocean’s lap at the beach along Hawke’s Bay.
Across the street from our room, in the park between us and the ocean, was a fountain. It was a beacon to all things children and all things seagull. If a group of children was not splashing around in the fountain, then a group of seagulls was there, trying to clean up and taking a drink.
Once we got things sorted in our room, we decided to walk to the beach. On the way, we saw a seabird of some sort sitting on a nest in the pebbles under a log. As we watched her, she watched us. She turned her head to keep a close eye on us even though we never approached too close. Unfortunately, the next morning, we noticed she was dead. We have no idea what may have happened overnight.
The beach was not one of sand, but rather one of gray to black pebbles. The sun heated those small pebbles. I think the largest ones we saw were maybe two inches across. They were all reasonably flat. One afternoon, we decided to lay on the beach. I cannot express here just how comfortable that was. As one wiggled, the pebbles formed to one’s shape. The stones were nice and warm, which made the lie-down all the more relaxing and comfortable. I would highly recommend that to any visitor to the beach.
On our first full day in Napier, we agreed we would go to the aquarium. Over coffee, we read up on the aquarium. We found that it opened at 09:00. We were at the door at 08:55. As soon as the aquarium opened, we made a beeline for the penguin exhibit. The literature noted that penguin feeding occurred at 09:30 every day.
We sat at the penguin exhibit, enjoying the antics of the penguins as they and we waited for feeding time. One penguin swam erratically in circles, appearing quite excited. Several others stood on the wooden pier, looking longingly at the door from which the feeders no doubt used to enter the exhibit. They too were quite animated.
Ultimately, a woman and a man entered the exhibit. The man, carrying a bucket, went to the far end of the enclosure, followed by a flock of penguins. There was also one lone seagull there. As the man fed the penguins, the woman spoke to those of us gathered about the penguins. All of the penguins there are Little Blue Penguins (the smallest penguin species), each of which was rescued from the wild. The rescues were necessary due to any number of maladies; for example, one penguin had lost an eye, another had lost a flipper. Even the seagull, a rescued bird, was missing a wing. The seagull received some fish too.
Because of our visit to the penguin exhibit, I realized I saw Little Blue Penguin on a rock in Wellington Harbour. As I rode the train into town alongside the harbor, I saw a lone penguin standing on a small rock, just off the shore. I was surprised to have seen only one that day as I thought they were more of a social animal.
When the penguin feeding finished, we walked to the Oceanarium area. This large aquarium includes a glass “tunnel.” The tunnel allows one to walk literally through the aquarium while many of the fish swim overhead. It was similar to the tunnel we encountered in the aquarium in Valencia, Spain, but for one detail. At this aquarium, in addition to a carpeted path through the tunnel, there was a moving sidewalk too. All one need do is stand still and watch the fish as the sidewalk moves through the tunnel.
We took a trip through the tunnel. Just as we exited, we saw a diver in the tank, right on time for the 10:00 feeding. The diver was adept at communicating to the audience via hand signals and pantomime. It was fascinating to watch the fish swarm the diver each time he pulled his hand from the feeding bucket.
We continued through the rest of the aquarium at our leisure. We finished up at the Fish Bowl Café with a cup of coffee. We sat on the terrace while we enjoyed our coffee. When finished, we took a quick stroll through the Treasure Chest Gift Shop, emerging with our requisite refrigerator magnet.
Our next stop was the Art Deco area of old Napier. A disaster is the reason there is so much Art Deco architecture here. In 1931, an earthquake destroyed much of the city. The townspeople vowed to rebuild. At the time, the fashionable architectural style was Art Deco. For that reason, the central portion of old Napier has an abundance of Art Deco buildings. It was like going back in time. The town celebrates that heritage each February with an Art Deco festival.
We stopped at a street-side café for a leisurely brunch. As we have done so often in the past, we enjoyed our meal as we watched the world.
Near the Art Deco center of the town, there was a bronze statue of a mermaid. It was ever so slightly more significant than the famous mermaid statue in Copenhagen, Denmark; although it does not seem to be thronged quite as much as that statue. The figure is known as Pania of the Reef. A plaque at the base of the sculpture relates the following story. “An old Maori legend tells how Pania, lured by the siren voices of the sea people, swam out to meet them. When she endeavored to return to her lover, she was transformed into the reef which now lies beyond the Napier breakwater. To perpetuate the legend the Thirty Thousand Club presented this statue to the City of Napier – 1954.”
We went for a swim near the Port of Napier. The water was anything but warm. Regardless, it was fun. When we left the beach, we drove back toward our hotel. I just happened to see a sign pointing up a road to Bluff Hill Overlook. I took a quick right turn and headed uphill. The closer we got, the more narrow the road became. I was delighted we did not meet another vehicle on the way up.
Once we parked on top of Bluff Hill and walked to the fence, we were astonished by the view. It was probably a 270-degree view of the area. We had a commanding view of the port. It was just amazing how many trees were on the dock, waiting for shipment out of New Zealand. One of our taxi drivers said the logs were destined primarily for either Japan or China. Quite frankly, with the environmental consciousness in New Zealand, I was surprised that so much timber is exported.
Ascending the pass from the south side.